Rockies third baseman Ian Stewart knocked his first spring home run, a shot to right field off Rangers starter Matt Harrison that nearly left Surprise Stadium, in Monday’s 7-6 loss to the Rangers.
But a quieter RBI — a sixth-inning single through the left side of the infield to score Miguel Olivo from second — impressed manager Jim Tracy every bit as much.
Olivo alertly took second on a pitch in the dirt. Stewart changed his game plan, realizing that going with a pitch the other way could change the scoreboard.
“That was a tremendous piece of hitting, an at-bat that you wouldn’t have seen him take last year, being in pull mode as much as he was,” Tracy said.
It was an example of the situational hitting Tracy has called upon this spring.
“I don’t think our hitting approach has actually changed,” Tracy said. “The sensibility of taking advantage of every opportunity to take runs, that’s what’s changed.”
More often than not, the Rockies want to use left-hander Franklin Morales as closer while Huston Street nurses a sore right shoulder, but manager Jim Tracy hasn’t declared that the job belongs to Morales.
Tracy said Monday that he won’t make such a statement, but there’s a strategic reasons to avoid saying that.
Tracy wanted to reserve the right to go to a right-hander in a save situation, even one when Morales is already in the game.
“If Frankie going to get opportunities to close games? Yes, he is,” Tracy said. “But am I going to sit here and make a statement where I’m leaving myself in a position to explain why I took him out? I’m not going to do that.
“I don’t know how far our starter is going to pitch. I don’t know how many guys he’s going to pitch beyond. If I’ve got a situation that makes more sense for a right-handed hitter to face in a given inning after he’s started it, I’m not going to put myself in that position and feel like I have to answer questions as to why Franklin Morales didn’t do the job. Maybe he did do the job, up to the point where I felt I needed to go to somebody else.”
Morales pitched a clean inning on Monday against the Rangers.
Rockies right-hander Jason Hammel was strong overall, but his Cactus League ended with a bad final inning. Hammel gave up four runs in the fifth inning of Monday’s game against the Rangers. The inning featured Nelson Cruz’s two-run shot, after Vladimir Guerrero had reached on a bad-hop grounder that should have ended the inning.
For the game, Hammel went five innings, threw 90 pitches, and gave up five runs and eight hits, with four strikeouts and two walks.
“I’m ready to start making them count,” Hammel said. “My line wasn’t good but my arm felt good. I wanted to pull a positive out of it, but the last inning I got beat by a couple of fastballs that were up and a curveball that I hung. This is a good-hitting lineup and they hit mistakes.”
Hammel said one positive was he found his slider during the game. That and the elevated pitch count put him in a good position to start the regular season.
The outing against the Rangers increased Hammel’s spring ERA from 3.79 to 4.88. Hammel is scheduled for his first regular-season start April 10 at Coors Field against the Padres. He’ll throw one more time between now and then, at the Rockies’ training complex in Tucson, Ariz.
“Jason Hammel had a better outing than the numbers would indicate,” Rockies manager Jim Tracy said. “Obviously, he was out of the inning on the groundball that Guerrero hit that took the bad hop. But that’s not an excuse to hang the breaking ball he hung to Nelson Cruz, which is what happened.
“But he got his pitch count up there where we wanted it today.”
The Rockies’ strategy for pitching is based on attacking the strike zone with the fastball. The theory is the defense is so dependable, the only plays that can’t be stopped are the walk and the home run.
Third baseman Ian Stewart, shortstoop Troy Tulowitzki and second baseman Clint Barmes are bigger than average and tranaslate size into range. But one of the unsung advantages is they don’t have to be perfect with their throws because of first baseman Todd Helton’s ability to handle low throws.
I remember mentioning this last year, but here is the final 2009 stat from ACTA Sports:
Player Scoops Attempts Pct.
Todd Helton, Col. 183 207 88.4
Adam La Roche, Pit.-Bos.-Atl. 182 210 86.7
Albert Pujols, St.L. 187 217 86.2
Paul Konerko, CWS 197 231 85.3
Derrek Lee, ChC 145 171 84.8
Lance Berkman, Hou. 170 201 84.6
Lyle Overbay, Tor 211 250 84.4
Casey Kotchman, Atl.-Bos. 134 159 84.3
Rockies left-hander Jorge De La Rosa passed the biggest test of the spring in Sunday’s 6-6 tie with the Athletics. He pitched 5 2/3 innings without his best stuff, and held the Athletics to one run on seven scattered hits. De La Rosa struck out three, and the only run came on Jake Fox’s second-inning home run.
De La Rosa forced three double-play grounders, and had two sequences that demonstrated why he won 16 games last year and is being trusted with this year’s home opener — April 9 against the Padres.
The first two Athletics batters of the game, Coco Crisp and Rajai Davis, singled. But two groundballs later, including one by Eric Chavez for a double play, De La Rosa had a scoreless frame. In the second he bounced a pitch off the foot of Adam Rosales. It took an umpires’ conference to award Rosales first base. Instead of losing his cool, De La Rosa picked Rosales off first base.
“Not I know if I don’t have my best stuff, I can still pitch,” De La Rosa said.
Rockies manager Jim Tracy said, “He continues to show signs of understanding that you can’t let things get away from you.”
De La Rosa has a 1.80 ERA with 19 strikeouts and five walks this spring.
Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki gave the Rockies a 6-1 lead over the Athletics in the fifth inning with a three-run homer off left-handed starter Brett Anderson. It was his fourth homer of the spring. Tulowitzki also his hitting .359 with 10 RBIs.
“He’s not in search mode,” Rockies manager Jim Tracy said. “He came in here with the swing he finished the season with last year. He’s comfortable with it. He’s good with it. And he knows that.”
The jury is out on Rockies prospect Eric Young Jr. when it comes to his completeness. But he is finishing Spring Training demonstrating why folks are interested in the answer, and showing why there are questions.
In Sunday’s game with the Athletics, Young knocked a slow roller into left field and hustled out a double in the second inning. In the sixth, he walked, stole second and stole third.
But with two out and one on in the seventh, Young, who had moved from third base to center field, dropped an Eric Patterson fly ball that was almost directly at him. This came a day after a fly ball in left field by the White Sox’s Mark Kotsay ticked off his glove for a double.
The Rockies have tried Young, a second baseman, at second, third, left field and center field this spring. The defensive results have been mixed, and he has struggled in the outfield. Offensively, he was hitting .154 through March 19. In the nine days since, Young has hit .400 (8 for 20) to improve his batting average to .226. In fairness, before rushing unnecessarily and dropping the fly ball in the seventh inning, Young made a couple of stellar plays on hard-hit balls at third base.<p>
Unless something happens in the final days of camp, the switch-hitting Young will have time to work on his various skills. The Rockies’ signing of veteran right-handed hitting utility man Melvin Mora put Young in position to begin the year at Triple-A Colorado Springs.
The strong offensive finish is reminiscent of last spring, when Young looked nervous early but received regular work and finished well enough to make an impression. Last August, the Rockies called him up and used him at center field, second base and off the bench.
“I think that’s a good thing,” Young said. “You want to make sure you’re going into the season hitting your stride, and you want to take off at full speed. I’m glad I was able to get those not-so-good at-bats out the first week, especially with the pitchers a week ahead as far as timing and all that. So I feel pretty good coming into this last week.”
Rockies manager Jim Tracy said to remember that the expanded utility role is new for Young, who has the athletic ability but is having to develop the game-situation awareness to move from position to position.
“Coming in and doing it for the first time on day one of Spring Training, how can you not be pleased with what you’re seeing with this kid?” Tracy said. “I told him a while back, ‘I don’t know what you’re hitting and I don’t care what you’re hitting, because you’re going to hit. You don’t need to prove that to us.’
“That’s not even an issue. But how comfortable can you be if in the middle of the game I move you from third base to center field? Can you do that? That’s part of what a big-time utility player is able and must be capable of doing. There’s a little bit of a challenge to it.”
You look at right-handed bullpen candidate Tim Redding’s rough stat line — five runs and seven hits in two innings — and wonder if it would have been different had something gone right.
There was a close pitch to Mark Kotsay that could have been his second strikeout of the seventh inning. Instead, Kotsay lined a pitch to left that Eric Young Jr., trying to build his outfield skills so he can play a utility role, couldn’t pull in after getting a glove on it. There were a couple of grounders that went right past Redding. There was a bloop single.
Redding (1-1, 8.74 ERA in five Cactus League games) couldn’t wrap his mind around it all.
“The strikes I’m throwing are getting hit, balls are finding holes … I really don’t have anything for you,” Redding said. “I’m not overthrowing. I’m not trying to do anything other than throw strikes and get guys out. Today just seemed everything that I threw that was a strike, a good strike or a bad srike, was getting hit hard. The balls that weren’t hit as hard found a way to get through somewhere.”
Redding, who has been used mostly as a starter, was brought in under a Minor League contract as insurance in case left-hander Jeff Francis needed more time. Francis is returning after missing last season because of shoulder surgery, but his health has not been an issue. The Rockies told Redding recently his best chance to make the team is as a reliever.
Redding is competing with right-handers Justin Speier and Juan Rincon, as well as lefty Joe Beimel, for a long man role in the bullpen. Beimel, signed just days ago, pitched one inning in a Minor League game (two hits, two runs, one earned) on Sunday, and will pitch in a Cactus League game on Monday.
Rincon pitched out of a first-and-third situation and forced an inning-ending double play in the ninth, and has a 4.00 ERA in four games. Speier has a 2.70 ERA in nine appearances, and has a split-finger pitch that allows him to attack right-handed and left-handed batters.
Before Sunday, the last Aaron Cook sighting in a Cactus League game featured him getting knocked around by the White Sox on March 16 — six runs and six hits in three innings pitched.
But Cook felt he regained his timing in a Minor League game last Saturday. He returned against the White Sox on Saturday afternoon and held them to one run and six hits in six innings of the Rockies’ 6-2 loss at Hi Corbett Field.
It’s as if the bad game against the Sox — and the bad start to the spring (0-2, 11.42 ERA in three starts) never occurred.
“I hate to say I was just getting my work in [during the first few starts], but that’s what I have to use it as — getting my arm in shape,” Cook said. “Now that I’m getting my timing down, and I’m getting the ball coming out of my hand real well, it’s time to go out there and start getting after it.”
Cook said he likes the order of the rotation. Right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez will open on April 5 in Milwaukee, followed by lefty Jeff Francis and Cook. Lefty Jorge De La Rosa will start the home opener on April 9, followed by righty Jason Hammel.
“We’ve got five completely different pitchers that we’re running out there, so it’s not like we’re running back-to-back sinkerballers or back-to-back lefties,” Cook said.
Rockies manager Jim Tracy tweaked the pitching plan for Saturday. Earlier, the plan was for right-hander Tim Redding to start in a Minor League game. But manager Jim Tracy said Redding instead will pitch in the Major League game in relief of a game with the White Sox, which Aaron Cook will start. Lefty Joe Beimel and and righty Matt Belisle are scheduled to pitch in the Minor League game.