Rockies ready for life without Holliday
DENVER (AP) ” The Colorado Rockies are ready to begin life without Matt Holliday, the slugger who helped them win their first pennant two years ago but who priced himself out of Denver and was traded to Oakland in the offseason.
Right fielder Brad Hawpe disputes the notion that the Rockies will have to play more “small ball” now that Holliday is gone. He noted that first baseman Todd Helton (back) and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki (hip, hand) are healthy after missing much of last year, when the Rockies slipped to 74-88.
“Those are two of the better players in the National League,” Hawpe said. “We lost one of the better players in the National League and we’re getting two back. I think we’re looking pretty good.”
Is that positive thinking or just wishful thinking as the Rockies prepare to report to spring training this weekend?
A two-time All-Star, Holliday had 128 homers and 483 RBIs in five big league seasons in Colorado. He led the Rockies to their only World Series appearance two years ago, when he won the NL batting title with a .340 average and hit 36 homers with a league-best 137 RBIs.
“We’re going to miss Matt,” infielder Clint Barmes said. “He was our best hitter. How we’re going to make up for that, I can’t tell you. … Last year we went through our ups and downs, more downs than anything, which I can’t explain, but we’ve got enough talent that we should score more runs and be better than where we were at last year.”
Helton and Tulowitzki will be asked to lead the way.
Helton is beefed up after offseason surgery to fix a herniated disk in his lower back and eager to re-establish himself as one of the league’s premiere first basemen. But his power production has withered over the last few seasons, and he’s going to have to take more time off than he’s accustomed to.
Tulowitzki is still establishing himself, trying to build on the solid second half of last season when he regained his health along with his status as one of the game’s rising young stars following a slump-ridden start to the season that saw him spend two stints on the DL with freak injuries.
And eventually some of the prospects will join the club and help fans get over the loss of Holliday in his prime.
“There was no Holliday five years ago. There was Larry Walker. And then when Larry Walker left, everyone was wondering now who do we got? Then Holliday stepped up and became the star player. Now that Holliday’s gone it’s obviously someone else’s turn to step up,” Hawpe said.
Hawpe’s not just placing the burden of replacing Holliday on the team’s top stars.
“We’ve got 25 guys that have got to contribute every day regardless of who’s here and who’s not,” he said.
Expect fierce competition for those 25 spots as manager Clint Hurdle takes a back-to-basics approach this spring in hopes of getting off to the solid start that team owner Charlie Monfort has said is necessary in these trying economic times.
Among the newcomers are outfielder Carlos Gonzalez and pitchers Huston Street and Greg Smith, all of whom came over from the Athletics in the Holliday trade.
Gonzalez will vie for playing time in center field with Ryan Spilborghs and Scott Podsednik following the departure of Willy Taveras, who signed with Cincinnati. He can also play left and right but needs to cut down on his strikeouts to break camp with the Rockies, who open the 2009 season at Arizona on April 6.
Another intriguing possibility in center is Dexter Fowler, the top prospect in the organization. He’s expected to start the season at Triple-A Colorado Springs to hone his hitting skills.
Seth Smith will get a shot at replacing Holliday in left field, and Ian Stewart could get innings there, too. Stewart is a man without a position because Garrett Atkins has returned to third base with a healthy Helton returning to first.
Barmes is the favorite at second base. Omar Quintanilla backs up both Barmes and Tulowitzki, and the Rockies are confident that Eric Young Jr. can make the transition from outfield to second base, although he’ll probably start off with the Sky Sox.
Starting catcher Chris Iannetta will play in the World Baseball Classic, so Edwin Bellorin has been invited to camp to split duties with Yorvit Torrealba.
As always, the pitching is a question mark.
Left-hander Jeff Francis’ troublesome left shoulder could land him on the operating table, but Aaron Cook (16-9 3.96) and Ubaldo Jimenez (12-12, 3.99) make up a promising front end of the rotation.
Jorge De La Rosa (10-8) could be a fourth or fifth starter. He had a 2.44 ERA in his last 10 games last season. Jason Marquis, who came over from the Chicago Cubs in exchange for Luis Vizcaino, also is a favorite to earn a starting job.
Josh Fogg is returning to the Rockies on a minor league deal hoping to earn a spot either in the rotation or in relief, and Jason Hirsh is hoping to bounce back after shoulder problems sidelined him almost all of last season.
Franklin Morales, who was demoted to the minors last season after a terrific 2007 in which he helped the Rockies reach the World Series, said his bad back is better and he, too, is confident of earning a starting job.
Manuel Corpas, who lost his closer role last year, will try to hold off Street for the job this season following the departure of free agent Brian Fuentes, who signed with Anaheim for two years and $17.5 million.
But the biggest question of all is how the Rockies’ offense responds to Holliday’s exit.
“All of us have to kind of pick it up,” Atkins said. “Myself, Tulo, Hawper and Todd, and anybody who gets the left field job will have to produce. They’re not going to produce like Matty, that’s easy to say. He’s one of the best players in the league. We’re going to miss him, but we’re a better team going into spring training than we were last year, top to bottom.”
Notes: Pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report Saturday for their first workout Sunday. Position players aren’t required to report until Wednesday. … The first spring training game is Feb. 25 against the Diamondbacks at Hi Corbett Field, the first of 35 exhibitions that conclude with a pair of games against Seattle in Las Vegas on April 3-4.