Rockies camp report: Healthy Tulowitzki a good place to start

By Scott Miller | Senior Baseball Columnist

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Start with an enormous $1.4 million vote of no confidence in the suits running the show in Colorado.

Now. Is this where we discuss who's throwing the ceremonial first pitch of the Rockies' 2013 season?

Optimism rarely has taken such a beating. A fresh summer ahead has never looked so good.

The Rockies are emerging from their worst record in franchise history, a widely mocked attempt at reinventing on the fly their approach to starting pitching, a senior vice-president setting up shop in the clubhouse and several other assorted crimes against the grand old game.

Former manager Jim Tracy was so disgusted by front office interference at season's end that he told the Rockies to take his job and the $1.4 million they owed him and stick it somewhere in Pike's Peak. Preferably on the back side of the mountain where the sun don't shine.

So the Rockies moved on to Plan B. Which was? They went and plucked a coach from a local high school as their new manager. Of course.

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As I noted last winter, the good people of Colorado voted to legalize marijuana in November, but it was the Rockies of 2012 who appeared to be high on something other than life.

“We're definitely ready to turn the page,” veteran outfielder Michael Cuddyer says. “In our minds, we already have.”

The new manager is Walt Weiss, who was highly respected during his 14-year career as an infielder for the Athletics, Rockies and Braves. And, you figure, he must have picked up a few tricks playing all those years under Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox.

Weiss has one ginormous advantage over Tracy as he starts: Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, whose season ended last May 30 with a groin injury, is back in one piece.

Weiss also has the makings of a reasonably healthy rotation (for now), including Jorge de la Rosa, who missed most of the past two seasons and battled through Tommy John ligament transfer surgery.

What the former infielder is driving home so far is attitude. The Rockies are wearing purple T-shirts around the clubhouse this spring reading, in large letters, “Beat Their Ass” (front) and “Not Our Own” (back).

“There's a little different vocabulary,” Cuddyer says of early life under Weiss. “It's a little more aggressive. Let's bully people. At least, that's the word that's been used.

“It's a little more of that attitude than I think we had. And we're a young team, we need to go play with attitude.”

To Weiss, who helped anchor four division title clubs in Oakland and played on three more in Atlanta, it's what he's always known.

“I don't think there's any secret sauce,” Weiss says. “I don't think you can be successful in any sport at the professional level without having an aggressive mindset.”

Still, while the thought of “bullying” opponents is admirable, it's also the stuff of ready-made punch-lines considering how the Rockies spent all of last summer essentially getting their own rear ends kicked from one bus stop to the next.

Weiss calls last season a “Murphy's Law” year -- “whatever could go wrong, did. A lot of things hit at the same time. A lot of guys were thrown into the fire” and had to survive.

Though he says he thinks “some guys earned their stripes”, there were also plenty of calls to 911. Best-case scenario for this season maybe is to reduce those 98 losses by 10 or 15 and go the entire summer without having to break the glass in case of emergency.

Everything appears in play. Weiss signed only a one-year deal, so the Rockies essentially are taking him for a test drive this summer (and, he them). There is speculation that Tulowitzki, who signed a 10-year, $157.75 million deal that runs through 2020, soon will be on the trade block.

Being that this isn't exactly the same program he signed up for when he essentially agreed to become the face of the franchise in November, 2010, you wonder whether Tulowitzki remains a believer.

“I can only control so much,” he says. “You sign somewhere with great intentions. You want to play with talented players.

“I'd be the first one to shout out if I didn't think there was enough talent in here. I think we have some good players.”

After a failed late-season experiment, the Rockies have junked the idea of a four-man rotation and 75-pitch limit. Under new pitching coach Jim Wright, de la Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin, Jeff Francis, Juan Nicasio, Drew Pomerantz, Christian Friedrich, Tyler Chatwood … whomever emerges as part of the opening day rotation will be turned loose to throw 90 or 100 pitches an outing.

“Definitely, I'd like to see my starters go seven innings,” Wright says.

Meanwhile, Bill Geivett, senior vice-president for major league operations, continues as a clubhouse presence -- one that simply would not be tolerated by most other managers (and, ahem, Tracy). But Weiss, who was a special advisor and instructor for the Rockies from 2002-2008, brushes that off.

“He's been a great resource for me,” Weiss says of Geivett, 49, who is in his 13th year with the Rockies. “I've been away from this club for four years. … He's helped speed up the learning curve for me.

“He's a sharp guy. He's got a good feel for when to step in and communicate and when to let us take care of things.”

As for the idea that Geivett is hawking him like a 24/7 ceiling security camera, Weiss shrugs.

“There's a lot of people watching me,” he says. “I'm managing the club.”

You wonder whether Weiss will be in position to say that a year from now. A one-year deal isn't exactly a long-term plan.

You also wonder what crazy shenanigans might be in store during the second-half of this season if the Rockies again tank.

Starting pitchers ordered to sleep in the famed Coors Field humidor on the nights before their starts?

Geivett texting outfield alignments from his clubhouse office?

“The feeling I got last year is that this organization has always been searching for the right formula for how to get it done in Colorado's altitude,” says Cuddyer, who signed a three-year, $31.5 million deal before last season but sat out all but three games after July 31 with a strained oblique.

“You saw where the year was going, so why not? Let's try some things. I don't think it worked. They didn't think it worked.

“That's why we're not doing it this year.”

As Weiss says, there is no special sauce.

And, lately, not much beef, either.

 
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