March 2010

Cook has improvement plan

There will come a time when the score will matter for Rockies right-hander Aaron Cook. But Sunday is not that time.

Cook will pitch in a Minor League game at Hi Corbett Field, rather than the Cactus League game against the Royals in Surprise, Ariz. Not only does he avoid a long drive, but he gets to try to regain his sinker without having to think about a game situation. When a Major League pitcher throws a Minor League game, he’s usually held to a certain number of pitches an inning, regardless what occurs.

“I asked if I could do that,” Cook said. “I wanted to get my work in a manner where I can throw 15-20 pitches an inning, not worry about how many outs I get. If I get one out, if I get six or seven outs, I just throw my pitches, come back in and sit down for the next inning.”

Cook has added a couple of interesting drills to help him correct the problem of when and how the ball is leaving his hand.

“I’ve been moving the catcher back to 70, 75 feet during my bullpens,” Cook said. “It makes you get extended, makes you throw the ball through the catcher. I’m really feeling the ball come off the end of my fingers when I’m throwing it that far.

“I’m doing the towel drill [snapping a towel, instead of throwing a baseball], getting extended.”

Cook insists this is not a crisis.

“It’s Spring Training,” he said, with a bemused smile. “People are making a big deal out of it. If i was hurt or if my mechanics weren’t where I wanted them to be, it would be a different story. I’d be aggravated. It’s just a matter of where the ball’s coming out of my hand right now.

“I told [manager Jim] Tracy and ‘Dac’ [pitching coach Bob Apodaca] the other day, once the ball starts coming out of my hand with true spin, forget about it. I’ll be fine. They know that. They just want to make sure everybodhy’s on the same page.”

LoDuca OK after arm injury; lineups

Non-roster catcher Paul Lo Duca suffered an undetermined arm injury and had to leave Friday’s game against the Athletics, but he said he was OK Saturday morning.

“There was just a knot under my arm,” Lo Duca said. “I don’t know what it is.”

Lo Duca said he was sore, but didn’t expect the problem to linger.

Here is the Rockies’ lineup agianst the Angels:

Jonathan Herrera, 2B

Ryan Spilborghs, CF

Jason Giambi, 1B

Miguel Olivo, C

Brad Hawpe, RF

Melvin Mora, 3B

Seth Smith, LF

Clint Barmes, SS

Jeff Francis, LHP

Giambi and Hawpe are getting a coveted chance to see left-handed pitching — the Angels’ Scott Kazmir. The Rockies haven’t faced much of it. Spilborghs is getting a chance to play all three outfield positions this spring. Key relievers scheduled to participate are right-handers Matt Belisle and Justin Speier. Belisle has pitched well this spring, but forearm tightness has limited his appearances. Speier spent the last three seasons with the Angels.

Francis will be tested by an all right-handed lineup (that’s including switch-hitting leadoff man Macier Izturis). Here is the Angels lineup that Francis will face:

Macier Izturis, 2B

Jeff Mathis, C

Juan Rivera, RF

Brandon Wood, 3B

Robb Quinlan, LF

Terry Evans, CF

Freddy Sandoval, 1B

Gary Patchett, SS

Scott Kazmir, LHP

Smith has solid numbers, but work to do

Rockies left-hander Greg Smith’s presence means the Rockies have starting rotation depth. His performance in Cactus League play has been far better than one would expect from a depth guy.

 

Smith held the Athletics to one run and three hits in five innings of Friday’s 10-4 Rockies victory. He also struck out six, and had his third successful pickoff of the spring.

 

Still, it would take some misfortune on someone’s behalf for him to make the team to start the season, since the Rockies have five starters.

 

Since Smith underwent elbow surgery after a promising rookie season with the Athletics in 2008 and didn’t pitch in the Majors last year because of shoulder and back ailments, he isn’t being considered for bullpen duty. That means he most likely will begin the year at Triple-A Colorado Springs.

 

“They haven’t said a word to me, so my next step is work out tomorrow,” Smith said. “I’m whatever they tell me, whenever they tell me.”

 

Rather than be concerned about that, Smith is trying to continue his development. On Friday, he was behind in the count more than manager Jim Tracy would have liked, and didn’t spot his pitches to his glove side the way he wanted. He also was kicking himself for not successfully placing a bunt in his second at-bat.

 

Nonetheless, Smith’s 1.93 ERA matches the sparkling ones posted by confirmed rotation members Jorge De La Rosa and Jason Hammel.

 

“I wish it was a year earlier,” said Smith, who barely participated in Spring Training because of the flu and shoulder tightness. “But you learn a couple things being hurt. You learn what you should have done, what you should do, what to fix. This year was all about being healthy. I think I’ve made that step.”

 

Tracy said Smith was passable, but could be better.

 

“‘Smitty’ got ‘em out but he got them out dealing with a lot of hitter’s counts,” Tracy said. “He seems to be one of those types of craftsmen where he seems to always have one more pitch.

 

“Yet, I know that from an effectiveness standpoint, it will be difficult for him to go out there and pitch every fifth day, and pitch from behind.”

 

– Right-hander Tim Redding gave up two runs on three hits, including a triple and a double, in his one inning. Redding had competed for the rotation, but it was his first appearance after being converted to bullpen duty.

 

Tracy said part of it was just getting used to a new role. Redding attacked hitters well but didn’t locate payoff pitches.

 

“He threw his strikes, he got through his inning, and we’ll realize the fact that it was the first time we brought him out of the bullpen, then we’ll see what the follow up is,” Tracy said.

 

– Righty Manuel Corpas had two outs in his inning, but gave up a Daric Barton home run.

 

“Corpas was down,” Tracy said. “He did give up the home run to Barton. It was a sinker that didn’t sink enough.

 

“I wanted to see him get the ball down, and that’s what he did today.”

Doggone! Buchholz takes next step in comeback

Friday was a big one for Rockies righty reliever Taylor Buchholz. He faced hitters for the first time since last Spring Training. That was when he suffered an elbow injury that eventually required Tommy John ligament transfer surgery.

 

Reaching a milestone in a comeback that appears to be ahead of schedule, something else big happened.

 

He got a new dog!

 

Well, the dog might not be good news. He doesn’t exactly want one. We’ll explain that later.

 

But Buchholz was all smiles after his 25-pitch session against a mix of hitters. He threw fastballs for all but six pitches, which were changeups.

 

It’s still awhile before Buchholz will make it back to the Majors. He’ll more than likely need a month in extended spring training, then he can work his way back to the Majors. But no one expected him to be facing hitters at this point.

 

Buchholz had a career year in 2008, posting a 2.17 ERA in 63 appearances as the Rockies’ primary right-handed setup man.

 

“I was very happy with it – it went about as well as I can imagine,” Buchholz said. “I felt under control. I felt normal, which is about all I can ask for going out there for the first time.”

 

Buchholz will throw another bullpen on Monday and begin mixing in three or four curveballs per session.

 

“When I can throw my curveball with the intensity that I’ve done in the past, that’ll be a good day,” he said.

 

Little did Buchholz know, but an omen pointed to his day being different and special. Buchholz and his wife, Ashley, have a bull terrier and a Pomeranian. But on Friday morning, Ashley was walking the dogs in a nearby park when a cocker spaniel began following them, and didn’t stop.

 

Folks began entering the clubhouse, telling Buchholz he has a new dog. After several folks informed him, he asked, “Is this a joke or something.” Then Ashley sent him pictures.”

 

“I hope we don’t have three dogs right now,” Buchholz said. “I can’t handle three dogs. I guess he’s adopted us, followed her the whole way around.”

 

Maybe with each milestone in his comeback, a new dog will appear.

 

“That’s not happening,” he said.

Reynolds to begin throwing, lightly; ‘Q’ has MCL sprain

Rockies right-hander Greg Reynolds, who suffered a bone chip in his right elbow after being hit by a line drive early in camp, said he will throw “light and easy” — at about 45 feet. Reynolds, who dealt with shoulder problems last year and never pitched in the Majors, was making dramatic progress before the freak injury.

An MRI confirmed a left medial collateral ligament sprain for non-roster infielder Omar Quintanilla. He will miss a month.

Street’s MRI shows no structural damage

Rockies right-hander Huston Street said Friday the good news is there is no structural damage to his ailing right shoulder, beyond “a normal pitcher’s.” But there is still inflammation that must calm down, and he’s still going to need to rebuild his throwing program, so the chances are pretty much nill he’ll be available for Opening Day.

Of course, that beats the heck out of having some thing torn and needing to make a decision on surgery.

“The MRI is not going to lie to you, so you have to trust that,” Street said. “I’ve been examined by a number of doctors, by our training staff. All of them are on the same page. You lend a lot of trust as an athlete to those types of people to tell you when something’s right, when something’s wrong.

“The picture was just another level of confirmation to that. It doesn’t hide the fact that there’s an issue that’s causing inflammation. But there’s no structural damage.”

Street said his schedule for returning to the mound is unclear. He said he and the club have discussed what the DL placement means. If he doesn’t throw in the Cactus League, it’ll mean some appearances in Tucson in extended Spring Training. The Rockies’ policy also is to have injured players do a Minor League injury rehab assignment, usually with the affiliate that’s playing in the best weather, and Street said the potential of that has been discussed.

But that’s after his shoulder feels better.

“Right now we’re just trying to get all the soreness, the stiffness out, get the motion back in the shoulder, basically, then you have to go through the throwing program,” he said.

Street underwent an offseason throwing program, but he said there’s no sense regretting it.

“You do try and figure out maybe some mistakes were made, but at the end of the day these things happen — it’s the nature of being a pitcher,” Street said. “I was just preparing myself like I had the season I had the most success, 2009 and 2005 and 2006. Those are the seasons I’d thrown more coming into camp, and I started off the season where I wanted to be.”

Rockies creative with Giambi

Veteran first baseman Jason Giambi will back up Todd Helton but also be called upon to deliver key hits late in games. So the Rockies know they’re going to have to be creative to keep him sharp.

 

That started Thursday. Giambi made the trip to Peoria, Ariz., from Tucson, Ariz., to make four plate appearances (0-for-3, hit by a pitch) against the Mariners in the Rockies’ 9-2 victory. The main reason Giambi made the drive — something rare for big-name players — was to face Mariners starter Ryan Rowland-Smith, a left-hander. The Rockies have not seen many of those this spring.

 

Before Thursday, Giambi had stepped in the box against a lefty just once.

 

Giambi also will play in some Minor League games for at-bats.

 

Almost as important is keeping sharp at first base, since he’ll have to spell Helton. The Rockies believe Giambi can be effective defensively in part-time duty. Last year with the Athletics, Giambi was forced into regular playing time at first because of injuries. A worn Giambi hit .193 before being released.

 

He found a revival with the Rockies while being used mostly as a pinch-hitter during a successful September push to the playoffs. The Rockies will not let him play himself into a wall. Just in case Helton has to miss extended time, the Rockies are preparing utility man Melvin Mora and right fielder Brad Hawpe for occasional duty at first base.

 

“It’s a little bit different,” Giambi said. “But at the same time, you start to get older. Being in the situation we are, it’s a great Rockies ballclub. I’m excited to be a part of it. I expect a lot of great things this year.

 

“I feel great. I’m moving around good. I’ve made some good plays defensively [this spring].”

Cook to face Minor Leaguers Sunday; Smith gets Friday start

Rockies right-hander Aaron Cook’s search for the proper release point on his sinker will take him to the Minor League complex at Hi Corbett Field on Sunday.

 

Cook will start in a Minor League game, rather than go to Surprise, Ariz., for the game against the Royals. Righty prospect Jhoulys Chacin will start in Cook’s place.

 

Cook is 0-2 with an 11.42 ERA in three starts. His last two have been particularly bad, with balls either missing the strike zone entirely or left in poor locations. The issue is the ball isn’t leaving his hand at a consistent point.

 

Cook still will throw the same number of pitches, although the Rockies would like for him to let those carry him for five innings rather than the 2 2/3 and 3 that he pitched his last two times on the mound. But manager Jim Tracy said the setting will better allow Cook to regain the form that has led him to a franchise-high 59 career wins.

 

“Just put him in what we would consider to be a less-stressful environment,” Tracy said. “Just give him an opportunity to bear down mentally and focus on making pitches.

 

“It really doesn’t matter as far as I’m concerned as far as who’s standing at home plate with him. We’ve got to get him to the point where we see the sinker going down — the sinker going down in a good spot.”

 

Tracy also announced that projected Opening Day starter Ubaldo Jimenez will pitch in the Minor League game on Friday, and left-hander Greg Smith will attempt to continue his impressive spring in the game at Hi Corbett Field against the Athletics.

 

Smith (1-0, 2.00 ERA this spring) was expected to compete for a rotation spot last year, after arriving in a trade with the Athletics, but he pitched a limited number of Minor League innings because of back and shoulder issues. Tracy has scheduled Smith for five innings.

 

“We know Ubaldo Jimenez is pitching Opening Day,” Tracy said. “There’s nothing else I can tell you. In the case of Greg Smith, we’re talking about a guy who did not compete last year. I want him facing as good a grade of hitters as we can possibly get him up against.”

Flores bruised, Betancourt fine after throwing

X-rays on Thursday confirmed that Rockies left-hander Randy Flores has a bruised left forearm. He was hit by a line drive during Wednesday’s game against the Indians.

Righty setup man Rafael Betancourt, who has not pitched in a Cactus League game because of shoulder tightness, reported fine after facing hitters for 25 pitches on Wednesday. He’s in line for a simulated game Saturday, and could be involved in Minor League games next week.

The Rockies are awaiting MRI rsults on the sore right shoulder of closer Huston Street and the left knee of non-roster infielder Omar Quintanilla. The tightness and the interruption of preparation likely means Street will begin the year on the disabled list, but manager Jim Tracy said he is maintaining hope that the damage is not extensive and Street will not be out for long.

Notes: Redding gets chance to make Rox’s bullpen

Rockies manager Jim Tracy informed non-roster right-hander Tim Redding on Wednesday that his best opportunity to break camp with the Major League squad is in the bullpen. Tracy said he’ll use Redding accordingly for the rest of Spring Training.

The decision was expected. The Rockies came to camp with five starters. As long as they performed, the only opening would be because of an injury.

Tracy wanted to act now, since he needs to see how Redding bounces back between outings. It isn’t clear whether Tracy will use Redding in short stints or to go through the lineup at least once. That’s part of what Tracy wants to see.

Tracy said he didn’t guarantee Redding a spot. But the chance is there. That chance was enhanced Wednesday when closer Huston Street announced that he was having an MRI to diagnose his right shoulder tightness. The development means Street is likely to begin the year on the disabled list, which will cause a shuffling of bullpen members.

“We’ve got plenty of days left to pitch him, sit him down, get him back up after a day off, see what the stuff looks like, and eventually get him up to the point where we see can he go a couple of days in a row,” Tracy said.

In other developments:

– Tracy will allow right fielder Brad Hawpe to play some first base in Minor League games and plans to use utility man Melvin Mora at first in Cactus League games.

This is a contingency plan. The club has Jason Giambi to step in when Todd Helton needs a rest. But if Helton is injured for a long period, Tracy said he does not want to wear out Giambi. Last season, Giambi was forced into daily duty with the Athletics because of injury and saw his batting average drop to .193 before he was released.

Mora took groundballs at first base on Wednesday. Tracy said he wants to make sure Hawpe is comfortable at first base before counting on that as a possibility. 

– Veterans tend to avoid the bus trips to the Phoenix area, but Giambi will go with the squad to Peoria, Ariz., for Thursday’s game against the Mariners.

– Giambi, Helton, Hawpe and center fielder Dexter Fowler also are candidates to hit in Minor League games. The Rockies have not faced a large number of left-handed pitchers, so Minor League games serve as opportunities for at-bats.

– Righty reliever Matt Belisle threw a perfect inning with a strikeout against the Indians, and has four scoreless innings in three games. Tracy said Belisle is in “attack mode, with some overwhelming stuff.”

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