Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Street's Road To Recovery Hits A Dead End

The Colorado Rockies wrapped up their home Spring Training schedule on Thursday. The Rockies bid adieu to Hi Corbett Field, the only spring home the franchise has known since its inception in 1993. They depart Tucson for the final time, gearing up to start a highly anticipated 2010 season.

While excitement for the season heats up, the news on closer Huston Street was sobering.

After coming to Spring Training feeling great, then getting sore, shutting it down, starting over, feeling sore, shutting it down, getting an MRI, and throwing again only to feel stiffness once again, Street has been shut down for a third time. The Rockies do not want to re aggravate the injury, so Street will stay behind in Tucson as the team travels to Milwaukee for Opening Day.

The injury sounds eerily similar to what Jeff Francis was dealing with throughout 2008 and into the beginning of spring 2009. Francis, like Street, had clean MRI's and was prescribed rest before giving into exploratory surgery which successfully shut him down for the 2009 campaign. The injury has essentially cost Francis two seasons.

For a pitcher a shoulder injury is much better than an elbow injury. However, when talking about stiffness in the arm of a guy who essentially needs to be ready to pitch every single day, and often will throw on three consecutive days, is a very bad thing.

What is most concerning about the injury is that no one seems to know what is wrong. Major League Baseball teams have access to some of the best specialists and doctors that are known to mankind, yet no one can figure out what is wrong with Street's shoulder.

Minimizing the injury to a closer who converted 35-out of-37 save opportunities last season would be a huge mistake. However, if there has ever been a time in Rockies history that the team can sustain this type of loss it is now. Despite struggling in the role in his opportunities in the past two seasons, Manny Corpas has closed out high pressure games.

Franklin Morales, the guy Jim Tracy has anointed to keep Street's seat warm until he is ready, converted 7-out of -7 save opportunities when he was called upon in 2009. Despite questions about his ability to maintain composure during high stress situations, no one doubts that Morales has the stuff to pitch in the ninth inning.

The Rockies also have Matt Belisle at their disposal, a guy who just so happened to move into the closer's role at Triple-A Colorado Springs during parts of 2009, with great success.

Those options afford the Rockies the ability to leave Rafael Betancourt in a position that he is comfortable in, pitching in the 8th inning.

The Rockies will patiently wait for Street to come back, but will be in more than capable hands while Street nurses himself back to health.

For more on the Rockies visit RockiesReview.com

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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Colorado Rockies Deal With New Word: Expectations

The 2010 Colorado Rockies face a challenge that no other Rockies team before them has faced. They are blazing trails that some baseball fans in the Rocky Mountain region once felt were impossible to blaze.

This 2010 Rockies team is dealing with a word never thrust upon them before: Expectations.

Sure, the 2008 team had their fair share of excitement surrounding them. Fans rummaged through all of their Broncos, Avalanche and Nuggets apparel looking for the Rockies hat that they buried after Mike Hampton served up yet another home run in 2002, in route to the most expensive 6.15 ERA that Major League Baseball had ever seen.

Sure, the same fans who set nearly every attendance record that exists in Major League Baseball were chomping at the bit to become baseball fans again.

There were expectations around the Denver Metro area after the 2007 magical run to the World Series, but for every fan in Denver that was expecting something great from the 2008 Rockies, there were 10 fans around the league who thought of one word when the Rockies were brought up. That word? Fluke.

As much fun as the '07 run to the World Series was, no one around baseball was going to believe that a team that had not won more than 74 games in the past five seasons, and a team that was 6-1/2 games back in the Wild Card race as late as September 12th, then stormed their way to win 14-out of-15 to make the playoffs was for real.

Most members of the national media had never seen the Rockies play. Most national media outlets still believed that a ball hit at Coors Field would travel 10% further than a ball hit on the surface of the moon.

So while fans in Denver were busy thinking that the Rockies were going to be perennial contenders, the rest of the baseball world forgot about them.

After a lackluster 2008 season in which the Rockies looked like the same old team from Colorado, the dreaded "F" word began flying with more regularity. Fluke.

It is easy to call a flash-in-the-pan team a fluke. If they go back to how they always were, it was a fluke. But the 2009 Rockies proved to the baseball world that they can play the game. They captured their 2nd Wild Card in three seasons and played the defending World Champions very tough in the Division Series.

The Rockies, content with a youthful team, did very little in the off season besides locking up some of their better players to multi-year deals. Usually quiet off seasons like the Rockies had are met with anger from fans and critique from baseball experts. That isn't the case for this team.

After another Wild Card, excitement for the Rockies is back in Denver. This time is different though. This time, the excitement goes further than the Mile High City.

As Troy Renck of the Denver Post reported, the Rockies are getting national attention. ESPN experts Jon Miller (a San Francisco Giants announcer), Orel Hershiser (a World Champion with the Dodgers) and former big leaguer and current analyst Rick Sutcliffe are all picking the Rockies to win the NL West.

In addition to the crew from ESPN, the entire lineup on MLB Tonight, MLB Networks nightly program, unanimously picked the Rockies to win their first ever NL West crown.

This is something the Rockies franchise has never seen. No one has ever expected them to be good. They were thought of as a small market team that had failed in its attempts to sign big name players and would never contend. Now there is a strong sense that they are going to not only be good in 2010, but for years to come.

How will the Rockies deal with these new expectations?

The Rockies will thrive on these expectations.

The 2008 team was still young. They knew that they had accomplished something special, but they were just riding the wave the previous season. No one knew how they had done it. To a certain extent, they all believed that it was a fluke too.

In 2010 there is a sense of maturity around camp. These Rockies know that they are good. Not in a cocky way, but in a confident way. They believe that they are the best team on the field. They believe that they should be able to win any game, regardless of who is on the mound for the other squad. These Rockies are older and wiser. They have figured out that to win they need to believe in themselves and in each other.

So bring on the expectations, these Rockies can handle it.

For more on the Rockies, visit RockiesReview.com

This article is also featured on InDenverTimes.com

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Colorado Rockies' Ubaldo Jimenez; The Next Pedro Martinez

For years Major League pitchers have been cringing about taking the mound at Coors Field.

Veterans who had been extremely successful on other teams around the league watched their career ERA's vanish into the thin mile high air of Denver after they signed deals with the Rockies. It was bad enough that many baseball experts openly wondered if the Rockies would ever be able to field a team capable of contending.

Two things have changed in Colorado. First, a humidor was built to keep baseballs moist, and dense. Much of the problem was not the altitude, but the fact that Colorado's air is so void of moisture that the leather on the balls would actually dry up and shrink, causing the ball to be lighter and harder, traveling further.

Second, the Rockies realized that their days of bringing in veteran pitchers was over. They would need to raise up a generation of starting pitchers that believed they could pitch anywhere and be successful.

The theory has proven to be successful, beginning with Jason Jennings winning the Rookie of the Year award in 2002, continuing on with Aaron Cook and Jeff Francis both having a fair amount of success at the big league level. But the one pitcher that the Rockies have raised through their farm system that has the greatest potential is fireballer Ubaldo Jimenez.

Jimenez has all the talent in the world. He consistently throws 98 MPH, occasionally hitting 100. While the heat is tough to hit, couple that with the fact that his fastball is anything but straight makes him tough to hit. What makes Jimenez nearly impossible to hit, however, is that he slider and change up are nearly as effective.

The righty from the Dominican Republic grew up idolizing countryman Pedro Martinez. He watched him pitch whenever he could. In 2008 Jimenez realized a dream when he pitched against his childhood hero - and won.

What was even more of a dream come true was that Martinez had nothing but praise for Jimenez. In fact, he took to him so much that he calls Jimenez after nearly every start to talk about mechanics and to give advice.

Jimenez was a huge reason the Rockies won the National League pennant in 2007. After being called up in July, he showed poise that is seen by very few 24 year olds. In 2008, he took another step forward, finishing the season with a 3.99 ERA, winning 12 games for the club. The breakthrough season, however, came in 2009, where Jimenez set a club record for ERA with a 3.47 mark, an amazing number considering his home park.

The righty finished the 2009 campaign 15-12, logging 218 innings and continuing to get better in each start. His performance was so great down the stretch that those watching him on a daily basis are suggesting that Jimenez may become the Rockies first ever 20-game winner, putting him squarely in the National League Cy Young conversation.

For Jimenez to take that next step and win 20 games he will need to avoid the big inning. In 2009 it would seem that Jimenez would struggle with control in one inning and give up a couple of runs, then settle in and shut down the opposition.

The scary thing for those opposing Jimenez is that the 26 year old is still just learning how to pitch. His lanky 6'4" body provides for many moving parts in his delivery, causing his mechanics to be a work in progress. However, in the second half of 2009 Jimenez started to put it all together, striking fear into his opponents.

The 2010 season should be very interesting for Jimenez. All indications are that he has taken the next step forward, which would set him up to be one of the best pitchers in the game.

For more on the Rockies visit RockiesReview.com

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Rocky Road For Club If Street is Out

Spring Training injuries are as common as the morning sunrise. Everyday there is a new one.

When athletes are actually million dollar investments, there is no reason to push a player who has a bump or a bruise. Six weeks of Spring Training is usually plenty of time to get ready for the everyday grind of the season. If a player feels a twinge in a hamstring, they will sit.

Most of the time the injury is so minor that had it occurred in a regular season game, the player never would have left the game. In Spring Training however, they will rest for two or three days.

With that in mind, recently inked closer Huston Street had a sore shoulder a week and a half into camp. He blamed it on pushing too hard in the offseason and throwing off a mound when he usually holds off until camp. No big deal, rest seemed to be the best remedy.

The problem now for Street and the Rockies is that after resting, the problem has returned.

Street reportedly felt great after throwing a bullpen session on Monday, and batting practice on Tuesday. That all changed when he started throwing on Wednesday morning. The problem was back, prompting the Rockies to send Street to get an MRI on his shoulder.

In all likelihood, the news means that the Rockies will starting the season with their closer on the disabled list. That means that someone from the bullpen is going to have to step into that role. There are several candidates, but none of them look promising.

Rafael Betancourt is dealing with shoulder stiffness of his own, Manny Corpas, the club's closer in '07, has been hit hard and showed up to camp out of shape, and Franklin Morales, who stepped into the role late in '09 when Street hit the DL, is suspect at best when it comes to the mental side of finishing a close ball game.

Despite their depth at nearly every position, this seems to be their weakest link. If Street is out for any large amount of time, the Rockies are going to have to dig deep and find a way to not rely on a late-inning pitcher to deliver in a role that they are unaccustomed to.

For what it is worth, the Rockies should give a shot to reliever Matt Daley. The right-hander was undrafted out of college and had to prove his worth at every level. He had a good rookie campaign, posting a 4.24 ERA in 51 innings pitched. The fact that he has had to fight his way not just into the big leagues, but into every next step in the minors shows that he has a mentality capable of defying the odds.

Regardless of who gets the ball in the ninth inning for the Rockies, none will be as dependable as Street, and right now every Rockies fan is holding their breath hoping that the MRI turns out negative.

For more on the Rockies visit RockiesReview.com

This article is also featured on InDenverTimes.com

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Rockies Agree To Extension With Todd Helton


The Colorado Rockies announced today that they have come to terms with Todd Helton on a contract that will likely allow the slugger to retire with the Rockies.

The agreement, according to the Denver Post, is a two-year extension for $9.9 million, with the $13 million owed to Helton over the final season of his current contract, plus the buyout, deferred over a 10-year period. The two-year extension ensures that Helton will be a Rockie through 2014.

The signing is one that perfectly describes who Helton is. "This is where I want to be. I know from talking to a lot of other players, the grass isn't always greener on the other side. I know what we have here, and I know that we are really good." The Denver Post quoted as Helton as saying.

In a world full of egotistical, selfish professional athletes who care about nothing but themselves, Helton is the antithesis. He sat by as the Rockies not only tore down a team, but changed philosophies. He endured the so-called "Todd and the Toddlers" era as the club marched rookie after rookie to the plate in 2005.

Most of all, Helton endured the media and fans complaining that he was the reason that the Rockies could not spend money and that he should be offloaded. It went as far as the Rockies being literally minutes away from shipping him off to the Red Sox before the magical 2007 season, where without Helton, the Rockies would never have come anywhere close to the World Series.

What should be noted is that the deal is hardly financially friendly to a player of Helton's caliber. Despite age and back issues, the four time gold glover would have commanded somewhere in the range of $7 million per year on the open market. The fact that Helton is also deferring money also shows his desire to win. He wants to be as little of a burden on the club as possible, which will allow the Rockies to spend on other players that they otherwise might not be able to afford.

The questions had begun to arise about whether or not Helton would be a Rockie after the 2011 season. The Rockies owned a $22 million option on the first baseman that almost no one believed the club would pick up. The signing allows the questions to disappear.

Helton is to the Rockies what Michael Jordan was to the Bulls. Seeing him in a different uniform would have been awkward. The move allows Helton, the best player in Rockies history, to be the first potential hall of famer to wear their uniform his entire career.

For more on the Rockies visit RockiesReview.com

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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Rockies Set The Tone, Destroy D-Backs


In 2009, it took the Rockies nine games before they recorded their first win of the spring.

On Thursday, they won their first game of 2010, by a large margin. The Rockies dismantled the host Diamondbacks 11-1.

Jason Hammel started on the mound for the Rockies and gave up one run in two innings.

The bats were in mid season form. Seth Smith led the way for the Rockies, going 3-for-3 with a home run. He was a triple shy of the cycle before being pulled in the 6th inning.

Manny Corpas pitched a scoreless inning, but struggled with command, walking two batters and giving up a hit.

Chris Iannetta went 1-for-2 with two RBI's and a walk.

While any Rockies fan is happy to see a 11-1 victory, the fact is, spring games, especially early in March, do not generally say much about how the team will perform on the field come April. For example, neither Todd Helton or Jason Giambi will be participating in games for at least a week and a half.

The Rockies have a split-squad game on Friday, with half the team traveling to Tempe to take on the Angels, and the other half in Scottsdale to take on the Giants. Ubaldo Jimenez will start against the Angels and Jeff Francis will test his surgically repaired shoulder against an opponent for the first time against the Giants.

For more on the Rockies visit RockiesReview.com

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A Colorado Rockies Fan's Guide To Spring Training

Spring Training for a Colorado Rockies fan represents more than just the end of a long off season. It also offers an opportunity to get away from the cold weather that Colorado offers in February and March.

Hi Corbett Field

The Rockies have been training at Tucson's Hi Corbett Field since their inception in 1993. This will be the final season in Tucson before the Rockies move to Scottsdale in 2011 where they will share a spring home with the Diamondbacks. The stadium, which is located on Tucson's east side, was previously occupied by the Cleveland Indians, and also the home of the spring training scenes from the Major League movies, starring Charlie Sheen.

Hi Corbett Field is the oldest stadium in the Cactus League. It was built in 1937 and named for former senator Hiram Stevens Corbett, who was instrumental in bringing spring training to Tucson.

The closer seats are typical stadium seats, but the seats down the outfield lines are bleachers with seat backs, but probably not the most comfortable to sit through a three hour game on.

When going to a game at Hi Corbett, do not forget the sunscreen. The whole stadium is drenched in sun and provides little relief for the fans.

Parking is free at the stadium, but don't arrive late because it is limited. If you can't score a spot in the parking lot, there is a free shuttle that runs from the nearby El Con Mall.

About the Area

Hi Corbett Field is just east of Downtown Tucson, located in Gene C. Reid Park, which also houses the city's zoo. It is just up the street from the El Con Mall, which has several stores and restaurants. Because of the park, there are always many people running and exercising along the perimeter of the park.

Autograph Seekers

Spring Training offers fans something that is nearly impossible to find in the regular season, access to the players. Hi Corbett Field definitely affords fans this opportunity.

For fans seeking autographs, the best option is down the right field line. The Rockies dugout is on the first base side, and the team warms up just beyond the infield dirt in right field.

Players will play catch to get loose, then throw the ball into the stands. Other players will make their way up and down the line autographing baseballs, hats, tickets and other memorabilia. Anywhere on this fence is good, but the closer to the dugout the better.

If you can't get a spot on the line, make your way around the stands beyond the bleachers. Many players will enter and exit the clubhouse here and will sign autographs for the few fans that realize they have complete access to this area.

Get to the game when the gates open (two hours prior to game time) and you should be able to get several autographs.

Great Moments at Spring Training

If you can plan your trip right, try to go for picture day. This is a great opportunity for a true fan to meet his or her favorite player and snap a picture with him. For about an hour and fifteen minutes, the team members come out and meet and greet with the fans.

This is something that the players really seem to enjoy. They take the initiative to greet the fans and really have conversations with them. As a Rockies fan, this ranks as one of my favorite moments in life. If you are a real Rockies fan, do not miss this opportunity.

What to Eat

At the stadium, the standard options are available. Rockie Dogs are available in two locations, as well as nachos, bratwursts and pretzels all around the park. Don't forget your cash, most of these food stands do not take your plastic.

Away from the stadium, do not miss the opportunity to go to a local Mexican restaurant called El Charro Cafe. Opened in 1922, this restaurant is still owned and operated by the same family that opened it.

The salsa is phenomenal, but don't fill up on that, these portions would be hard for the best eaters to finish. You can order anything from Carne Asada to their award winning Chimichanga's. No matter what you choose, you cannot go wrong. This restaurant is a true taste of what Mexican food really is.

There are also other options close to the stadium. If you like Mongolian BBQ, CL Chu's is an option the offers all you can eat Mongolian food.

And what would a trip to Tucson be without a stop at In & Out Burger. There is one at the El Con Mall, two minutes from the stadium.

Nightlife

If you are into the nightlife scene, Tucson will bring you anything that you are looking for. Also the home of the University of Arizona, Tucson has everything and more that any college town has to offer. Downtown is bustling with activity from Thursday through Saturday nights.

Tucson is home to jazz clubs, country clubs, and comedy clubs. Also, Tucson offers many close opportunities to try your luck on the blackjack tables or on the slot machines. There are three casinos either within minutes of Hi Corbett Field.

Where to Stay

There are several options for places to stay in Tucson that are near the park. The Randolph Park Hotel is located within walking distance of Hi Corbett and has a large swimming pool and jacuzzi to relax in. The rooms are slightly dated, but offer an affordable option for the fan on a budget.

Also within a stone's throw of Hi Corbett Field is the Double Tree Hotel, which offers the typical options, and is a nicer option than some of the cheaper chains around town.

One Final Fun Aspect

Just miles away from Hi Corbett Field is Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. During batting practice and the game, fighter planes and other Air Force planes will be practicing in the skies above the stadium.

For more on the Rockies visit RockiesReview.com

This article is also featured on InDenverTimes.com

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Let The Games Begin, Rockies Open Spring On Thursday


For Rockies fans, the wait is over...sort of.

On Thursday the Rockies open Cactus League play on the road, about five miles down the road, at the spring home of the Diamondbacks, Tucson Electric Park.

The most exciting part of Spring Training is when pitchers and catchers report. Then, when the games start. Games are fun because Rockies fans get a taste of actual hitting and pitching, rather than the standard stories about who is in shape and who is not in shape that are common in the early weeks of spring.

Spring Training does just enough to whet the appetite of fans and make them long for the end of spring and the beginning of the real baseball season.

For the Rockies, Jason Hammel, who had a breakout season in 2009, will start the day on the mound. Most likely he will go two innings, maybe three depending on pitch count. Teams slowly stretch out their starters, so it will not be until late in March when the starters will be on the mound for more than three or four innings.

Games are also a good opportunity to get some of the position battles underway. Usually the Rockies have a few of those, but barring injuries, the 25-man roster is pretty much set.

Look for Eric Young Jr. to make a push to slip onto the roster. The Rockies are still high on him, but they do not want him to regress by sitting on the bench in the big leagues rather than playing everyday in Colorado Springs.

Melvin Mora was signed as a utility player off of the bench, but with Clint Barmes' late season hitting woes, the Rockies are interested in letting Mora prove that he should be the everyday starter at second base.

Regardless, the beginning of Spring Training games should give Rockies fans just enough to get them through the final month before the beginning of the real season.

For more on the Rockies visit RockiesReview.com

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Colorado Rockies Need A Healthy Manny Corpas

Manny Corpas is a polarizing figure amongst Rockies fans.

The right handed reliever has felt just about every emotion a Major League relief pitcher can feel. In his first full season in the big leagues, Corpas took over as the closer for the Rockies after Brian Fuentes stumbled. Corpas did nothing less than notch 19 saves in 20 opportunities, sporting wicked movement on every single pitch that came out of his hand.

Without Corpas, the '07 Rockies never sniff the playoffs, let alone the World Series.

That offseason, the Rockies rewarded Corpas with a contract worth four years, $8.025 million with two club options. Rockies fans could not have been happier. They had their lights out closer signed for years to come.

The only problem was, in 2008 he was anything but light's out.

Before April was over, Corpas had blown four saves and Fuentes was switched back into his familiar role.

The Panamanian right hander finished a horrific '08 campaign with a 4.52 ERA, more than double his 2.08 the previous season.

It was clear that Corpas' confidence was shaken, but it was also clear that Corpas was quite a bit heavier than the previous season. Several reports suggested that the Rockies front office was very disappointed in the right hander for showing up to spring training in poor shape.

From all indications, Corpas learned his lesson after the '08 season. He stayed in Denver for the offseason and was in the weight room at Coors Field more than anyone else on the club. He was noticeably skinnier and told reporters that becoming a father in the offseason had shifted his outlook on life and baseball, convincing him to work harder.

Throughout the spring, Corpas was in a heated battle with newly acquired Huston Street for the closer role. After a great March, most fans were surprised, and even slightly upset to find out that manager Clint Hurdle had given the job to Street.

Regardless of Corpas not being the closer, fans were excited about the return of the '07 Corpas.

That Manny Corpas must have missed the plane to Denver.

After running his ERA up to 5.88, Corpas was shut down because of elbow pain. An MRI revealed bone spurs in his elbow. After surgery Corpas developed a staph infection in that elbow and ended up never throwing another pitch in the '09 season.

Most fans are ready to write Corpas off. They think that his contract caused him to become lazy and that he was a flash in the pan. They think that his contract demotivated him and that he will never be the same pitcher. They also believe that the Rockies bullpen is deep enough to move forward without Corpas.

Not so fast.

The Rockies bullpen is indeed deep. They have Street set in the ninth inning, and Rafael Betancourt as the eighth inning guy. In June the Rockies should get Taylor Buchholz back and Matt Daley and Matt Belisle for the earlier innings. Fans against Corpas think that he should be the odd man out.

If everyone in the 'pen pitches as well as they did in '09, that would be fine. If Street only blows two saves and Betancourt is nearly flawless in the eighth inning, then it makes sense that the Rockies would not need Corpas. The only problem with that line of thinking is that the idea that the Rockies bullpen is going to be just as good in 2010 as it was in 2009. The odds of the back end of the bullpen performing similarly to '09 is slim to none.

Betancourt is a year older and the National League has now had a half season to see his pitches. Street will also no longer be a newcomer to the N.L.

If one of them fails, there is no one in the Rockies organization that has as much big inning Major League experience as Corpas does.

The fact is, the Rockies need Corpas to return to his '07 form. He needs to prove that last season was a struggle because of injury and '08 was because of lack of preparation.

Already early in Spring Training both Street and Betancourt have had to take a few days off. Betancourt battled the flu, which caused him to lose 15 lbs, and Street is already experiencing arm issues that are going to keep him off of the mound through the weekend.

If Corpas is healthy and in shape, which all reports suggest that he is both, he will be a valuable commodity in the Rockies bullpen in 2010. Fans should not be so quick to think that the Rockies do not need him.