SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- What I like, and dislike, about the Rockies:
-- A healthy Troy Tulowitzki to again pair with Carlos Gonzalez. Each of these Rockies has been an MVP-caliber player at some point, and when they're together in the lineup they change the entire dynamic. Tulowitzki hurt his groin early last season and didn't play after May 30. Few teams could sustain the loss of him from the middle of their lineup. Following surgery on his left groin, he's moving around well this spring and highly optimistic -- even if he is going to force himself to take it slow early. “A lot of people are complaining about the long spring training this year,” Tulowitzki says. “I'm using it to my benefit.”
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-- Jorge de la Rosa, Jhoulys Chacina and Juan Nicasio appear ready to go. De La Rosa has only made 13 starts over the past two seasons because of elbow trouble that resulted in Tommy John ligament transfer surgery. “He's been outstanding,” new Rockies pitching coach Jim Wright says of De La Rosa's early spring bullpens and batting-practice sessions. “At this point, everything is there. We'll see how the games play out.” Chacin made only 14 starts last season because of shoulder issues but “his delivery and mechanics are back in order,” Wright says. “It's about commanding his fastball. As for Nicasio, who suffered a fractured vertebrae when hit in the head with a batted ball in August, 2011, and then suffered a knee injury that ended his 2012 season on June 2, hopes are high for him as well.
-- The latest plan with the pitching. “Our identity is going to be ground balls,” Wright says. “Fastballs to the bottom of the [strike] zone, attack the zone at all times, hold the runner at first base. We're going to pitch inside. Those are my absolutes.” They all sound good in theory. And after all of these years and all of those attempts at reinventing the wheel, ground balls remain the smartest goal for a pitcher in Coors Field. Now, does Wright have the arms to get the job done?
-- Whatever happens with this club, and however long the new skipper's managerial career lasts, you have to like Walt Weiss. A gritty, even-tempered guy who always has gotten the most of his ability, he moves from managing a high school team a year ago (he guided them to Colorado's 5A state semi-finals!) to The Show now. “I'm going to have to lean on guys around me, particularly [bench coach] Tom Runnells,” Weiss says. “I've already done that. Three games into the spring, I asked if he's tired of me leaning on him.” Though Weiss is managing Cactus League games differently than championship season games, he is almost doing double duty. Because he's reading each situation and analyzing what he would do if it came up in a regular-season game.
-- The rotation does not scare anyone. Yes, Jorge de la Rosa, Juan Nicasio and Jhoulys Chacin are healthy, and they'd better stay that way. Last year, only one Colorado starter worked as many as 100 innings pitched (Jeff Francis). Last year's team ERA of 5.22 was worst in the majors, and the starters contributed so little that the Rockies set a major-league record for relief innings pitched (657), blowing past the previous record held by the 2003 Rangers (601 1/3). Lots and lots of work to do here.
-- The Rockies have to catch the ball better than they did a year ago. Without infield anchor Troy Tulowitzki for most of the year -- and with significant injuries to first baseman Todd Helton and right fielder Michael Cuddyer -- the Rockies committed a major-league high 122 errors and compiled a major-league worst .980 fielding percentage.
-- Todd Helton is about done. Entering the final season of his deal and on-deck to turn 40 in August, a right hip injury limited Helton to 69 games last season, fewest of his 15-year big-league career. Helton is one of only eight players in big-league history to own at least a .320 batting average, .410 on-base percentage and a .540 slugging percentage. The other seven (minimum 1,000 games played) are Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Rogers Hornsby, Stan Musial, Babe Ruth, Albert Pujols and Ted Williams.
-- Lots of questions about the front office, where Bill Geivett, senior vice-president for major-league operations, has taken many of the responsibilities of general manager Dan O'Dowd. This franchise increasingly has appeared directionless over the past year. Even with the optimism of a new season, the Rockies appear to be teetering between forward motion (given good health and lots of things falling into place) and total hopelessness.