Results tagged ‘ Clint Hurdle ’

The last days of sweat …

Manager Clint Hurdle announced the position players for his Opening Day roster, but until the team takes the field Monday against the D-backs no one can be sure.

This makes for nervous moments for some players.

— Utility man Jeff Baker is considered a player who could hit for power with regular playing time. Manager Clint Hurdle will try to find that for him, but there’s always a shot that another team with a greater opportunity for him at third base may want to make a trade.

— It looks as if right-hander Juan Morillo will make the squad. Morillo is out of options but has pitched well enough in camp to earn a job. However, the Denver Post reported Wednesday that the Rockies are considering trading for the Rays’ Jason Hammel, a starter type, or the Cubs’ Chad Gaudin.

Right-hander Matt Belisle, who looks to be the odd man out with the Rockies, also is in a fluid situation, since deals could open a spot for him here or something could pop elsewhere.

Seth Smith out, for good reason

Rockies left fielder Seth Smith left camp to be with his wife, Lindsay, for the birth of their first child in Mississippi. Manager Clint Hurdle said Smith will rejoin the team for exhibition games in Las Vegas at the end of the week.

Manuel Corpas and the dangers of civilization

Today is Manuel Corpas’ turn in the Rockies’ closer competition, especially with Huston Street showing that he’s capable of the job. Corpas is scheduled to pitch Friday against the Mariners at Peoria.

Corpas didn’t give up any runs in his last outing, earlier this week against the Cubs, but in many ways it was a disturbing outing. He walked three, and was saved partly becuase catcher Chris Iannetta threw out Alfonso Soriano stealing. But in the middle of the inning, manager Clint Hurdle and not pitching coach Bob Apodaca went out for words with Corpas. When the manager makes the initial visit, the words aren’t gentle.

But when Corpas returned to the dugout, Apodaca had plenty to say.

On one of the early pitches of the inning, Corpas thought he had a strike, and his body language on the mound let umpires, opponents, teammates and pretty much everyone in the stadium know how he felt. It’s a body language that doesn’t win the favor of those who decide whether a pitch is a strike.

“I told him not to lose it, because he is the potential closer,” Apodaca said. “If that was the ninth inning and he had the same body language that he was showing his teammates … That’s what I told him, ‘You need to show your team that you’ve got everything in control.

“And I didn’t like the way he was throwing the baseball. Everything was flat. Everything was from the side. He needed to have some angle to his pitches.”

But this is where things get tricky.

The conduct was obviously what the Rockies don’t want. But the attitude that led to it was wonderful.

Apodaca noted that it was the heart of the Cubs’ regular-season lineup, and the best set of hitters Corpas has faced this spring. Corpas was understandably pumped, and wanted to go after someone.

The intensity Apodaca saw reminded him of the Corpas who turned heads as a setup man in 2006 and early 2007, and was dominant in late 2007 and through the playoffs. It was a streetfight mentality from a guy who didn’t know any better than to go out and try to destroy a batter’s confidence.

When Corpas struggled early last season and eventually lost the closer role, Apodaca felt he had become more gentile. So what made Apodaca mad in the game against the Cubs also made him happy.

“I saw more of what we wanted to see,” Apodaca said. “I saw more energy. I saw more of an attack in his mannerisms, even though he was unsuccessful as far as strikes. That’s the attitude he had. He had confidence that he could attack the strike zone, and the pitch would be in a quality location.

“Last year, I thought he became civillized. I thought he became a guy who tried to make perfect pitches. When you lose that slight edge right there, there goes that quality movement. It still has to be under the umbrella of timing and rhythm, but then absolutely seeing an area you want to throw to and aggressively going to that area.” 

Breathing easily

Good evening, everyone. It’s Thursday evening. If you’re back in Denver, sorry. That is, unless you enjoy shoveling snow. Some folks do. All I can say is I admire you.

Anyhow, I have a few thoughts about this afternoon’s 8-6 loss to the Dodgers, besides whatever appears in stories on the site. Here goes:

— Todd Helton had two doubles and is up to .423 in the Cactus League. Great sign, but what impressed me today was what I saw from him defensively. He dove for a hit that turned into an RBI double, but he didn’t hesitate to make that dive. After years of back problems, he wouldn’t have been blamed for thinking twice about it. Who knows? Maybe the intensity of a regular-season game would have given him the reach he needed to make that play. He also made a nice pickup and throw to the plate to cut down a runner.

Manager Clint Hurdle knows he needs to keep an eye on Helton’s back. But he also sees a player who doesn’t leave him breathless with worry.

“He is playing with freedom,” Hurdle said. “I am by no means on the edge of my seat watching his every move.”

— Left-hander Jorge De La Rosa had a bad inning, when he gave up five runs in the fourth. He also had four clean innings. So you can take what you want from this one. He could have minimized the damage, but walked pinch-hitter Doug Mientkiewicz and opened the door for the Dodgers. Breezing through the next inning was a good sign, but you’d like to see him stop trouble when it’s in progress.

Despite the 9.42 spring ERA, there is no wavering on De La Rosa as the No. 4 starter. 

— Outfield backup hopeful Scott Podsednik went 0-for-4 and is down to .231. He will need a strong finish to secure a job, especially with Matt Murton and Daniel Ortmeier hitting well and Dexter Fowler trying to change the thinking that he needs time in Triple-A. If the Rockies don’t go with Podsednik, they lose experience. Podsednik readily shares his knowledge with fellow outfielders, but production trumps that.

— One moment looked scarier from the press box than it was. On one of the two times catcher Chris Iannetta threw out a runner attempting to steal, he was hit on the left arm by backswinging bat. But Iannetta didn’t flinch. Getting clubbed with a bat is just part of the job.

That’s it for tonight. I need to pace myself. Tomorrow I’ll hit you with some thoughts on the closer competition, specifically where Manuel Corpas stands in the competition with Huston Street. 

Colonel wows his manager

Prospect Christian Colonel, who has received extensive playing time this spring because of injuries to third basemen Garrett Atkins and Jeff Baker, had manager Clint Hurdle talking about his ninth-inning, three-run homer in Monday’s 8-3 victory over the D-backs at Tucson Electric Park.

“I was waiting to hear some cars,” Hurdle said before making a car alarm sound.

— Baker, limited to two games this spring because of an elbow issue, was available but did not play Monday. Hurdle said Baker will start at third base on Tuesday against the Royals.

— Atkins has been out lately with a strained right hip flexor, but told the Denver Post on Monday that his right groin is sore, and limiting his lateral movement. Hurdle said after Monday’s game that there is no reason to push him into the lineup Tuesday. The club is off on Wednesday.

— Closer candidate Huston Street struck out two in two spotless innings on Monday. After struggling in his first two official spring outings, Street has thrown three perfect innings in his last two appearances. Righty releiver Jason Grilli, coming off a poor outing against the Mariners (three hits, two runs in one inning), walked one on Monday but pitched a scoreless inning. Lefty Glendon Rusch was credited with a save Monday after giving up three hits and a walk but no runs in two innings. He has thrown 4 1/3 scoreless innings in Cactus League games. He did give up two runs, one earned, in an intrasquad contest.

Chacin makes most of big chance; Cook pitches

The magic of Rockies right-handed prospect Jhoulys Chacin’s impressive first Major League cmap has been treating every opponent like the Class-A hitters he dominated while winning 18 games last year. He even tried that Monday in his first start in a Cactus League game, against the D-backs. For the most part, he succeeded in treating it like any other game.

“I was excited because it was my first time starting a game, but I felt good and I was doing what I wanted to do,” Chacin said.

Chacin, 21. went three innings and gave up three runs on four hits. he was perfect in the first two innings, but found trouble after Chris Roberson’s leadoff hit in the third. Roberson’s chopper sailed high and Chacin, who probably should have let second baseman Omar Quintanilla make the play, lost the ball in the sun and couldn’t catch it in time to throw to first.

The only solid hit of the innning was Evan Frey’s two-run triple on the only pitch he said he wanted back.

But the inning ended with a nice memory, when he fanned Justin Upton swinging.

“When I’m pitching, I don’t see who’s hitting, so I try to make my pitch — the only thing i can control is making my pitch,” said Chacin, who forced some weak contact with his sinker and had an effective changeup. “But Upton, I wanted to face him. He’s a good hitter and he’s young, too.”

Veteran first baseman Todd Helton gave a whole-hearted endorsement of Chacin.

“I love him,” Helton said. “He kept the ball down, threw strikes. He was working ahead. He doesn’t get rattled when he gets guys on base. He’s easy to play behind.”

Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said the Rockies have not discussed whether Chacin will make another Major League start, but there was plenty to like about Monday.

“He wouldn’t have had the year he had last year if he didn’t have a feel for waht he did,” Hurdle said. “He’s being challenged at this level and we wanted to get him out there in a starting opportunity. You saw a kid that’s got good mound presence, can sink the ball.

“He got a little amped up when he had some runners on base, but he did fine today.”

The Rockies haven’t said where Chacin will begin the season, although other top prospects with his resume have started at Double-A Tulsa with the chance to move to Triple-A Colorado Springs or the Majors at some point during the season.

Rockies right-hander Aaron Cook, the No. 1 starter, pitched to a mix of Rockies Minor Leagues and went five innings, with four hits and four runs, three earned, two strikeouts and one walk. He threw 78 pitches.  

Calling out the pitchers

Rockies right-hander Jason Marquis upheld a tradition for veteran pitchers. After some ugly numbers Saturday against the Mariners — 3 2/3 innings, nine hits, five runs, two walks, 88 pitches — he chalked it up to just being in Spring Training.

“For the most part, I executed a lot of pitches like I wanted to, and [hits] found some holes,” Marquis said. “A lot of positives, a lot of two-strike counts. It was a step in the right direction. I got my pitch count up. That’s why we’re here, to work on a few things, get some things straightened out. I think I’ve got four starts left.

“I didn’t really use my changeup as much as I would during the season. I was trying to get my curveball over for a strike — not only for a strike, but bury it when I needed to and throw it for a strike when I needed to. There were certain counts when I don’t think I would have thrown my curveball normally, but today I did. I tried to get a better feel for a cutter, not spinning it so much.”

Normally, that’s a right afforded pitchers who have been around. Marquis qualifies, having pitched for the Braves, Cardinals and Cubs.

But manager Clint Hurdle wasn’t as happy with Marquis’s direction.

“He had too many deep counts,” Hurdle said. “As a staff, we’re not executing anywhere near the level we’re going to need to execute to be successful. As a group, we’re talking about throwing 70 percent first-pitch strikes. We’re not doing it. We’re talking about acute location of our fastball, arm-side. We’re not doing it, so more of the same today.

“We’ve got some guys that are showing some flashes of some things, but as a staff, we’ve got to cover some ground here.”

Informed that Marquis said he was working on some pitches, Hurdle sounded as unhappy with the explanation as the performance.

“It’s time they started making comments after a game that ‘I commanded my fastball, I threw strikes, my slider was sharp, I had a good sinker,'” Hurdle said. “That’s what we need to start doing.”

It was clear Hurdle was delivering a message, not just to Marquis but to all of the starters. Only Aaron Cook and Ubaldo Jimenez, who has done his most-recent pitching for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic, have been consistently solid. 

It’s not as if Hurdle threatening massive changes in the rotation. The Rockies traded for Marquis to provide veteran leadership. That won’t change. Hurdle has been exceedingly patient with Jorge De La Rosa, who has struggled his last two times out and will meet the Dodgers on Sunday. The team is still trying to sort through a host of pitchers for the fifth starting spot.

Hurdle’s call for better quality might be as much a clarification as a declaration.

Some of the ugly early performances from starters occurred because the pitchers were under orders to work on one thing — fastball command — and had to pitch to a specific pattern. Hitters quickly figured out what pitch was coming. The Rockies relaxed those orders after each pitcher had a couple of starts.

But how close are the Rockies supposed to be to the form they need for a regular season that starts 23 days from now? The way Hurdle spoke on Saturday, it’s not close enough.

— Hurdle also was not happy with right-handed reliever Jason Grilli, who pitched well for Italy in the World Baseball Classic but gave up three hits and two runs in his inning.

“We’ve got to have improved focus and discipline off the mound,” Hurdle said. “Twenty pitches, poor fastball command, pitching one side of the plate. We’ve got way to many guys pitching one side of the plate that aren’t good enough to be pitching one side of the plate. These are things and areas we need to target and work on as we move forward.”

— Left-handed non-roster candidate Cedrick Bowers gav eup three runs on one hit and two walks before leaving with a back/rib cage injury that has hampered him all spring.

— Righty Ryan Speier continued his scoreless spring (six innings) by giving up one hit and a walk but striking out two in the ninth.

Opportunity awaits Gonzalez

Rockies outfielders Dexter Fowler and Carlos Gonzalez sit atop prop prospect lists. This year, Fowler generally occupies a higher rung than Gonzalez, partly because Gonzales had a much more meaningful run in the Majors last season. The Athletics used Gonzalez regularly for part of last season. Fowler received merely a few September at-bats.

But when it comes to making the Rockies’ roster out of Spring Training, experience is a benefit, not a curse.

Fowler is widely assumed to be headed to Triple-A Colorado Springs to begin the season. Gonzalez has an option left, and the Rockies have already declared their three outfielders atop the depth chart — Seth Smith in left, Ryan Spilborghs in center and Brad Hawpe in right. But manager Clint Hurdle is entering the season wanting to give Gonzalez every opportunity to impress him this spring.

“There won’t be a nurturing, coddling, holding his hand through it, like a Rule 5 guy you might go get and try and protect through the season,” Hurdle said. “He’s got some experience. He needs to play. There’s got to be reps. There’s got to be at-bats available.

“There’s that fine line, whether it’s 400 Minor League at-bats versus 300 [in the Majors]. I don’t know. If the numbers are workable, he can add a significant value to our club, whether it be playing a couple of outfield positions as a left-handed bat with some speed.”

Translated, the Rockies feel they’ll be at their best if Gonzalez is pushing Smith and Spilborghs for their starting jobs.

Right-handed hitting Matt Murton and left-handed hitters Daniel Ortmeier and Scott Podsednik are in the mix for backup outfield jobs, as well. Third baseman Ian Stewart will get a look in left field, utility man Jeff Baker has some experience in the outfield, and second baseman Clint Barmes is capable of going to the outfield. Hurdle sees him as only an emergency outfielder, but he said some in the organization believe Barmes could handle extended duty out there.

— As part of the execution emphasis, the Rockies are rating every hitting drill and posting the scores. There are 10 rounds based on hitting tasks — various bunts, driving in a runner from third, hit-and-run. Each exercise is given assigned a maximum point total. A score of 38 through nine rounds is considered perfect, then three is a bonus base-hit round. Sunday, for example, Gonzalez, shotstop Troy Tulowitzki and catcher Edwin Bellorin had the highest individual scores. Also, the team is divided into three groups, and the total number of points for each group is kept. Players are crowding in front of the whiteboard in the clubhosue to see their scores.

— The Rockies are planning an intrasquad game on Tuesday morning. They open their Cactus League schedule Wednesday at Hi Corbett Field against the D-backs.

— The early part of Sunday’s workout was devoted to a spirited “ragball” tournament. They used a machine to shoot beanbag-like balls at a pitcher completing a windup. Right-handed prospect Jhoulys Chacin won his group. Video coordinator Brian Jones won the contest involving staff members.

Manager Clint Hurdle had injury concerns, but signed off on the exercise in the name of team cohesiveness.

“There have been a number of things the guys have had a lot of fun with,” Hurdle said. “That might be at the top of the list right now.

— Left-handed veteran reliever Alan Embree left camp after Saturday’s workout to take care of a personal matter, and will be back in “a couple of days,” Hurdle said Sunday.

The art of the bunt, from unlikely artists

Todd Helton — Three career sacrifice bunts.

Brad Hawpe — Two.

Garrett Atkins — Zero.

Seth Smith — Eight in the Minors.

Yet at the end of Saturday’s rather lengthy workout (I didn’t time it, but it seemed long), all of the Rockies were taking turns bunting. And manager Clint Hurdle watched everyone intently. Multiple coaches offered tips to players.

The emphasis would seem odd. The Rockies play at Coors Field, where giving up outs seems a worse idea than other places because the park gives up so many runs. The Rockies have tried that strategy, with mixed results. They had 97 sac bunts in 2004 and 88 in 2005, yet won 73 and 67 games. They had 88 in their World Series year of 2007. The difference was in ’04 and ’05, the club had multiple position players with more bunts than any pitcher. In ’07, pitchers Aaron Cook and Jeff Francis were the far-and-away leaders.

So does this mean they’re headed back to the era of the Blake Street Bunters?

Not necessarily.

That’s not to say some folks who haven’t squared much will be doing so. After all, some of the ideas Hurdle has kicked around for a lineup involve Smith or Helton batting second in the order. That spot can come up at times the team is playing for one run. Also, last season the Rockies had such difficulty with runners in scoring position and in situations when they could have used a productive out that maybe the sac bunt could be a positive.

But the larger issue here is someone, or a few someones, must be able to execute the play. Therefore, it must be important to everyone, so all must work on it.

Before Spring Training, Atkins mentioned that the difference between an execution-oriented Minor League camp and most Major League camps, which often emphasize individualized work, is there are more skills that an entire team practices at once. This was one of those times for the Rockies, who did little tasks so well in ’07 and were awful at them in ’08.

Smith, for instance, looked out of place early in the drill but finished up with much cleaner fundamentals. Hurdle called him the “comeback bunter of the day” and lauded him for being mad enough at himself to immediately seek improvement.

Essentially, the philosophy is every weakness is important enough to improve. If a player sees his teammate addressing a shortcoming, how can he not address his own?

“I’m finding out who’s in a good place already and who can we isolate, that we’ve got some catch-up work to do with,” Hurdle said. “It’s something we’ve talked about. All of them need to be able to do it. Now, whether they’ll be asked or how many times, i don’t know that. But the focus is going to be on it.

“With that group setting, it’s helped us maintain. Everybody’s watching everybody else. I had a couple of guys help me out, saying, ‘Hey, so-and-so needs some work,’ because they’re working with them throughout the day.”

Helton dropped attempted more sac bunts during one turn in the batter’s box Saturday than he’s dropped in the Majors and Minors combined (seven), and he took more than one turn. Helton didn’t find it a waste of time at all.

“Every team bunts in Spring Training and goes over every fundamental — you never know when you’re going to be called to do it,” said Helton, who added that executing the bunt is a prerequisite for anyone who picks up a bat and calls himself a professional.

— Luis A. Gonzalez, a one-time starting second baseman who is returning to the Rockies as a non-roster player, has not arrived from Venezuela. Hurdle said he is taking cae of a family matter that arose, and the club is allowing him the time he needs.