Making the team better is bigger than making the team
Spring Training can feel like a lot of time to determine little. Teams spend six weeks figuring out the fifth starter, a bullpen position or two, the last infielder and outfielder, and the backup catcher. If we’re lucky, a position or two in the regular lineup. The media fill the World Wide Web with stories about players who will go largely ignored during the regular season. Of course, nothing is wrong with this. And if one of these backups becomes a star, fans have a chance to remember something about him, or at least they can plug his name into a search engine and find plenty.
But the real issue flies under the radar.
In all this activity, what do the stars and backups alike do that will carry over into the regular season?
Probelm is the important work is hard to measure. Last year’s Rockies best illustrate this issue.
The Rockies were 20-11-1 last spring. The storyline went that moving from Tucson, Ariz., to the new complex in Scottsdale, Ariz., meant more regualrs could play regularly, and it showed in the performance. The party line was more time together meant better fundamental play.
But as the Rockies were careening toward 89 losses, I talked to one veteran player who made a point: Many of those sound, fundamental at-bats — the productive outs, the hit-and-runs, the walks — came from young players who were not even in the big-league radar. When they were in the game, the guys they were just as far from the Majors. All of this made the sparkling record empty.
Manager Jim Tracy is paying special attention to the starters this spring to make sure they’re playing winning baseball, even though the victories don’t count once the regular year begins.
After Saturday’s victory over the Giants, Tracy was every bit as excited about outfielder Tyler Colvin’s hit-and-run that drove in a run as he was about Juan Nicasio’s 5 2/3 innings of positive pitching. After Saturday’s victory over the Giants, he made a point of mentioning Jonathan Herrera’s well-executed hit-and-run that led to a two-run inning and complimented Carlos Gonzalez on an RBI groundout with two strikes. These comments have been common this spring.
The headlines will go to position competitions, but we all can use the reminder that spring is not just about making the team.
It’s about making the team better.
Some notes about today’s game against the Angels at Tempe Diablo Stadium:
— Marco Scutaro, who played shortstop for the Red Sox last season but was acquired by the Rockies to start at second base, will make his first Cactus League start at short today. Scutaro’s ability to move to short is important.
Tracy has vowed not to overuse regular shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. Last season, Tulowitzki played in 143 games but that was with him not playing after Sept. 22 with hip soreness. He would have played had the team been in the playoff hunt, but would his production have been compromised? Would he have put himself at risk for further injury?
The 140-game mark sounds smart, but the Rockies need to do that at a normal pace. If they need the National Guard to keep him out of the lineup for a few games in April and May, so be it.
The Rockies have several players capable of playing short in a pinch, but Scutaro represents an experienced alternative with classic shortstop abilities.
— For the second time this spring, Scutaro is batting first and Dexter Fowler is hitting second. They usually are flopped. The first time it happened, Scutaro delivered an RBI double and Fowler had a good game at the plate. Both have spent the spring searching for their swings.
— Regular right fielder Michael Cuddyer is starting at first base today. Tracy had used Cuddyer for eight defensive innings at the position in previous spring games, but Cuddyer must be prepared for more. If Todd Helton’s back becomes an issue, the Rockies could move Cuddyer to first and fill his spot with a backup outfielder.
Here is a look at today’s lineups:
ROCKIES BATTING ORDER
Marco Scutaro, SS
Dexter Fowler, CF
Carlos Gonzalez, LF
Jason Giambi, DH
Michael Cuddyer, 1B
Jordan Pacheco, 3B
Wilin Rosario, C
Tyler Colvin, RF
Brandon Wood, 2B
Starter: Drew Pomeranz, LHP
Matt Reynolds, LHP
Edgmer Escalona, RHP
Matt Belisle, RHP
Josh Outman, LHP
Stephen Dodson, RHP
ANGELS BATTING ORDER
Erick Aybar, SS
Howie Kendrick, 2B
Albert Pujols, 1B
Torii Hunter, RF
Vernon Wells, CF
Kendrys Morales, DH
Bobby Abreu, LF
Alberto Callaspo, 3B
Chris Iannetta, C
Starter: Garrett Richards, RHP
Jordan Walden, RHP
Hisanori Takahashi, LHP
Rich Thompson, RHP