Uncertainty doesn’t compute with Rockies veteran right-handed pitcher Claudio Vargas, who is in camp on a Minor League contract.
In 2009, Vargas joined the Brewers in a deadline trade with the Dodgers and went 1-0 with a 1.78 ERA in 28 games as the primary right-handed setup man. Vargas parlayed that performance into a one-year, $900,000 contract with the Brewers.
Problem was the Brewers also signed LaTroy Hawkins to be the primary righty setup man. In a floating role, Vargas went 1-0 with a 7.32 ERA in 17 games before the Brewers released him on June 4. Vargas signed with the Dodgers and went to Triple-A Albuquerque, but went 2-6 with a 5.89 ERA in 10 starts and eventually was released.
“It was different for me,” said Vargas, who turns 32 on May 19. “Even when the season started, they never told me what role I was going to have. That’s hard when you don’t know when you’re going to pitch. It’s hard when one day you pitch when the game is one-run or tied, and the next day you pitch when the game is one-sided.
“This game is hard. You have to set up your mind like a computer.”
Realizing he’ll have to prove himself, Vargas went 4-1 with a 3.49 ERA in 16 games in the Dominican Winter League this past season. The performance earned him a shot with the Rockies.
Vargas said the Rockies were a good fit for him.
“They want to win, and they’re taking more veteran people,” he said. “I don’t say young guys can’t do the job. But they prefer somebody with experience on the mound. We’ll see what happens. I feel very good, and I know I’ll have a good spring.”
Commercial appeal for CarGo
This winter, Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez was featured as part of Gillette’s “Young Guns.” Gonzalez spent the afternon and into the evening working through anotehr commercial shoot.
The Rockies have reached a Minor League agreement with right-hander John Maine, who won 15 games in 2007 but has battled shoulder problems in recent years, the team said Thursday. Maine went 1-3 with a 6.13 ERA in nine starts with the Mets last year. Maine will join the Rockies Saturday.
Infielder Joe Crede, who reached a Minor League agreement with the Rockies, before camp, decided not to report to Spring Training, the Rockies announced Thursday morning. No reason was given. Crede last played for the Twins in 2009, but missed the end of that season and all of 2010 because of back surgery.
It’s a time for excitement, but also a time for caution
Welcome to Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. Players are raving about the place. Reliever Huston Street told me before he arrived that he expected Monday to be “Christmas in February.” Well, after being there, stretching, tossing a football around, lifting weights, tossing the medicine ball and just walking around, he thought it was something more.
“It’s way more than that … I don’t know what this is,” Street said. “This is unbelievable.”
And, no, Valentine’s Day wasn’t an adequate description.
Nonetheless, this is a workplace. Rockies pitching coach Bob Apodaca said his biggest challenge is not convincing players to work in the lap of luxury. It’s not letting them overdo it when pitchers and catchers begin official workouts on Tuesday afternoon.
Last spring, key relievers Huston Street and Rafael Betancourt suffered shoulder injuries early in camp. Street’s was because, in hoping to reach a new level, he wanted to throw with regular-season intensity from the first day. Betancourt’s injury occurred because he suffered an illness during the offseason and didn’t figure out what his arm was capable of until pain overtook him. Add to that left-handed starter Jeff Francis’ shoulder problems at the end of camp, and last spring was a failure in terms of having pitchers ready for the regular season.
That won’t be happening this spring.
Apodaca has a message for all his pitchers — one that numerous youth teams and coaches already working for their seasons, with children who don’t yet have facial hair or are getting peach fuzz, need to heed as well.
The first time out, and beyond, Rockies pitchers will throw a limited number of fastballs and a few changeups. The fastball is the main pitch they need, anyhow, so why take the risk with breaking stuff?
“That’s the first order of business every spring, to repeat the fastball, be comfortable with it,” Apodaca said. “When it goes astray, when I throw a scud, how do I get back to where I want to be?
“They can throw some changeups. [Matt] Lindstrom has really been working on his changeup. [Esmil] Rodgers has really been working on his changeup. It’s basically 80 percent fastballs, 20 percent changeups the first couple of times out, we’ll start throwing some breaking pitches. The fourth time, we’re going to bring them back a little bit, because their next time is going to be a batting practice.”
Apodaca said he realizes some pitchers have carried a heavier offseason workload than they’ll be asked to perform at the start of camp. But there will be no argument. It’s for the protection of the pitchers.
“This is always the most insecure time for me,” Apodaca said.
The gang’s almost all here
Most of the pitchers and catchers showed up at the complex, played catch and worked in the fitness center. One notably absent hurdler was left-hander Jorge De La Rosa, the No. 2 starter in the rotation. De La Rosa has an offseason home in the Phoenix area, but he went home to Mexico with his family and experienced visa issues trying to make it before Monday.
Players from outside the United States routinely experience delays, usually because of the time it takes to process the paperwork.
A fond goodbye to the Dominican Republic
Rockies right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez, who finished third in the National League Cy Young Award voting last year, flew from the Dominican Republic to Phoenix on Friday, but not before leaving (in Spanish) a message to his country on a personal social media site. Here’s a translation:
“Goodbye my beloved land and my people, we are going to fight, God willing, with all our strength for the triumphs, we won’t be able to win every single time but sometimes you win by losing, so I hope you follow all of us Dominicans and send us a lot of blessings our way, I always carry my homeland in my heart and in my mind and I hope I can keep on making you feel proud.”
‘Tulo’ simply couldn’t wait
Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki has been itching to play ever since signing his new, seven-year extension (which last through 2020) not long after last season ended. On Monday, he arranged to meet general manager Dan O’Dowd at the complex at 8 a.m.
By 7 a.m., Tulowitzki texted O’Dowd saying he had eaten breakfast and was already en route to the park.
“I was definitely anxious to get here – a new facility,” Tulowitzki said. “I woke up early, had that itch, wanted to get to the field, see all the fields, see the new locker room. Wow. Special facility. I’m glad I’m getting to enjoy it for a long time.”
The first full-squad workout is not until next Tuesday.
Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki has a new contract, not to mention a new, buzzier haircut. He said last week he kept mullet he grew for charity last year, and hadn’t decided whether to auction off those locks for charity.
Baseball fans in the Santa Clara area will get to see Tulowtizki’s new look up close.
Tulowitzki will be honored at tonight’s Santa Clara Hot Stove Banquet.
Right-hander Claudio Vargas and left-hander Sean White each will try to bounce back from difficult 2010 seasons with the Rockies this year. Both have agreed to terms on Minor League contracts with invitations to Major League Spring Training.
Vargas, 32, posted a 1.78 ERA in 28 relief appearances for the Brewers in 2009, but had a 7.32 ERA in 17 games with the Brewers last season before the club cut ties with him. Vargas is 48-40 with a 4.83 ERA in 217 Major League games, including 114 starts, with the Expos, D-backs, Brewers, Mets and Dodgers.
White, who turns 30 on April 25, achieved a 2.80 ERA in 52 appearances for the Mariners in 2009 but saw that number balloon to 5.24 with the Mariners last season.
The pair will compete for bullpen jobs and add depth.
Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez will travel from Venezuela to Denver on Sunday, rather than Wednesday as previously announced, according to tweets from his publicists. The tweets say he will receive the visa on Wednesday. But there has been no change in his plan to take a physical and make official the seven-year, $80 million contract he has agreed to with the Rockies.
Travel delays or last-minute logistical changes are no big deal. If you recall, players from Latin American countries often are delayed by visa issues when they try to make the trip to the U.S.
The Rockies filled a key spot in their bullpen by acquiring right-hander Matt Lindstrom from the Astros. Full details will come soon.
Lindstrom, who turns 31 on Feb. 11, went 2-5 with a 4.39 ERA for the Astros last season. The Rockies attempted to acquire him in November, when they obtained righty Felipe Paulino from the Astros for second baseman Clint Barmes, but the clubs could not find a match.
Lindstrom is 10-13 with a 4.00 ERA in 249 relief appearances with the Marlins (2007-09) and the Astros (2010). According to media reports, the Astros were looking to deal the arbitration-eligible Lindstrom for payroll-management reasons.
Lindstrom, who has an offseason home in the Denver area, is a strike-thrower — 187 career strikeouts to 91 walks in 225 innings. He also has earned 43 career saves, including 23 for the Astros last season. Lindstrom began last season as the Astros’ closer, but he went to the disabled list with a back issue and never regained consistency. Lindstrom joins Rafael Betancourt and Matt Belisle as primary right-handed setup men.
A key reason for acquiring Lindstrom is for protection in case right-hander Huston Street is injured. Street missed the first 69 games of last season with a shoulder injury and suffered some setbacks during his rehab. Left-hander Franklin Morales, who is still with the club, struggled when replacing Street. Manuel Corpas, the Rockies’ one-time closer, had some success in the role but was released after the season.
The trade for Lindstrom also pushes the Rockies’ Major League roster to the limit of 40, which means they’ll need to either make all further signings Minor League contracts, or they’ll have to make a move to add someone on a Major League deal. The Rockies have acknowledged that they’re trying to re-sign left-handed starter Jeff Francis, their No. 1 pitcher before shoulder injuries marred his last two seasons, and left-handed reliever Joe Beimel.
Reports via Twitter out of Venezuela have Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez having agreed to a seven-year, $80 million contract with the Rockies.
However, club officials reached Thursday would not confirm the report, beyond saying the Rockies would like a long-term deal with Gonzalez, who finished third in National League Most Valuable Player voting. Gonzalez’s agent, Scott Boras, could not be immediately reached.
Since the original tweet, in Spanish from a radio commentator in Venezuela, numerous reporters in Venezuela and the U.S. are saying there is no deal. A tweet from CarGoMedia5, which is believed to be official, denies there is a deal.
Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki recently signed a seven-year, $134 million extension that will keep him with the club through 2020. Tulowitzki has three years left on his current deal. The Rockies also reached out to Gonzalez and ace pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez, who finished third in the Cy Young Award voting in 2010.
If such a deal is completed, it would qualify as a holiday shocker.
The Rockies often look to lock up young stars before they reach free agency, and Gonzalez won’t be eligible until 2014 at the earliest. However, Boras’ clients tend to test the market, and receive big-money, long-term contracts, when they become eligible to do so.
It will be the biggest pre-arbitration deal signed by a Rockies player since Tulowitzki signed a six-year, $31 million contract after a strong rookie year in 2007.
Rockies manager Jim Tracy said Friday evening his heart is strong and, just as importantly, in good hands.
Tracy collapsed during the Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., because of an arrhythmia after a long day and evening with his staff, and was taken to a local hospital for testing. He was released several hours later.
Since then, Tracy went to Denver and has been under the care of a cardiologist, Dr. Barry Molk at the Sky Ridge Medical Center in Aurora, Colo. Not only is the prognosis good so far, but he expects to be healthier.
“Dr. Molk, honest to goodness, his bedside manner is as professional as anybody I’ve ever been around in my life,” Tracy said. “He’s absolutely aware of what took place in Orlando, and I’ve had every test you could possibly think of, and everything is positive.
“I feel really good as it gets closer to Santa Claus. There is a 30-day window and there are a couple of he wants to look at, and he wants to see me again at the end of January. But unless I’m told otherwise, I may push down the clutch and switch to yet another gear. I mean it. There is nothing to slow me down. I don’t have to do things step-by-step. No way. I’m going to keep on plowing forward.”
In addition to making doctor’s visits, Tracy has been busy. He made an appearance at the Rockies’ annual employees Christmas party, attended a luncheon with Greg Feasel, the Rockies’ executive vice president of business operations, and executives of FSN Rocky Mountain, and was at a special event at The Broadmoor hotel in Colorado Springs on Thursday. Tracy also visited with new infield acquisitions Ty Wigginton and Jose Lopez, who made visits to Coors Field.
On Friday, Tracy was headed back to Florida for a happier occasion — the holidays with his family.
There will be a full story on the Rockies’ Web site soon.
The Rockies acquired backup catcher Jose Morales from the Twins on Thursday for Minor League left-handed pitcher Paul Bargas. Morales will be the primary backup to Chris Iannetta.
Morales, who turns 28 on Feb. 20, has hit .297 in 74 Major League games over three seasons for the Twins, who have star Joe Mauer as their regular catcher and Drew Butera as his primary backup.
By acquiring Morales, the Rockies also bought time for a deep group of catching prospects.
Bargas, 22, a 13th-rpound pick out of Cal-Riverside in 2009, went 5-4 with a 3.59 ERA in 58 relief appearances at Class A Asheville last season.