Results tagged ‘ Juan Nicasio ’

How far are the Rockies from contending? The offseason strategy depends on their answer

Will shortstop Troy Tulowitzki be turning two elsewhere?

Will shortstop Troy Tulowitzki be turning two elsewhere?

New general manager Jeff Bridich, manager Walt Weiss and the front office he has put together are making quick work of assessing the Rockies’ roster. With the general managers meetings starting Monday in Phoenix, they must be prepared for talks with other clubs and negotiations with potential free agents.

I have no money for free agents. My front office staff consists of the birds and squirrels running around the neighborhood. So I’ll take some time to dig through the roster and bounce the ideas off you, the fans. Feel free to spend your lunch break (well, your work time, but we’ll keep that between us) walking through the tough Rockies questions with me.

Feel free to comment on Twitter: @harding_at_mlb

WARNING: There’s a lot here. The squirrels and birds crunched numbers and presented many scenarios. They’ve got a future in management.

Let’s look at the key question.

What type of pitching do the Rockies need to contend now and in the future?

Their last two playoff appearances could offer guidelines.

The Rockies went to the 2007 World Series based on pitching depth. They lost three of their five starters in August, and changed closers during the season, but developed and acquired good enough parts to stay in the race and win the National League Wild Card.

In 2009, they earned the NL Wild Card based on health and quality — five guys made all but eight starts, which mean they were whole enough and good enough to keep taking the ball. There was enough bullpen strength to withstand second-half injuries to lefty Alan Embree and closer Huston Street.

So, as trade rumors fly, it all comes back to the question: How close is Rockies’ pitching staff to the depth of 2007 and the quality of 2009?

Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez also could be on the move.

Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez also could be on the move.

That explains why the Rockies are listening to offers, not only for veteran first baseman Justin Morneau but for the very top guys on their payroll, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez.

Let’s look at the rotation as it stands as the Rockies attempt to leap from 66-96 to contentions in the NL West:

• Lefty Jorge De La Rosa is the clear leader.  He’s by no means the equal of the front of the rotations of the defending NL West champion Dodgers or the World Series champ Giants, but not many folks can say they’ve thrived at Coors the way De La Rosa has.

• Righty Jhoulys Chacin saw his 2014 limited to 11 starts by issues with his rotator cuff and labrum. Chacin, the club and doctors decided on rehab and strengthening rather than surgery. Success of the decision will depend on the effectiveness of his rehab, diligent maintenance and, to some degree, good fortune. Not impossible, but it’s a lot.

• Righty Jordan Lyles and lefty Tyler Matzek, each 24, showed ability in their first seasons in Purple Pinstripes. Lyles went in with big-league time with the Astros. Matzek was making his debut. Can they go from developing talents to stalwarts? Once again, it’s asking a lot, but it’s not impossible.

The Rockies will need Jhoulys Chacin to bounce back from labrum and rotator cuff issues.

The Rockies will need Jhoulys Chacin to bounce back from labrum and rotator cuff issues.

• Beyond those four, there are options but none that compare to the competition. Righty Christian Bergman has more heart than stuff, but is promising because of his brainpower and competitiveness. The prospects behind him all have questions. Righty Eddie Butler’s debut year was spoiled by shoulder pain. Righty prospect Jon Gray is coming off his first full pro season, and the Rockies were careful with him because of fatigue at the end. Lefty prospect Tyler Anderson finished the year with an elbow issue that he’s trying to rehab over the winter.

Now, let’s look at the bullpen:

• Ageless LaTroy Hawkins returns as closer. With no big changes, it’s the same plan as last year – hope another option develops so Hawkins can pitch earlier in games.

• Righty Adam Ottavino overcame a month of struggles impressively enough last season that the Rockies see a bright future. There’s still the need to improve against left-handed hitters. Who knows? Maybe if he finds the magic against lefties, he could slide into the ninth inning.

• Lefty Rex Brothers went from a dazzling year in 2013 to a simply awful one in 2014. Part o the problem was the workload that fell to him when lefty Boone Logan was hampered by elbow issues throughout the first year of his three-year contract. The Rockies need rebounds from both.

• Righty Tommy Kahnle stuck out the full year as a Rule 5 Draft pick and showed a workable fastball-changeup mix. He’ll need to take this year’s experience and show greater savvy to earn an increased role.

• Beyond that are guys trying to establish themselves. Righty Brooks Brown’s control and ability to change speeds during his callups put him ahead of many pitchers who were on the staff the full year. The Rockies also hope for progress righty Juan Nicasio and lefty Christian Friedrich, who struggled as starters and were moved to the bullpen.

Weigh the dependable parts, the hopefuls and the holes, and you get a pitching staff that needs several quality pitchers in the rotation and the bullpen. Given that, how possible is it for the Rockies to contend in 2015? Are they prepared if they don’t content?

There are many ways to construe the Rockies' $15.3 million qualifying offer to first baseman-outfielder Michael Cuddyer

There are many ways to construe the Rockies’ $15.3 million qualifying offer to first baseman-outfielder Michael Cuddyer

A fine piece yesterday from Dave Cameron of Fangraphs suggests that extending the $15.3 million qualifying offer to first baseman-outfielder Michael Cuddyer could be construed as part of rebuilding rather than an attempt to hold the current lineup together. Cuddyer gets a nice payday, and if the Rockies are struggling at the deadline he could be dealt.

But these are the Major Leagues, where the majority of teams are in position to at least dream at the deadline. While there is a future to contend with, I and the wildlife outside my door want the Rockies to have a fighting chance in the present.

So here are some questions:

•Say the Rockies hold a strong lineup together and hold onto their big multi-year contracts, Tulowitzki and Gonzalez. They could hope to receive a solid veteran for the starting rotation for Morneau. Then they could go bargain hunting via free agency for another starter – say righty Justin Masterson, who is trying to rebuild his value after a rough 2014, or lefty Brett Anderson or righty Aaron Harang, who have proven ability but questionable health histories.

•Say the Rockies push hard to deal Tulowitzki and Gonzalez. Both are coming off shortened seasons because of surgeries, which might give other teams pause. The Rockies have said they will listen, and have given indications that clubs would have to make offers based on the players if healthy. Can they expect to receive star players who can rebuild the team?

What could NL batting champ Justin Morneau bring in a deal?

What could NL batting champ Justin Morneau bring in a deal?

•Let’s say the Rockies seek immediate payroll relief, rather than star-for-star deals or situations where they’re eating huge portions of the salaries of Tulowitkzi and Gonzalez. This is where the dreams get big.

With the money saved, maybe they can’t land any of the big three free-agent starters — James Shields, Max Scherzer or Jon Lester — and second-tier starters such as Ervin Santana and Brandon McCarthy could be risky propositions at Coors Field. But how about catcher Russell Martin, who could have strong offense at Coors and help the young starters? How about a big offer to righty reliever Andrew Miller, who could be the closer immediately? Righty setup Luke Gregerson pitched for the Athletics last year, but he has a long history in the NL West based on his days with the Padres.

All this leaves the Rockies with tough decisions.

The feeling has been they want one more run with their lineup core, only with some pitching added. They will have to believe they can acquire enough pitching through dealing not just Morneau but two arbitration-eligible chips – catcher Wilin Rosario, who could be a fit as a catcher-designated hitter in the American League, and outfielder Drew Stubbs, who recaptured some of his run-producing potential with the Rockies.

To succeed, such a plan has to have the Rockies stay healthy in the rotation, contend enough to be able to make trades at next summer’s non-waiver Trade Deadline, and finish the year with a roster and payroll capable of succeeding in future years.

All this makes the big trade sounds attractive, but there are risks.

Any deal involving Tulowitzki or Gonzalez would leave a big hole. When healthy, they not only are All-Stars and offensive threats, but they’re Gold Glove Award types. Also, if the Rockies don’t eat salary, the return might be less than if they were more willing in that regard. They’d have to count on any position player having his stats enhanced at Coors Field, and any young pitcher being an immediate help — an iffy proposition, based on history.

Should the Rockies take the plunge and deal Tulowitkzi or Gonzalez, or both, they key is not stopping there. Some of the players who come in a trade may have to be spun to other teams, especially if they use hitting prospects they receive to pull in pitchers.

– Thomas Harding

Rockies Apodaca asked to be reassigned, MLB.com has learned

DENVER — Rockies pitching coach Bob Apodaca has asked to be reassigned and the club granted him the request on Tuesday, MLB.com has learned.

The Rockies have yet to make a formal announcement. Sources with knowledge of the situation said Apodaca, pitching coach since 2003 — the first full year that Clint Hurdle managed the Rockies — made the request. Apodaca, 63, has yet to address the situation.

Apodaca, who remained the Rockies’ pitching coach after Jim Tracy took over during the 2009 season, was in street clothes in the Rockies’ coaching office while bullpen coach Jim Wright oversaw Juan Nicasio facing hitters at Coors Field. Nicasio is coming back from a strained left knee.

The Rockies rank last in baseball with a 5.29 ERA and the team is 28-44. Since last week, the club has gone to an unusual four-man pitching rotation under which starters are limited to 75 pitches. It’s an idea that has been discussed for several years at several points by the front office. Extreme difficulty pitching at home and short, ineffective work by the starters, brought about the implementation of the idea a week ago in Philadelphia.

Results have been mixed. Jeff Francis has had two strong starts in victories, but Alex White has pitched himself to a demotion to Triple-A Colorado Springs, Christian Friedrich (who was to start Tuesday night against the Nationals) lost Friday against Texas in his first start under the new system, and Josh Outman couldn’t make it through five innings despite being given an early 10-run lead in the team’s win at Texas on Saturday.

Currently, there are three injured starting pitchers – lefty Jorge De La Rosa, who underwent Tommy John elbow surgery last year; righty Jhoulys Chacin, who struggled before a nerve issue in his chest was discovered, and Nicasio. Additionally, right-hander Jeremy Guthrie was the Opening Day starter but he struggled so much in 11 starts (3-6, 7.20 ERA) that he was moved to the bullpen, where he has pitched well in long relief.

In another surprise move, the Rockies apparently have called up star Double-A lefty Edwar Cabrera, who had earned an invitation to the Sirius XM Futures game during All-Star weekend and last year led all of Minor League Baseball with 174 strikeouts. Cabrera is in line to start Wednesday against the Nationals.

Under Apodaca, the Rockies went to the World Series in 2007, had five 10-game winners in 2009 for the first time in club history and set club ERA marks in 2007 (4.32) and 2010 (4.22). The team has struggled on and off trying to find a way to thrive at hitter-friendly Coors Field. Since 2002, the baseballs have been stored in an atmosphere-controlled chamber to keep them from shrinking and becoming slippery in the mile-high atmosphere.

Apodaca previously served as pitching coach with the Mets and the Brewers.

More to come on MLB.com.

O’Dowd says Rockies interested in Francis

The Rockies are pursuing left-handed pitcher Jeff Francis, their ace during their National League championship season of 2007.

“We are interested; I have no idea of the outcome of that interest,” Rockies general manager Dan O’Dowd said Monday morning.

Francis, 31, was pitching for the Reds’ Triple-A affiliate in Louisville, and was 3-6 with a 3.72 ERA in 77 1/3 innings over 12 starts. Francis, who struck out 65 against 18 walks, had a June 1 opt-out clause in his Minor League contract. After throwing a complete-game shutout on Sunday, 7-0 over Durham, Francis asked for his release, according to a Twitter dispatch by ESPN.com reporter Jerry Crasnick.

The Rockies made Francis their No. 1 Draft choice out of the University of British Columbia in 2002, and he went 55-50 with them in six Major League season. The highlight was 2007,when he went 17-9 with a 4.22 ERA. However his career was derailed by shoulder issues, which cost him the entire 2009 season and limited him to 4-6 with a 5.00 ERA in 20 games, all but one of them starts, in 2010.

The Rockies did not pick up the option on Francis’ contract, and he went 6-16 with a 4.82 ERA in 31 starts for the Royals last season.

Francis has maintained a home in the Denver area.

Injuries are affecting the Rockies’ rotation. Righty Jhoulys Chacin has not pitched since May 1 because of an injury to a chest muscle, and didn’t do any throwing until Saturday. Righty Juan Nicasio suffered a strained right knee on Saturday and is on the 15-day disabled list. Also, the club released lefty Jamie Moyer last week.<p/>

 

The Rockies are stretching out left-hander Josh Outman, who began the year mostly in a specialist relief role, for one spot. They called up right-hander Guillermo Moscoso from Triple-A Colorado Springs on Sunday for another slot.

Rockies halt De La Rosa’s rehab because of left forearm tightness

The left forearm tightness that Rockies Jorge De La Rosa has experienced while working his way back from elbow surgery has led the team to halt his rehab assignment, the team announced Saturday.

Technically, the Rockies recalled De La Rosa from his 30-day rehab assignment, which would have expired on May 27 and would have had him targeted to start in the Manors against the Dodgers on June 2. De La Rosa is frozen for seven days, then can be placed on the DL for forearm tightness and begin a new 30-day window.

De La Rosa was 5-2 with a 3.51 ERA when he underwent Tommy John surgery. In an odd pattern, De La Rosa experienced no tightness when he began throwing during extended spring training at the team’s complex in Scottsdale, Ariz., and was fine during two rehab starts at Class A Modesto. But De La Rosa’s first start at Double-A Tulsa on May 12 limited him to one inning. He threw four innings Thursday and experienced tightness at the end.

A frustrated De La Rosa at Coors Field on Saturday angrily threw his T-shirt at the end of a workout, but calmed down and said he understood.

“It’s very disappointing,” said De La Rosa, who would have started at Triple-A Colorado Springs on Tuesday. “I pitched good last time but I felt a little tightness. They want me to pitch more time in the Minors. I have to do whatever they want.

“I want to be here, but like they say, I need more time. I have to pitch more, build more pitches, to be ready to be here. They want to make sure everything is OK. It hasn’t been a year since I had the surgery. They know how hard it is.”

Had De La Rosa made the June 2 target date, he would have been back a year short of the date of last year’s surgery. But rarely does a comeback from Tommy John surgery go so smoothly.

“I still don’t think that this is any big thing,” Rockies manager Jim Tracy said. “It’s just another avenue in the road that you have to go down as you’re recuperating.”

Going into the season, the Rockies were hoping for solid work from a relatively young rotation that would get a lift from De La Rosa’s return. Jeremy Guthrie, a veteran added during the winter, missed three starts in April and May with a shoulder injury. Jhoulys Chacin, expected to make major strides, tried to pitch through shoulder tightness, performed badly and hasn’t pitched in a game since May 1. Now on the disabled list, Chacin isn’t throwing because he needs to strengthen his shoulder.

For the Rockies to turn the corner after their 15-23 start going into Saturday’s game with the Mariners, much of the responsibility falls to three young pitchers, second-year righty Juan Nicasio and two rookies, righty Alex White and lefty Christian Friedrich, who was set to start Saturday. Guthrie and lefty Jamie Moyer are the staff’s veterans.

 

Tracy says Rockies’ Colvin has earned increased opportunity

The idea that outfielder Tyler Colvin is strictly a backup for the Rockies could be changing.

Colvin started in center field, instead of Dexter Fowler, on Saturday against the Dodgers, and manager Jim Tracy said Colvin — hitting .314 with two home runs and 10 RBIs — has earned greater opportunity to start. The Rockies aren’t going away from left fielder Carlos Gonzalez, who leads the team in home runs with seven and RBIs with 26, or right fielder Michael Cuddyer, who is hitting .286 with four homers and is tied with first baseman Todd Helton for second in RBIs with 21.

That means Colvin’s starts will come at the expense of Fowler, who is hitting .223 with four homers and 14 RBIs.

Fowler has a .311 on-base percentage and 27 strikeouts in 94 at-bats, and has had two errors and a couple of defensive miscues. Actually, Colvin has an outfield error and 19 strikeouts in 51 at-bats, so he has statistical challenges as well.

“In any given situation he’s made the most of it, whether it’s starting a game, coming off the bench,” Tracy said. “We’ve gotten quality at-bats from him as a starter. He’s done a terrific job as a left-handed pinch-hitter.

“You’ve got to get him out there tonight. He’s pushing the envelope for more time. When a player does that, you have to be mindful of it and create additional opportunities for him to play. He is making a strong statement for himself to get more at-bats than he’s gotten to this point. We’re doing what’s in his best interest and also our baseball team’s best interest in getting him additional opportunity.”

ROCKIES LINEUP

2B Marco Scutaro

3B Jonathan Herrera

LF Carlos Gonzalez

SS Troy Tulowitzki

1B Todd Helton

RF Michael Cuddyer

CF Tyler Colvin

C Wilin Rosario

RHP Juan Nicasio

DODGERS LINEUP

SS Dee Gordon

2B Mark Ellis

CF Matt Kemp

RF Andre Ethier

LF Bobby Abreu

3B Juan Uribe

1B James Loney

C A.J. Ellis

RHP Aaron Harang  

Ready or not, Rockies’ Brothers must be right as he faces Dodgers

After a slump of about a week and a half, Rockies left-handed relief pitcher Rex Brothers appears to be in better sorts. In his last three appearances, he has thrown three scoreless innings with seven strikeouts, two hits and no walks.

Brothers will need to be at top form with the Dodgers invading Coors Field on Monday night for the opener of a three-game series.

Leading the Dodgers, whose 16-6 record matches 1981 for tthe best start in franchise history, is Matt Kemp, who has a franchise-record 11 April homers and is the early frontrunner for National League Most Valuable Player. In tight, late situations, manager Jim Tracy will not let Kemp beat the Rockes.

In close, late situations, expect Tracy to walk Kemp and let Brothers face Andre Ethier, who is no slouch with five home runs and 24 RBIs — which ties him with memp for the National League lead. Still, that left-on-left matchup is one the Rockies would rather have.

“The deal with Rex Brothers yesterday was to get him right or get him much closer,” Tracy said. “As a matter of fact, he might be there, but monitoring every pitch that he threw yesterday to make sure that there’s availability for this specific situation.”

When Tracy managed the Dodgers a few years back, Kemp was a top Minor League prospect who impressed him during some Spring Training cameo appearances. Kemp went through a difficult 2010 season, but last year he realized his potential and finished second to the Brewers’ Ryan Braun in National League Most Valuable Player voting. Tracy said Kemp should be proud of his growth.

“I tip my cap to the guy,” Tracy said. “When you have young kids that hang on everything that goes on at the Major League level and have an opportunity to identify with a player like this, both character-wise and physically, that’s refreshing.”

Tracy rested right fielder Michael Cuddyer for just the second time this season. Tyler Colvin started in right field. The lineup also has Jonathan Herrera hitting second and playing third base, because Tracy wants to give Chris Nelson a day off because he had fought through left wrist soreness last week. Tracy also said that at some point in the three-game series with the Dodgers, Herrera will start at second base and Marco Scutaro will rest.

Dodgers lineup

Dee Gordon, SS (.207, 0 HR, 4 RBIs)

Mark Ellis, 2B (.247, 0 HR, 2 RBIs)

Matt Kemp, CF (.425, 11 HR, 24 RBIs)

Andre Ethier, RF (.277, 5 HR, 24 RBIs)

James Loney, 1B (.227, 1 HR, 6 RBIs)

Tony Gwynn Jr., LF (.242, 0 HRs, 2 RBIs)

A.J. Ellis, C (.277, 5 HRs, 24 RBIs)

Aaron Harang, RHP (1-1, 5.16 ERA)

Rockies lineup

Marco Scutaro, 2B (.247, 0 HR, 1 RBI)

Jonathan Herrera, 3B (.296, 1 HR, 3 RBIs)

Carlos Gonzalez, RF (.288, 4 HR, 16 RBIs)

Troy Tulowitzki, SS (.284, 3 HR, 11 RBIs)

Todd Helton, 1B (.270, 4 HRs, 16 RBIs)

Ramon Hernandez, C (.241, 4 HR, 12 RBIs)

Tyler Colvin, RF (.297, 1 HR, 6 RBIs)

Dexter Fowler, CF (.250, 4 HRs, 10 RBIs)

Juan Nicasio, RHP (1-0, 4.76 ERA)

Rockies: Helton, Hernandez rest; Colvin gets a start

Rockies manager Jim Tracy decided Wednesday to give veteran first baseman Todd Helton and catcher Ramon Hernandez extra rest by not starting them in Wednesday’s first game of a doubleheader against the Pirates at PNC Park. Jason Giambi started at first base and Willin Rosario was the catcher.

Game 1 also gave the Rockies an opportunity to start Tyler Colvin in center field. Colvin, hitting .323 in part-time duty, started instead of Dexter Fowler, who is at .224 after getting a hit in Tuesday night’s 5-4 loss to the Pirates.

“Hernandez and Helton, just because of the opportunity to give them a few more hours to recharge their batteries,” Tracy said. “I’m looking at our lineup in Game 1 and Game 2 and feeling real good about the fact that these lineups right here can win on any given day.

“I’m not taking anything away from Dexter because I’m using Dexter in the second game, but I want to keep Tyler Colvin in play and try to find him games to be involved in.”

Tracy said he plans to start left fielder Carlos Gonzalez, who homered twice Tuesday night, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and right fielder Michael Cuddyer in both games.

Right-handed relief pitcher Zach Putnam, recalled from Triple-A Colorado Springs as the 26th player (allowed under new Collective Bargaining Agreement rules for doubleheaders), will wear No. 54. Putnam was 1-0 with a 1.23 ERA, three saves, 11 strikeouts and three walks in five Triple-A appeareances. Last season, Putnam appeared in eight games with the Indians (1-1, 6.14 ERA, nine strikeouts, two walks), and came to the Rockies over the winter for pitcher Kevin Slowey.

The Pirates are a heavily right-handed hitting team, which plays into the hands of today’s starting pitchers, Juan Nicasio and Jhoulys Chacin. Nicasio has held right-handed hitters to a .226 career aveage in a big-league career that has consisted of 14 starts last year and three this yer, and Game 2 starter Jhoulys Chacin has held righties to a career .208 average. This year, righties are hitting .100 (3-for-30), the fourth-lowest average among right-handed pitchers in baseball.

Rockies, Game 1

Marco Scutaro, 2B (.224)

Tyler Colvin, CF (.323)

Carlos Gonzalez, LF (.278)

Troy Tulowitzki, SS (.293)

Jason Giambi, 1B (.273)

Michael Cuddyer, RF (.322)

Wilin Rosario, C (.261)

Chris Nelson, 3B (.239)

Juan Nicasio, RHP (1-0, 6.19 ERA)

Pirates, Game 1

Alex Presley, LF (.288)

Jose Tabata, RF (.196)

Andrew McCutchen, CF (.339)

Neil Walker, 2B (.222)

Casey McGehee, 1B (.289)

Pedro Alvarez, 3B (.108)

Clint Barmes, SS (.146)

Michael McKenry, C (.286)

James McDonald, RHP (0-1, 3.45 ERA)

 

Tulowitzki rests, clears his head; Scutaro plays short, Herrera second

Veteran Jason Giambi introduced his friend and Rockies teammate, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, to someone really special Tuesday night.

“I showed him some highlights of him playing and, ‘That’s you.’” Giambi said. “I said, ‘I know. I’ve been there many times, the deer in the highlights look and you’re just reeling.’ He’ll get through this just great. He’ll be fine.”

Right now, Tulowitzki doesn’t recognize the player he sees in the mirror.

Tulowitzki committed two errors Tuesday night, the second of which nearly cost teammate Jamie Moyer in his bid to become the oldest Major League pitcher ever to win a game at 49 years and 151 days. The Rockies prevailed and Moyer earned his place in history. Now Tulowitzki needs to realize that his ability to control a game from shortstop isn’t history, either.

The present isn’t looking so bright for Tulowitzki. His six errors match his total for last season, and he is hitting .244. Both of those figures are shocking for a player who has won National League Rawlings Gold Glove and Louisville Slugger Silver Slugger awards for each of the last two seasons.

Tulowitzki, who was out of the lineup for the first time this season for the Padres-Rockies game Wednesday night, admitted the mistakes — especially the throwing errors — are weighing on him. He said he has been worried about his throwing since Saturday night, when he had two throwing errors while playing in wet and cold conditions against the D-backs.

“I’m taking the field and thinking about it,” Tulowitzki said. “I never thought about defense. I just go out there and play, and if I make an error, I made an error. But I wasn’t worried about it. So, yeah, I think about it. It’s in my head. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t in my head. I think about it because I care.

“It’s never that I don’t want the ball to come to me. Once I reach that point, then I have some serious problems. I want the ball. But more or less when you’re playing catch, it’s, ‘OK, hit him in the chest,’ where before it was just throwing it to him. It’s more things like that, that I never really thought about. There’s nothing more to really say than that.”

Tulowitzki suffered a right hip flexor strain during the season’s first series at Houston, but he played through it and insisted that there is no injury that’s preventng him from performing well.

Marco Scutaro moved from second base to shortstop, the position he occupied with the Red Sox last season, and Jonathan Herrera started at second base.

In other lineup news, catcher Wilin Rosario started for the second straight game while Ramon Hernandez nursed a sore left hand. Manager Jim Tracy said Hernandez should be available Friday night when the Rockies begin a three-game series at Milwaukee.

Padres lineup

Will Venable, CF

Chris Denorfia, RF

Chase Headley, 3B

Jesus Guzman, LF

Yonder Alonso, 1B

Nick Hundley, C

Jason Bartlett, SS

Orlando Hudson, 2B

Clayton Richard, LHP

Rockies lineup

Marco Scutaro, SS

Dexter Fowler, CF

Carlos Gonzalez, LF

Michael Cuddyer, RF

Todd Helton, 1B

Wilin Rosario, C

Chris Nelson, 3B

Jonathan Herrera, 2B

Juan Nicasio, RHP

Stand up and cheer Juan Nicasio

Opening Day is always special, but fans at Coors Field saved their special level of noise and joy for when right-handed pitcher Juan Nicasio was introduced. Nicasio, standing along the first-base line, stepped forward, doffed his cap and truly took in the appreciation.

We expect there will be another roar tonight, but Nicasio might be trying too hard to concentrate to acknowledge as fully. But folks will understand.

For the first time since last Aug. 5, when the Nationals’ Ian Desmond’s line drive bounced off his head and left him with a fractured skill and a broken C-1 vertebrae, Nicasio will be pitching at Coors when he faces the D-backs tonight at 6:40.

“I’ve been thinking about how it’s going to be like when I pitch my first game here,” Nicasio said Thursday. “I’m excited.”

The dramatic comeback story is enhanced by the fact Nicasio has become an important cog in the rotation. In his first start, at Houston on Sunday, Nicasio limited the Astros to one run and four hits in seven innings.

Although his last experience at Coors was horrifying, it’s been a good place for him. After being called up from Double-A tulsa last year, Nicasio went 4-1 with a 1.98 ERA in 41 innings at home.

What a homecoming this will be.

Rockies lineup

Scutaro 2B

Dexter Fowler, CF

Carlos Gonzalez, LF

Troy Tulowitzki, SS

Todd Helton, 1B

Michael Cuddyer, RF

Ramon Hernandez, C

Chris Nelson, 3B

Juan Nicasio, P

Rockies trainer was first to see Nicasio’s comeback coming

When a player is injured, the team’s head atheltic trainer knows more about the injury, rehab and chances of a comeback better than anyone, save for a doctor. Rockies head athetic trainer Keith Dugger  was the first to see pitcher Juan Nicasio’s miracle return from a broken neck — which culminates with his start against the Astros on Sunday afternoon — coming.

Dugger watched in amazement during the winter as Nicasio, who suffered the injury (along with a fractured skull) when he was hit in the head with a line drive by the Nationals’ Ian Desmond and tumbled to the mound last Aug. 5, threw pitches in the Dominican Republic, with no effects from neck surgery and no referred pain in his muscles. When general manager Dan O’Dowd called and asked if Nicasio would be ready by June, Dugger was the first to say it could be long before that.

In Spring Training, Nicasio proved Dugger correct.

“I was more worried about Spring Training,” Dugger said. “But after that first comebacker [a line drive that buzzed past him in his first spring appearance], I knew we were home free.

“And I think once he gets through a start in Denver, back on the mound where he got injured, he’ll be completely over it.”

Manager Jim Tracy said Nicasio is “way past what happened.”

Nicasio will be backed by a lineup full of changes, as Dexter Fowler, Todd helton, Ramon Hernandez and Marco Scutaro rest.

Rockies batting order

Tyler Colvin, CF

Jordan Pacheco, 3B

Carlos Gonzalez, LF

Troy Tulowitzki, SS

Jason Giambi, 1B

Michael Cuddyer, RF

Wilin Rosario, C

Jonathan Herrera, 2B

Juan Nicasio, P

Astros lineup

Jordan Schafer, CF

Jose Altuve, 2B

J.D. Martinez, LF

Carlos Lee, 1B

Brian Bogusevic, RF

Chris Johnson, 3B

Jason Castro, C

Marwin Gonzalez, SS

Bud Norris, P

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