Rockies improve pitching depth in hopes of big 2014

PHOENIX -- After the Rockies went to an avant-garde pitching plan in 2012, the pitch counts with their starting pitchers have been scrutinized more than other clubs. But Bill Geivett, the team's senior vice president of Major League operations, noted that manager Walt Weiss' attention to the workload paid dividends last season.

Geivett, answering questions at a media event for Cactus League teams' managers and general managers at Chase Field, also said the Rockies aren't that much different from other clubs.

It was in 2012 that injuries and poor performance forced the Rockies to experiment with a four-man rotation with a pitch count around 75. It was scrapped before the end of the season. Last season, in his first year as Rockies manager, Weiss paid attention to pitches thrown, especially early for a staff that had four of its five starters coming back from major time-loss injuries.

The result? Jorge De La Rosa (16-6, 3.49 ERA) and Jhoulys Chacin (14-10, 3.47) had two of the best seasons in Rockies history, and righty Tyler Chatwood (8-5, 3.15 in 20 starts) went from talented youngster to someone the team could count on going into this year. Weiss kept De La Rosa below 100 pitches until May, because he had missed most of two years with an elbow injury. Chacin, who missed extensive time with a nerve issue in his chest, was kept out of triple figures until July.

"For how the starters felt, I know some of them were a little frustrated early in the year, but at the end of the year, they were kind of happy that they were held back a little bit," Geivett said. "They felt like they were tired, and they hadn't pitched a lot the year before.

"But there's that give and take. Walt has to keep our starting rotation intact as best he can. Injuries are going to happen. At the same point, anything that we can do that's going to keep those guys in line, in order and pitching for us is all that we're trying to do."

This season, the only projected starter who has a concern is Chatwood, but he says he has long healed from having bone chips removed from his elbow last October. Geivett said Weiss will nonetheless watch the workload early. There isn't a rigid count, which allows Weiss to take several factors into account, some of which the Rockies won't reveal for strategic reasons.

For example, De La Rosa, working through a bruised left thumb in 2013, won six straight starts from Aug. 9 to Sept. 4, sometimes throwing just under 110 pitches, but once while throwing just 83 in five innings. The thumb injury was already public by then. But the fact righty Juan Nicasio spent the year dealing with residual pain from a left knee injury that cost him most of 2012 wasn't revealed until near season's end. Some nagging hurts will be kept in-house.

"That's on an individual basis, working with each pitcher and looking at the last time he threw, how many days off those guys had in between, whatever else," Geivett said." There are a lot of factors that go into that. And a lot of times you won't know how a guy's feeling.

"Jimmy Wright [the pitching coach], Bo [McLaughlin, the assistant pitching coach] and 'Doigie' [head athletic trainer Keith Dugger], they need to make sure Walt has all the information he needs. We want them to last the whole year. We want to play in October. We have to keep our rotation intact."

Geivett believes it's time to stop treating the Rockies as unusual.

"The year before, the average start in the Major Leagues was 95.1 [pitches]," he said. "We break 100 a few times and everybody acts like we're being revolutionary. We're even over the average in what we allow the guy to go to."

Tulo upset to see Jeter go, but happy for idol

Outlook: Tulo still amongst best despite injuries

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki arrived for his first day of informal workouts at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick with an 8x10 of Yankees captain Derek Jeter placed in his locker. It would be great if the picture had been a superstar-to-star gift, but not quite.

"I got it just at the mall or something," Tulowitzki said.

Still, Tulowitzki feels connected to his baseball idol.

Tulowitzki, now considered the Majors' best two-way shortstop and a direct descendent of the line of bigger shortstops that Jeter is a part of, wears No. 2 for a reason beyond the fact it seems fitting beneath his name.

"Ever since I've known baseball, even as a kid, he's been involved," said Tulowitzki. "To hear that it's his last year is upsetting, because I'm such a big fan of his and appreciate what he's done for the game.

"At the same time, I'm happy for him. There comes a time when everybody has to say, 'Hey, this is my last year.' To be able to do it on his own terms, to come out before the season and say it like that, not too many guys get that opportunity. He's a legend, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, maybe the first guy to get 100 percent [of the vote]. I can go on and on about him. He's a special, special person."

Tulowitzki is not close to Jeter, but he said he is honored to get a step closer to him than most. Tulowitzki has worked at Jeter's baseball camp as an instructor.

"I wouldn't say very well, but I do know him," Tulowitzki said. "I've met him a couple of times, talked to him a couple of times. I'm just kind of a fan from afar. I compete when I'm on the field against him, but at the same time, have the utmost respect.

"It's a different level. You can go around the league and talk to people that are the best players, and they speak a different language. They got to that level for a reason."

Comfortable in center or left, CarGo trusts Rox

Outlook: Gonzalez capable of sky-high production

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Outfielder Carlos Gonzalez said Tuesday he doesn't mind the Rockies using Spring Training to determine whether he'll play center field or left field.

After trading center fielder Dexter Fowler to the Astros, the Rockies told Gonzalez, a three-time Rawlings Gold Glove Award winner, that he'll play center. But the Rockies later acquired Drew Stubbs in a trade with the Indians, which opened the possibility of Stubbs playing center in a combination with Charlie Blackmon or Corey Dickerson. Brandon Barnes, who played center for the Astros last year and came in the Fowler trade, also is an option.

Manager Walt Weiss said Monday that the plan is still for Gonzalez to play center, but he reserved his right to change his mind. Weiss and Gonzalez agree that whatever decision is made will be final. Gonzalez believes switching back and forth during the season creates an injury risk.

"We have options, and it's smart for the manager to know he can count on his players," Gonzalez said. "I'm ready to play center field or left field, wherever they need me. When they traded Dexter to Houston, that was their best option. But now we have more depth, plus Drew Stubbs, who is a pure center fielder. It's good.

"I know I'm going to be playing every day. I don't know if I'm going to play center field or left field, but if I'm healthy, I'm going to have the opportunity to help the club."

Gonzalez was challenging for a batting title and leading the National League in home runs before suffering a torn ligament in his right middle finger in July. The injury curtailed his hitting, but he still managed to win the Gold Glove Award.

If he moves to center, Gonzalez could be in competition for this year's Gold Glove Award with the incumbent, the Pirates' Andrew McCutchen.

"Every year is a new challenge, and the word 'challenge' to me is a motivation," Gonzalez said. "It doesn't matter to me what I did the year before -- I want to do better the next year. I have three beautiful gloves at my house and I want to continue that. It doesn't matter where I play, I'm going to do my best. But that's not my No. 1 goal. It's to help this team win a championship. When you have that in your mind, you're going to force yourself to be the best."

Gonzalez said the finger has healed and he'll try to mitigate further injuries by holding the bat about a half inch higher to reposition his pinky, and he'll use less tape and pine tar. He also has gained back all the weight he lost after an offseason emergency appendectomy.

Lyles determined in his first Rockies camp

Broadcaster Goodman on Rox acquiring Lyles, Barnes

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It was nothing against Jordan Lyles, but Rockies fans did a double-take. The team had traded popular center fielder Dexter Fowler in exchange for a right-hander who is 14-29 with a 5.59 ERA in three seasons.

But the number that might trump all that is 23, Lyles' age. Lyles enters the competition for a rotation spot eager to show what he has learned while pitching for a team that has struggled in recent years.

"I'm sure the fans weren't too happy looking at numbers," Lyles said. "Those were a tough couple of years in Houston. They're at a certain stage where they're trying to go and they made a move they thought was best for their team, and so did the Rockies.

"I've got enough innings in the Major Leagues to know what's going on. I'm looking to take the next step forward and put all the tools that I have together."

The Rockies like Lyles' ability to force ground balls, and they hope he can pull his talents together in the same manner as righty Tyler Chatwood, who pitched for the Angels in 2011 and now is seen as a key member of the Rockies' rotation at 24.

Lyles, a supplemental first-round pick in 2008 out of Hartsville (S.C.) High School, must determine how to avoid the big inning.

"The stat line is not going to show how well you pitched -- it's just going to show that big number at the end of your outing," Lyles said. "I've got to stay away from that.

"It's a positive thing to have new scenery, be around a lot of different guys, hear from a lot of different pitching coaches, pitching minds. I've really just got to bear down and focus and make that next pitch. When you need that ground ball, go get it. When you need that punchout, you've got to have it."

Lyles is one of several challengers for fifth starter Juan Nicasio's spot. Lefty Franklin Morales, who began his career as a Colorado starter but has been a Red Sox reliever in recent years, and lefty Christian Friedrich, a onetime No. 1 pick of the Rockies, are candidates with more familiarity for the organization and the fans. Lyles is driven to make a name for himself in his first Rockies camp.

"I don't think there's one guy in this clubhouse that's going to be happy with going down to Triple-A or Double-A," Lyles said. "It's definitely not going to be me. There's a chip there. I haven't had a good last couple of years. I've got to come into the spring, put up numbers and earn a spot. That's what I'm going to try to do."

Worth noting

• Weiss did not attend a media event for Cactus League managers and general managers because of an unexpected illness in his family. Weiss is expected to be with the team Wednesday for its workout of pitchers and catchers.

• Former Rockies outfielder Corey Sullivan was at the Rockies' complex doing work for Root Sports Rocky Mountain. As is the case with former Rockies outfielder Ryan Spilborghs, Sullivan will work on Rockies pregame and postgame shows and other programming.

Sullivan played for the Rockies from 2005-08, the Mets in '09 and the Astros in 2010. He spent 36 games in the Minors with the Phillies in '11 before retiring, and he has continued to live in the Denver area.

"I've always loved the game and wanted to be a part of it one way or another," said Sullivan, who also has been involved in working with youth players with Mike Bard, who spent a season as a Rockies assistant to the hitting coach and runs a baseball facility. "There was a period where I thought I was going to go into the front office, but some things kept me at home. Then this opportunity came up, I tried to take advantage of it, went and auditioned."

• Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez has been working at the Rockies' complex for several days but took Monday off to shoot video and still shots for a sporting goods ad campaign. He'll represent Nike in a commercial with fellow Major Leaguers Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Trout and NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.