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News » Colorado Rockies Inside Pitch 2009-03-29


Colorado Rockies Inside Pitch 2009-03-29


Colorado Rockies Inside Pitch 2009-03-29
Unlike the start of 2008, when they were coming off a late charge that resulted in a World Series appearance, the Rockies enter this season with few external expectations. Internally is another matter. This team believes it can contend, and in the National League West, where mediocrity has been the norm, that's entirely possible.

Spring training confirmed that, in Aaron Cook and Ubaldo Jimenez, the Rockies have two formidable starters at the top of their rotation. But what's behind them is something of a mystery.

Jeff Francis is out for the season following shoulder surgery in late February, an injury that caused some slotting to be adjusted in the rotation.

Jason Marquis has proven he can reach double figures in wins and solidify the bottom of a rotation. But is it a reach to have him be a No. 3 starter, which he is for the Rockies. Marquis hasn't had a good spring, which means far less for a veteran, who will have the added motivation of entering his free agent year.

No. 4 starter Jorge De La Rosa finished the 2008 season strong, going 5-2 with a 2.60 ERA in nine starts in August and September. De La Rosa has yet to be consistent for an entire season, a hurdle the Rockies believe he'll finally overcome this year.

Lefties Greg Smith and Franklin Morales are the candidates for the fifth starting job, at least at the outset of the season. Morales has terrific stuff but is still trying to develop a repeatable delivery that will allow him to command his pitches. Smith has more polish and is a finesse pitcher, which won't matter at all if he can consistently throw strikes.

With closer Brian Fuentes gone, that crucial job will fall to either Manuel Corpas or Huston Street, both of whom have experienced the ninth inning. The loser in that competition will assume setup duties, as the Rockies will be missing formidable Taylor Buchholz for at least the season's first month. The bullpen has adequate depth with lefty Alan Embree and right-handers Jason Grilli, Ryan Speier and, in all likelihood, Juan Morillo, a power arm who has shown improvement this spring and is out of options. But there is a danger the bullpen could be overworked if the rotation falters beyond Cook and Jimenez.

One of the best things that happened this spring was first baseman Todd Helton regaining his power stroke. Helton was limited to two at-bats after July 2 last year and had arthroscopic back surgery Sept. 30. If he can hit 25 home runs, which no one was expecting before he went to spring training, it would be a boon to a lineup that has more than sufficient depth but will miss Matt Holliday's power.

Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki missed 46 games with a leg injury early last year and later missed another 14 games after lacerating his right hand when pounding a bat down in disgust. General manager Dan O'Dowd is convinced Tulowitzki will be a better player after learning to deal with the double dose of adversity, and Tulowitzki concurs.

The lineup will have balance with right-handed hitters Ryan Spilborghs, Tulowitzki, Garrett Atkins, Chris Iannetta and Clint Barmes and left-handed-hitting Helton, Brad Hawpe and Seth Smith (or possibly Ian Stewart). The Rockies were eighth in the league with 747 runs scored and 10th with a franchise-worst .256 average with runners in scoring position. Both areas must improve -- and it's likely they will -- for the Rockies to have a meaningful season.

Outfielder Matt Murton has had a good spring, making it likely he'll bring a much-needed right-handed bat to the bench. Stewart, the Rockies' third baseman of the future, can hit for power and has little prove at Class AAA, so manager Clint Hurdle likely will be creative and find him at-bats. Omar Quintanilla is a very good defensive player at second base, shortstop and third base, and he possesses gap power. Third baseman/second baseman Jeff Baker, who also can play the corner outfield positions, has a power bat but could be traded before spring training ends.

THE ROCKIES WILL CONTEND IF ...: Their rotation doesn't become a major liability, as easily could happen. RHPs Aaron Cook and Ubaldo Jimenez should capably fill the top two spots, but behind them there are serious question marks in RHP Jason Marquis, LHP Jorge De La Rosa and whoever emerges as the fifth starter. In the absence of Matt Holliday, 3B Garrett Atkins dramatically improves his .225 average with runners in scoring position and .328 on-base percentage last year. C Chris Iannetta and SS Troy Tulowitzki, young players with high ceilings, continue to grow as major-leaguers. CF Ryan Spilborghs provides the pop and ability to get on base as a leadoff hitter that former CF Willy Taveras, despite his exceptional speed, lacked. And special young talents such as INF/OF Ian Stewart and CF Dexter Fowler, both potential impact players, end up contributing.

PRIMED FOR A BIG SEASON: 1B Todd Helton hit with power this spring, something he wasn't able to do last year before undergoing arthroscopic back surgery Sept. 30 to correct the bulging disk that was putting pressure on a nerve and causing numbness in his left leg. Helton also moved well in the field. Manager Clint Hurdle plans to rest Helton, 35, more this season, but the mere possibility he can again be an offensive force is a boon to the Rockies.

ON THE DECLINE: Hip and groin injuries contributed to RHP Huston Street losing his closing job last year with the A's. Health has not been a concern for Street this spring, and he rebounded from a poor beginning. Nonetheless, whether Street can effectively hold down the closer's role for an extended period is open to debate, since his velocity is down from a few years ago. Street can be a late-inning contributor in a relief corps, but his salad days as a closer -- at 25 he has 94 career saves -- may be over.


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: March 29, 2009

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