Rockies strategy shift: Pitch to contact |

Rockies strategy shift: Pitch to contact

Jim Armstrong
The Denver Post
San Francisco Giants Matt Downs slides into third with a triple as Colorado Rockies Ian Stewart waits for the ball in the fifth inning of a Cactus League spring baseball game in Tucson, Ariz., on Friday, March 12, 2010. The Giants won 9-2. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

TUCSON – In barely a month, the Rockies will arrive at Coors Field and begin playing baseball. Nothing out of the ordinary there except that, until the early years of this decade, they never had done that.

Played real baseball, that is.

The humidor hasn’t just made for fewer runs and lower blood pressure in Lower Downtown. It has, more than any other factor, fundamentally changed how the game is played at altitude.

It also has created a seismic shift in how the Rockies approach pitching: how they teach it and how they preach it.

Not so long ago, the highest-paid pitcher in the game wore a Rockies uniform, until it wore him. Not anymore.

Gone are the days when Mike Hampton was uncomfortable with the mere notion of throwing a hittable strike in LoDo. These days, manager Jim Tracy insists his pitchers do it.

“I said from Day One, you’re going to throw strikes and you’re going to allow this infield to participate if you’re thinking about being a Rockies major-league pitcher,” Tracy said. “You’re going to throw your fastball for strikes.”

And, if all goes as planned, those pitchers will get a lot of groundball outs, keep their pitch counts down and last deep into games. Then the bullpen isn’t worn out, and the team doesn’t collapse come August.

It’s about the humidor, all right. Well, partly. It’s also about all that pitching talent the Rockies’ farm system is starting to pump out. And it’s about their defense, which may well be the best in the major leagues.

The light didn’t go on overnight. Take the case of Ubaldo Jimenez. Pitching to contact, much less at Coors Field, was a foreign language to him when he signed with the Rockies as a 17-year-old kid in the Dominican Republic.

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