March 2010

Beimel en route; here’s the lineup

Left-hander Joe Beimel, who reached a Minor League agreement with the club yesterday to join a competitive bullpen association, is scheduled to arrive in Tucson later this morning.

In the meantime, manager Jim Tracy has posted a lineup that, save for the pitcher, looks like something you’d see on Opening Day.

Carlos Gonzalez, LF

Dexter Fowler, CF

Todd Helton, 1B

Troy Tulowitzki, SS

Brad Hawpe, RF

Chris Iannetta, C

Ian Stewart, 3B

Clint Barmes, 2B

Jason Hammel, RHP

Two catchers who have been injured recently, Paul Lo Duca (right arm strain) and Paul Phillips (right calf strain) are listed as available on the lineup card. Lo Duca said if he plays defensively, it’ll be at first base.

Righty reliever Rafael Betancourt will make his first appearance of the spring after battling shoulder tightness, and lefty Randy Flores will return after being hit on the throwing forearm by a line drive six days ago.

Betancourt, Flores set to throw Tuesday

Right-hander Rafael Betancourt, hampered by right shoulder tightness much of this spring, is set to make his Cactus League debut on Tuesday against the Padres at Hi Corbett Field. Also, left-hander Randy Flores is scheduled to make his return from a bruised left forearm he suffered last Wednesday when hit by a line drive.

Two catchers also are on the mend. Paul Lo Duca has begun playing catch. He has been bothered by a strain beneath his right arm. Catcher Paul Phillips began doing baseball activities over the weekend after being slowed by a calf strain. Third baseman Darin Holcomb, a prospect who has been sent to Minor League camp, has consulted with doctors about a lower back issue, manager Jim Tracy said.

Daley makes most of bus rides

The Rockies played their last two games in Surprise, Ariz., and Goodyear, Ariz. — the two longest trips from Tucson, Ariz. After Sunday’s game, the Rockies’ bus was stalled in traffic behind a major accident, so the trip was even longer.

Those happened the days second-year right-hander Matt Daley was scheduled to pitch his first back-to-back of the spring.

Daley ended up throwing two perfect innings. He struck out two Sunday in an 11-11 tie with Royals and retired the only two batters he faced after replacing Jorge De La Rosa with one out in the sixth inning of Monday’s 9-1 victory over the Reds.

Daley gave up five hits, three earned runs and a walk in his first two Cactus League games, but has followed that up with five perfect appearances. Efficiency is his key.

“For a middle reliever, coming into jams, you want to get your team back on the bench as soon as possible,” he said.

Manager Jim Tracy said Daley simply needed time. “Finesse guys take longer,” he said.

Maybe the beard is the secret to success. Daley, 27, looks his age. That couldn’t be said last year. He admitted he needed to change something after his bad start.

“I just started growing it after the first two times out,” he said. “I’ve been good since, so I’m not going to get rid of it yet.

“Me and [veteran right-hander Justin] Speier have been joking. He said he’s got to get clean-shaven to look young and I’ve got to grow this to look old.”

De La Rosa getting early start; other notes

Rockies left-hander Jorge De La Rosa is ready for 2010. And he’s in regular-season form almost 2 1/2 months earlier than last year.

De La Rosa held the Reds to one run — a first-inning leadoff home run by Drew Stubbs — in 5 1/3 innings of the Rockies’ 9-1 victory on Monday afternoon. De La Rosa struck out five, gave up three hits and walked one.

It’s a dramatic improvement from the struggles of last spring, when he went 2-2 with a 6.86 ERA in six starts. He followed that with an 0-6 start through April and May, but finished 16-9. Through five starts this spring, De La Rosa is 2-1 with a 1.86 ERA, 16 strikeouts and four walks.

“I started slow last year but I always believed that we would have a good team,” De La Rosa said. “Now, I don’t put pressure on myself. Now I know you can’t put pressure on yourself. I’ve got to go out there, enjoy the game and throw strikes.”

Most significant about the outing was the Reds went with a lineup that conceivably could take the field on Opening Day.

“They’ve got a very good lineup,” De La Rosa said. “If I face them during the season, now I know more.”

Concern over whether De La Rosa would bounce back from something like the leadoff homer is old news. He doesn’t let that bother him. But manager Jim Tracy took time to appreciate how far De La Rosa has come.

“There was a time early last year when that would be a rallying point,” Tracy said. “You’re sitting there immediately after one hitter wondering where is this start going to go. He was just like, ‘Hey, give me anther ball. Let’s get back to work.’”

– Righty Manuel Corpas, who has been up and down for most of the spring, had a smooth seventh inning. he gave up a one-out, Juan Francisco single, but nothing else. Corpas fanned Wladimir Balentien to end the frame.

Tracy said he hasn’t given up on the idea of Corpas being in the closer mix. Left-hander Franklin Morales has pitched better, and he handled the role well when Huston Street was injured last September. Street will begin this season on the disabled list with shoulder tightness.

Tracy said he hasn’t committed to anything yet, and he doesn’t need to until closer to the season. Before making decisions, he wants to see consistency out of Corpas.

“There’s enough time left this spring where you hope there’s a leveling off, where we see a couple of more times like we just saw today,” Tracy said.

– Matt Belisle had his fifth scoreless appearance of the spring. Monday’s was significant because he had one day off after his previous outing. Belisle has been bothered by forearm stiffness, so pitching well with reduced risk is a positive development.

“I can still hear the ball,” Tracy said. “You hear what I said? I can still hear it coming out of his hand. I’ve seen the same guy the last three times out. ‘Here I am, coming after you, punding the zone.’ “

– Minor League infielder Brad Eldred homered twice on Monday, and has three homers in three Spring Training appearances.

Eldred played for Tracy with the Pirates a few years back, and provides depth in the corners.

“I’m familiar with him and his style, really like him a lot, and the experience I had for a short time a few years ago,” Eldred said. “Hopefully, we can get back together again.

“He told me before the game that I was going to play all nine. He said to make sure I get my swings in. I made the most of it.”

– Second baseman Clint Barmes knocked his second homer of the spring, a two-run shot in the third inning off Bronson Arroyo. Barmes is hitting .344 this spring.

– Infielder Chris Nelson, playing shortstop, made a diving catch of a line drive and fashioned a game-ending double play in the ninth inning. Nelson was sent to Minor League camp on Sunday but made the bus trip.

– Infielder Jonathan Herrera also made a diving catch at third base. After entering as a reserve, Herrera went 1-fof-1 with a double and a walk after entering as a reserve. Herrera, a non-roster invitee, is hitting .421 this spring, and has made good defensive plays in the infield and outfield.

– Catching prospect Jordan Pacheco knocked a three-run double in the seventh, and has driven in seven runs in seven games.

 

No plan to leave Francis behind

With two days off in the first eight days of the season, an idea was floated to leave left-hander Jeff Francis in Tucson for additional work and back up his first start of the season. That’s not what manager Jim Tracy is thinking, however.

“I want him to be a part of it,” Tracy told reporters on Sunday in Surprise, Ariz., where the Rockies faced the Royals. “Unless he can’t pitch or we see a big deterioration between now and the time we leave for Alburquerque [for exhibition games], Jeff Francis is being looked upon as one of the five sarters in this rotation.”

Francis, who missed last season because of surgery on his throwing shoulder, has been on and off with his effectiveness this spring.

Sunday’s game: Another look at Justin Speier

The Rockies are playing the Royals at Surprise, Ariz., Sunday afternoon. Righty prospect Jhoulys Chacin is the starting piutcher, but the key development will come later in the game when righty Justin Speier pitches.

Speier, a non-roster invitee, has built a career on preventing inherited runners from scoring, which is a plus. Where he could make the Rockies team, though, is with his abilty to stop left-handed hitters as well as right-handers.

Over the course of his career, right-handers and left-handers have each batted .240 against him. Things change when he slumps, as evidenced by lefties’ .328 average against him last year before the Angels released him in August. However, he has thrown well for most of his appearances in the Cactus League.

After a clean ninth inning with two strikeouts, and a win, in Saturday’s 11-10 victory over the Angels, Speier will pitch on consecutive days. It’s a major test.

“One thing that you know you’re going to get with Justin is that you’re going to get somebody who’s going to work very, very quick, and is gong to fill up the strike zone,” Speier said. “When he gets in trouble, pitches get too quick and they get very rotational and get flat. They’re in the zone, but they’re in the flat variety.

 

“But when he focuses on each and every pitch, and has total focus on it, he gets better plane on his pitches. He has that forkball that is effective versus lefties and righties. That’s a pitch that nobody else possesses that we have, that type of forkball. Justin is also a guy that we’re not overlooking.”

 

Lefty Randy Flores, who is expected to be one of the bullpen lefties, is throwing a bullpen session Sunday. He has been on lower activity since suffering a bruised left forearam when he was hit with a line drive during Wednesday’s game against the Indians. With Franklin Morales likely to fill in as closer for the injured Huston Street (shoulder stiffness) when the season begins, the Rockies want to pair Flores with another pitcher adept at facing dangerous left-handed batters.

 

Matt Reynolds, who hasn’t pitched above Double-A but is impressing the staff with his tenacity in camp, is getting a long look. But someone like Speier could reduce the pressure to have another lefty, or, if Reynolds makes it, give the Rockies a more experienced option late in games.

 

Apodaca said the plan is to see all the Rockies relievers on consecutive days, although righty setup man Rafael Betancourt, who is coming back from shoulder tightness, and righty Matt Belisle, who has pitched well but has had to deal with forearm tightness after his appearances, might not do back-to-backs this spring.

 

Nelson made impression before being cut

Infielder Chris Nelson, the ninth overall choice in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft, needed to make a good impression in Rockies camp. He was optioned to Minor League camp on Sunday morning, but he left a good impression.

Nelson, 24, has been hampered by injuries at various points of his career. But in last year’s Spring Training he might have been hurt more by the impression he gave then-bench coach Jim Tracy, who is now the manager.

“This kid in my opinion, his whole approach is completely different from a year ago,” Tracy said. “He gives me very much the impression that baseball is very important to him now. I didn’t get that impression as a coach here last year. His work ethic and everything else suggests exactly what I’m saying.”

Tracy announced on Saturday that right-hander Esmil Rogers also was optioned to the Minors. The Rockies have cut their Major League camp from 62 players to 44. The team has to trim to 25 for the regular season.

Francis has bright spots in rough start

Rockies left-hander Jeff Francis’ stat line was rough — six runs, four earned, and six hits in four innings of Saturday’s 11-10 victory over the Angels.

In the second, Francis gave up four doubles in a five-batter stretch. Third baseman Melvin Mora spent that inning diving toward the line at hard-hit balls and coming up with nothing. That as because Francis was missing low with his breaking ball and changeup, and hitters were sitting on a fastball that isn’t sharp yet.

But it wasn’t cause for depression.

Francis struck out Robb Quinlan with the bases loaded and one out in the first. He forced Terry Evans into a grounder to shortstop Clint Barmes; however, second baseman Jonathan Herrera lost Barmes’ potentially inning-ending throw in the glare of the metal bleachers and two runs scored.

After the rough second inning, Francis pitched scoreless ball in the third and fourth. He finished with five strikeouts.

Francis realizes he’s still regaining his sharpness after missing last season because of left shoulder surgery.

“Today wasn’t as good as the last time, but I’ve come a long way since the first time out,” he said. “I keep doing things in between starts to help me.

“I can take those last two innings and look at them and say I battled pretty good with not having everything in my pocket.”

Manager Jim Tracy commended Francis on battling through his inconsistencies.

“There’s a lesson to be learned from this,” Tracy said. “I spoke a lot about this last year. You’re not going to be perfect every time you go out there. Figure something out to try to keep us hanging in there, and keep us in the game.”

Francis has two more Cactus League starts. However, with an early day off in the regular schedule, the Rockies have the option of keeping Francis in Tucson for a little more work before he’s needed in the rotation.

 

Rox Notes: Matt Reynolds getting long look

Left-hander Matt Reynolds hasn’t pitched above Double-A Tulsa, but he has a 2.65 ERA since being drafted in the 20th round out of Austin Peay in 2007 and is coming off a strong performance in the 2009 Arizona Fall League.

Now he’s squarely on the big-league radar.

Left-hander Franklin Morales is expected to be the closer, which means the Rockies will need another lefty alongside Randy Flores, who appears OK after taking a line drive off his left forearm on Wednesday.

Given Reynolds’ pro experience and the fact it’s his first big-league camp, the expectation would be he would return to Tulsa or go to Triple-A Colorado Springs if he pitches well this spring. But given the role available, manager Jim Tracy is looking at him as a candidate.

“Is he a candidate? Yes, he is,” Tracy said. “Will we do that? I don’t know. I’m not going to answer that question today.

“A lot of things depend upon where our bullpen scenario goes over the course of the next 10-12 days.”

It makes sense. More-experienced lefties will be available, but they’re more costly. The Rockies will have to determine if they are or are not more talented than Reynolds. The Rockies’ other experienced lefty, non-roster invitee Jimmy Gobble, is trying to return from a right groin strain. He has continued throwing, but it isn’t certain when he’ll return to game action.

Tracy used Reynolds for two innings of Saturday’s 11-10 Cactus League victory over the Angels.

Of particular interest to Tracy was Reynolds’ reaction to Juan Rivera’s leadoff homer on a 2-0 pitch in the seventh, which put the Rockies behind, 7-6. Reynolds worked Brandon Wood into a fly ball, and fanned Robb Quinlan and Terry Evans.

“What happens after the home run is hit?” Tracy said. “Do we get tentative, start spraying them all over and start avoiding the bat, or do we keep going after it. He continued to go after the bat. That’ s an encouraging sign as far as I’m concerned.”

The homer was the only hit off Reynolds. He struck out two and walked one.

– The Rockies optioned right-hander Esmil Rogers to Minor League camp. Rogers made one big-league appearance last season, but is considered part of the club’s rich pitching depth.

– Righty Matt Belisle vanquished the Angels on a groundball and two fly balls in his lone inning, and has had four scoreless appearances covering five innings.

Tracy used Belisle in significant situations last September and used him in the National League Division Series against the Phillies. The only limitation Tracy faces is how often he can use Belisle, who has periodic bouts with forearm tightness after his appearances.

Belisle went up and down between the Rockies and Triple-A Colorado Springs last year. His issue, a lack of aggressiveness, didn’t show up during his last callup. he has continued to attack, saying pitching when it really counted helped his confidence.

“That just poured gasoline on the fire,” Belisle said. 

 

Betancourt ready to go after live batting practice session

Because of shoulder stiffness, right-handed setup man Rafael Betancourt hasn’t appeared in a Cactus League game, but that could change quickly.

Betancourt, who posted a 1.92 ERA for the Rockies after arriving in a trade with the Indians, zoomed his fastball at 92 mph during a live batting practice session at Hi Corbet Field on Satrday afternoon. Before the session, manager Jim Tracy said a Minor League game would be Betancourt’s follow-up step. But now Tracy believes Betancourt is ready to appear in a Cactus League game.

“I don’t know exactly when that’s going to be, but Rafael Betancourt, from what I understand, is pushing for that a little bit,” Tracy said.

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