Posted on: April 14, 2011 9:49 pm
Edited on: April 14, 2011 9:53 pm

3 to watch: The Rangers pitching edition

Remember last winter, when the Rangers were going to sign Cliff Lee, or trade for Zack Greinke or Matt Garza?

Remember this spring, when the Rangers began spring training with just two spots set in their starting rotation?

Remember the end of spring training, when Tommy Hunter's injury left a hole in the Ranger rotation?

Well, forget it. All of it.

Forget that anyone was ever concerned that the Rangers wouldn't be able to pitch enough to support their great offense.

While the Yankees worry about Phil Hughes and the Red Sox worry about Daisuke Matsuzaka, this is what the Rangers have gotten from the back end of their rotation: six starts, six wins, and a 1.15 ERA.

Red Sox people raved about Matt Harrison after he shut down the Sox in his first start. Orioles people raved about Derek Holland after he held the O's scoreless in his second start. And in two starts, Alexi Ogando has yet to allow a run to anyone.

"The way they've been throwing, they don't need anyone [else]," Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis said.

"I don't think people realize the depth they have in pitching," O's manager (and one-time Rangers manager) Buck Showalter said. "They've covered the what-ifs very well."

The Rangers visit the Yankees this weekend for the first time since last year's American League Championship Series, and they won't start any of the four starters they used in the ALCS. Instead, it'll be Harrison, Holland and Ogando.

And that's not bad.

On to 3 to watch:

1. Remember, Troy Tulowitzki is a notorious slow starter. In his first four full big-league seasons, he hit seven April home runs. That's seven in four years. Now he has seven home runs and 14 RBI, with 14 April games still remaining on the Rockies schedule. The next six of those will be home games, starting with Cubs at Rockies, Friday night (8:40 ET) at Coors Field. For his career, Tulowitzki has a .926 OPS at Coors, vs. .804 on the road, but this year he has five homers in his first seven road games. One more Tulowitzki fact to think about: Over his last 41 games, dating back to last Sept. 2 (basically one-quarter of a season), he has 22 home runs and 54 RBI.

2. Things have been so bad in Boston that the Red Sox welcomed a Wednesday rainout that basically gave them back-to-back days off. "I don't think that will hurt one bit," manager Terry Francona told reporters. So it'll be interesting to see how the Sox react this weekend against the Blue Jays. It'll be even more interesting to see whether Josh Beckett follows up on his strong start last Sunday against the Yankees, when he starts in Blue Jays at Red Sox, Saturday afternoon (1:05 ET) at Fenway Park. Beckett wasn't good against many teams last year, but he hasn't beaten the Jays in six starts since 2007, going 0-3 with an 11.85 ERA.

3. Of all the new Rangers starters, Ogando is the most interesting, and not just because he has yet to allow a run (and, in two starts, has allowed just a .298 opponents OPS). Ogando is the guy who replaced Hunter in the rotation at the end of spring training. He's also the guy who signed with the A's as an outfielder, got caught up in a visa fraud and couldn't get out of the Dominican Republic for five years, was converted to a pitcher by the Rangers, and got to the big leagues last year. Now he's in the rotation, maybe to stay. Some Rangers officials see a 2012 rotation that includes both Ogando and Neftali Feliz, who for this year remains the Rangers' closer. Ogando faces CC Sabathia in Rangers at Yankees, Sunday night (8:05 ET) at Yankee Stadium.

Posted on: April 11, 2011 8:04 pm
Edited on: April 11, 2011 10:40 pm

Rockies are winning in April -- and on the road

NEW YORK -- The teams that lose early say it's only nine games.

The Rockies have been there. The Rockies have said it.

It's only April.

And this April, the Rockies have started 7-2, after Monday night's 7-6 win over the Mets. This April, the Rockies have even won on the road.

"Sitting at the top of the standings," Troy Tulowitzki said Monday afternoon. "To see us there [in April] is weird for me."

This is Tulowitzki's fifth full big-league season, which means he hasn't been around long enough to see the Rockies have a winning April. It also means he has been around long enough to understand why that matters.

He and other Rockies players said they spent this spring talking about how significant a fast start would be, and also about how important it was to reverse the Rockies' traditionally bad road record. So if the 7-2 start matters, so does the fact that four of the wins came in the Rockies' first five games on the road.

"We really did concentrate on that," Tulowitzki said. "In spring trainings in the past, I don't remember talking about April. But this year we were always saying, 'Let's play well in April. And let's not care about where we play.'"

They did all that talking at their beautiful new spring training complex in Scottsdale, Ariz. And the Rockies believe that complex is also part of the reason they had a better-than-usual first week.

"Yes," bench coach Tom Runnells said. "Absolutely. I added it up, and when we were in Tucson, we spent a full week's worth of time on the bus every spring. Now, being in [the Phoenix area], you play your main players more.

"So when we got to opening day, it didn't even feel like the first game. It was just another game."

Tulowitzki said that because the Rockies drew so well at the new facility, their spring games had a little more intensity than in prior years. He thought that helped, too.

The Rockies talked about April, and they talked about the road. For whatever reason, they believed that they took different offensive approaches on the road and at home, and they were determined to change that.

So in the early days on the road this year, they say they've spent more time in the cage, and more time in meetings.

"If we just play well on the road, we have a chance to make the playoffs, because we play so well at home," Jason Giambi said.

And if they just play well in April, they won't need the kind of late-season comebacks they've been noted for in the past.

They're not there yet. It's only nine games.

But that's what teams say when they lose in April.

Category: MLB
Posted on: April 11, 2011 6:41 pm

Rockies get CarGo back, Helton soon

NEW YORK -- The Rockies are getting healthier.

Carlos Gonzalez returned to the lineup Monday night against the Mets, after missing a start Sunday in Pittsburgh because he was sick. Todd Helton, who hasn't started since Thursday because of a back problem, was available to pinch-hit Monday and could return to the lineup within the next few days.

Meanwhile, starter Ubaldo Jimenez is scheduled to throw a simulated game on Wednesday in Arizona, and the Rockies are hopeful he can return to the rotation next Monday at home against the Giants.

Gonzalez was so sick over the weekend that he had trouble sleeping.

"I felt like my legs were hanging from the ceiling," he said.

Helton's back condition was a bigger concern, but he has improved considerably.

"Two days ago, he was somewhat touch and go, as far as I was concerned," manager Jim Tracy said.
Posted on: February 24, 2011 8:08 pm

Stronger CarGo still has enthusiasm of a kid

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Carlos Gonzalez came to spring training carrying a few more pounds of muscle.

He also came to camp with a little more understanding of his place in the game.

Gonzalez is 25 years old, and he's already had a season good enough that he finished third in voting for the National League Most Valuable Player. But he also shows the excitement of a kid when he talks about meeting other great players.

"It's really funny," the Rockies outfielder said the other day. "At the end of the year last year, [Albert] Pujols came to me and said he wanted my autograph. I was shocked.

"And let me tell you something else funny. I saw Victor Martinez at the [American embassy in Caracas, Venezuela], when I went to get my visa. He told me he wants to hit like me. I always wanted to hit like him."

As for the extra muscle, Gonzalez said he wanted to get stronger, after his weight dropped to about 200 pounds by the end of the 2010 season.

"I want to try to stay at 210-215 pounds the whole season," said Gonzalez, adding that he weighs about 220 pounds right now.

Posted on: February 24, 2011 11:23 am
Edited on: February 24, 2011 11:23 am

Top Rockies C prospect on the way back

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Rockies want Chris Iannetta to bounce back and establish himself as their No. 1 catcher this year. But the Rockies also have an eye on the future, and they've got to be thrilled that top catching prospect Willin Rosario has made big progress in his return from knee surgery.

"I feel good," said Rosario, who turned 22 this week but is in his third big-league spring training. "I've been able to catch bullpens, catch live batting practice and hit. I don't feel 100 percent yet, but I feel good."

Rosario had a breakout season in 2010, hitting 19 home runs and driving in 52 runs in just 73 games at Double-A Tulsa, before he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in a rundown play in early August. Rosario also had a chance to play in the All-Star Futures Game.

"That was exciting," he said. "A big-league stadium, cameras everywhere. When I saw that, I said to myself, 'This is what I want. I want to be in a big-league stadium.'"

He won't be there to start this year. There's a chance the Rockies could even take it slow with him at the start of the minor-league season, although Rosario said he expects to be ready for opening day.

Meanwhile, Iannetta will try to prove that he's better than his .197 batting average and .701 OPS in 2010 showed.

Posted on: January 11, 2011 1:31 pm

Traded twice, and now worth $80.5 million

What does it say about Chris Archer that he's now been traded twice before turning 23, and before ever throwing a pitch in the big leagues?

No more than it said about Carlos Gonzalez that he was traded for a second time soon after he turned 23, and before he had ever spent a full season in the big leagues.

The Rockies are announcing Gonzalez's seven-year, $80.5 million contract extension today, which makes this a good time to point out how often teams don't realize what they have.

And also why the most important evaluations that any organization makes are the one that involve their own players.

The Diamondbacks didn't just give Gonzalez away. They included him in the trade that netted them Dan Haren.

The A's didn't just give Gonzalez away. They used him to get Matt Holliday.

But either of those teams truly understood how good a player Gonzalez was quickly going to become -- an $80 million player -- those deals don't get made.

How good is he? Well, with Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki, you could argue that the Rockies have the best 1-2 punch of young stars in baseball, counting middle-of-the-order offense, top-flight defense and even positive clubhouse presence.

Gonzalez (now signed through 2017) and Tulowitzki (signed earlier in the winter to an extension through 2020) give the Rockies a great base to build a championship contender through the decade.

And they wouldn't have it if either the Diamondbacks or A's had decided that Gonzalez was too valuable to give up as part of a multi-player deal.

Does that mean that no team should ever consider dealing its top prospects? No, not at all.

If the Cubs hadn't been willing to part with Archer, a talented right-hander who split last year between Class A and Double-A, they wouldn't have Garza, a premium starting pitcher who gives them a chance to win now (and who they have under control for at least three years).

Two sources familiar with the talks between the Cubs and Rays said this week that the Rays insisted Archer be part of any Garza deal with Chicago. No Archer, no deal.

The Cubs, who got Archer from the Indians in a New Year's Eve 2008 deal for Mark DeRosa, held off for weeks from including him. They tried to substitute other players.

At the end, when it was still "No Archer, no deal," they gave in.

Now they'll hope Garza gets them to the playoffs. And they'll hope that Chris Archer isn't the next Carlos Gonzalez.


Incidentally, Garza has now been traded twice, too. The Rays acquired him from the Twins in the deal that also included Delmon Young and Jason Bartlett, before Garza had spent a full season in the majors.

Posted on: January 3, 2011 3:11 pm
Edited on: January 3, 2011 3:26 pm

Rockies Gonzalez announces extension

This is a good day for the Rockies.

And a fascinating day in the history of baseball reporting.

This afternoon, Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez announced, via Twitter , that he is about to sign a seven-year contract extension for about $80 million. Gonzalez announced, in English and Spanish, that he will be traveling to Denver this week for a physical, and then to sign the new deal.

What it means for the Rockies: Coupled with the their move earlier this winter to sign Troy Tulowitzki to a new 10-year contract, it means that they have their two best players locked up at least through 2017. And, given that Tulowitzki and Gonzalez might be as good an all-around 1-2 combination as on any team in baseball, and given that both are still young (Gonzalez just turned 25, and Tulowitzki just turned 26), it means that the Rockies have an excellent base on which to build a contending team for many years into the future.

What it means for baseball reporting: I'm not sure yet, but it is an interesting development. News of Gonzalez's extension talks had been leaking out over the last several weeks, but the first news that a deal was done came from him (or rather from his personal publicist, who handles his Twitter account).

A few drafted players have reported their own contract signings on Twitter before, and players and agents have called writers to break the news of new contracts. But I'm not sure this high profile a player ever reported this big a contract on Twitter before.
Category: MLB
Posted on: January 3, 2011 3:10 pm
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