Sense of unfinished business haunts NL champion Colorado Rockies
TUCSON, Ariz. — The Colorado Rockies began spring training Saturday with a grand sense of accomplishment stemming from their unfathomable 21-1 run-up to the World Series four months ago.
Mixed in with all the happiness, however, was a sense of unfinished business for the talented team that set a franchise record for wins but was overmatched in a sweep by the Boston Red Sox.
“Oh, there’s no doubt about that. We need to win four more games,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “Four more games!”
And another thing, Hurdle said, what about winning the NL West, too?
The Rockies can’t even claim they’re the defending division champs. That honor goes to the Arizona Diamondbacks, who train 15 minutes away. The Rockies won the wild card last year in an extra-inning tiebreaker over fellow NL West bruiser San Diego.
“We still want to win our division. That’s another goal that’s out there. It makes it easier to make the playoffs if you win your division,” Hurdle said. “The script that we wrote last year, I don’t think any man could have written that script. We’d like to try to do it a little bit differently so we don’t have to have a run at the end of the season like we had.”
The Rockies’ big offseason moves consisted of signing star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki to a six-year, $31 million deal, the biggest ever for a second-year player, MVP runner-up Matt Holliday to a $23 million, two-year deal and right-hander Aaron Cook to a $34 million contract for four years.
They’ll spend the next few weeks auditioning replacements for second baseman Kaz Matsui, picking a fourth and fifth starter in their rotation and refurbishing a bullpen that lost Jeremy Affeldt and LaTroy Hawkins.
The prospects at second base include former first-round draft pick Jayson Nix, free agent Marcus Giles, corner infield prospect Ian Stewart and slimmed-down outfielder Jeff Baker.
“I think the double-play combo takes some time,” Tulowitzki said. “I think we can get it done in spring training, but it’s going to be tough because we might not know who has won the job until we’re pretty much ready to go on the plane” to St. Louis for the March 31 season opener.
Tulowitzki is hoping Nix gets the nod.
“He’s excellent defensively, a good kid,” Tulowitzki said. “Hopefully with his bat he can prove something this spring training and win the job.”
For his part, Tulowitzki went on a diet and lost 12 pounds.
“Hopefully, I can get some more range, or be a little quicker, steal some bases,” said Tulowitzki, who now packs just 193 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame. He’ll move into Matsui’s No. 2 spot in the batting order.
Tulowitzki said he thinks he can get to more groundballs now, even though his .987 fielding percentage last season was the best ever by a rookie shortstop.
“I always strive for perfection. Any ball in the infield I want to get my glove on it. There are some balls definitely that I wanted to get to,” he said.
When a reporter cracked that he needed to improve his range because third baseman Garrett Atkins doesn’t have any, Tulowitzki ran with it.
“Atkins doesn’t do much over there,” Tulowitzki joked. “He kind of just stands there and watches balls.”
Atkins responded with a crack of his own.
“They’re paying him $31 million, he should have to cover some extra ground,” he said. “When they pay me that much, maybe I’ll start playing a little bit of shortstop.”
Missing from the Rockies’ first workout for pitchers and catchers was former closer Brian Fuentes, who was flying back from his salary arbitration hearing in St. Petersburg, Fla., where the panel ruled he should get $5.05 million this season rather than his request of $6.5 million.
Before the workout, first base coach Glenallen Hill addressed the media for the first time since he was named in baseball’s doping scandal.
“I sincerely regret that I didn’t discuss prior to this week with the club and with the public,” said Hill, who nevertheless declined to answer questions about using performance-enhancing drugs during his playing career.
The only current player implicated in the Mitchell Report on drugs in baseball was reliever Matt Herges, who acknowledged using steroids and human growth hormone and issued a series of apologies this week.
With that out of the way, the Rockies are concentrating on defending their NL crown.
“I think inside the locker room expectations are still the same as last year,” Atkins said. “We thought we had a good team. Obviously we had a pretty good run there at the end, and our goal is to get off to a good start. Hopefully at the end of the season we won’t have to win 21 out of 22 games.”