Opening Day: Rockies bank on veterans to make up for Holliday
DENVER, Colorado ” The Colorado Rockies don’t have Matt Holliday to pester pitchers and energize the crowds at Coors Field anymore.
Sans their slugger, who was traded to Oakland over the winter, they’ll rely on a bevy of youngsters including Seth Smith, Ian Stewart, Ryan Spilborghs and Dexter Fowler to roam the cavernous outfield in downtown Denver and try to provide some pop at the plate.
The Rockies believe they have just the right mix of youth to go with their veteran leadership of Todd Helton, Garrett Atkins, Brad Hawpe and Troy Tulowitzki to bounce back from their belly flop in 2008.
“I’m really impressed with the players we have on this team,” Tulowitzki said. “We have enough to do some special things. Pitching, on the other hand, that’s where we’re going to have to come up big. We need guys to step up and throw well for us.”
Jason Marquis plans to do just that. The durable right-hander was acquired from the Chicago Cubs in January for reliever Luis Vizcaino. Marquis has had double-digit wins in each of the last five seasons, surpassing 190 innings four times.
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He’ll get the start Friday against Cole Hamels when the Philadelphia Phillies visit Coors Field for the Rockies’ home opener.
Hamels, the World Series and NLCS MVP, was supposed to pitch the Phillies’ opener against Atlanta but was pushed back because of minor elbow problems.
He’ll surely be pleased not to have to face Holliday, the hazard in the Rockies’ lineup for the last five seasons.
With Holliday gone, Smith and Stewart are splitting time in left field. Spilborghs and Fowler are doing the same in center.
It’s the veterans, though, who are being counted on to collectively make up for Holliday’s departure.
“We’re the ones that need to take on the burden of filling some of the numbers that Holliday had,” Helton insisted. “When I came in and tried to replace (Andres) Galarraga, you do that for a couple weeks, a month, and you realize it really doesn’t work. You have to go out there and play your game. I think those guys are fine.”
Colorado has a different look without Holliday in the lineup to menace managers and make pitchers sweat, but the Rockies did just fine in their opening series at Arizona, where they won two of three and lost a 9-8 heartbreaker to a team that they went just 3-15 against last season.
In his first start in center, Fowler hit the first pitch he saw for a home run Wednesday, sparking Colorado’s 9-2 rout of the Diamondbacks.
The Phillies were nearly swept at home by the Braves but rallied for a 12-11 win Wednesday thanks to an eight-run seventh inning that included four walks with the bases loaded.
The Rockies had their troubles with the Phillies last season, losing all five times they played them.
“The same thing goes with the Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks killed us last year, too,” Tulowitzki noted. “If we play this well, hopefully we can get a little bit of revenge and show, ‘Hey, it’s a new year. We’ve made some changes, we’re playing the game a little different.’
“I know our fans will be there, it’s going to be exciting. It’s nice to come back home from a series where we played well, won two out of three against a team that really has owned us.”
The Rockies know just how difficult it is to return from a World Series appearance and recapture that magic. After their first NL pennant in 2007, they faltered from the start and stumbled to a 74-88 record last summer.
That’s why there’s not a scintilla of angst in the Colorado clubhouse about facing the powerful Phillies.
“You know, they were world champs last year. This is a new year and that’s how we’re going to approach this,” Stewart said. “Every team’s just another team right now. It’s early in the season. We’re playing well. It should be a fun series.”