Notes: Holliday's approach pays off
Colorado slugger took over Majors' hitting lead Saturday
DENVER -- Fans checking the leaderboards Sunday morning saw Rockies left fielder Matt Holliday's smiling face looking back at them from atop the batting leaders, the epitome of a happy hitter.
On an individual basis, Holliday has much to smile about. He entered Sunday leading the Majors with a .398 average (39-for-98) and is in the midst of an 11-game hitting streak, during which he's hitting an even .500 (22-for-44).
"I feel good," Holliday said before Sunday's game. "Yesterday I executed my plan a couple times against John Smoltz. In general I'm feeling pretty good. Still, in the cage, I'm looking for good balance and good extension on the ball, so there's always room for improvement."
When you're .002 away from hitting .400, the margin for improvement is fairly small, but Holliday's power numbers aren't what he's grown accustomed to, and he is conscious of his responsibility to drive in runs.
"I'm always looking for ways to improve," Holliday said. "Hitting's a lot about feel. I'm just trying to, every day, go in the cage and find a good, comfortable rhythm -- look for a good pitch to hit; try to keep things simple; watch the tape; see what the pitcher's going to try to do. It's always an ongoing process, no matter how well you're doing."
With 22 hits at Coors Field, where he was hitting .440 this season entering Sunday, it would be natural to expect at least a few of those hits to have left the park. Holliday has only one home homer and two total on the season, while his team boasts only 10 round-trippers to date. It's easy to say the breaks haven't fallen his way with long balls, but Holliday isn't the kind of hitter to attribute his shortcomings to a lack of luck.
"I haven't hit as many home runs as I'd probably like," Holliday admitted. "It's a lot about swing. It's a lot about hitting behind the ball and staying through it. There's some mechanical things."
Though it's only April, the Rockies are happy to see production from the middle of their batting order, and manager Clint Hurdle observed that he'd like to see other Rockies "get on board and have some fun" with Holliday and Todd Helton, who is hitting .383 with a .495 on-base percentage.
"Holliday's squaring up balls; he's using the entire field," Hurdle said. "He's been very productive. I don't think he's getting outside of his box too often. He'd be the first one to tell you there's some other opportunities he's probably missed he'd like to have back. He's got a guy in front of him that's been on base almost 50 percent of the time, so he's hitting with runners on base. He's matching up left- and right-handed. Offensively, he's got a flow to him and a rhythm right now that you like watching."
Taking stock: Right-handers Danny Bautista and Alberto Arias became the 18th and 19th pitchers on the Rockies 12-man staff this season, looking to aid a squad that has seen four of its members hit the disabled list and three subjected to demotions to the Minors quickly after being called up.
Bautista was called up from Triple-A Colorado Springs before Sunday's game, and made an immediate impact, pitching a scoreless 11th inning and earning the win.
"We're trying to take some inventory right now," Hurdle said before Sunday's game. "It's very critical that we get the best arms that we can down in the bullpen here for this stretch of games with Ramon Ramirez out. We've looked at some people, and we'll continue to take inventory."
Have a question about the Rockies?
E-mail your query to MLB.com Rockies beat reporter Thomas Harding for possible inclusion in a future Inbox column. Letters may be edited for brevity, length and/or content.
On Sunday, it was Ryan Speier making the 70-mile trek back to Triple-A Colorado Springs, having performed below expectations in his three appearances for the Rockies since joining the club April 21. Speier gave up four runs in 2 1/3 innings of relief work, going 0-1 with a 15.43 ERA.
"Ryan's not as sharp as he needs to be," Hurdle said. "This will give him an opportunity to pitch on a more consistent basis and get back to where we saw him at the end of '05. He missed all of last season [recovering from shoulder surgery]. He was pitching pretty effectively in Triple-A, although it was a small snapshot of him."
Bautista had been used in relief in Colorado Springs, appearing in eight games for a total of 7 2/3 innings, posting a 3.52 ERA. He allowed five walks while striking out six, and held opponents to a .143 average.
"In Spring Training, sometimes I tried to throw too hard," Bautista said, explaining the progress he's made since joining the Sky Sox in March. "They told me, 'You don't have to try to throw so hard, because you can throw easy and your fastball is still the same. You have to throw straight ahead and your fastball's going to be 98, 97 [mph].' I've been working on it a lot, and I feel very good."
Hurdle emphasized that Bautista's consistency with his fastball command and his ability effectively implement his slider were significant factors in earning him a chance to stick with the club.
Arias was called up after Sunday's game and will join the Rockies in San Francisco, taking the place of Bobby Keppel, who was designated for assignment after pitching one-third of an inning in Sunday's game. Keppel had an 11.25 ERA in four relief appearances since his contract was purchased from the Sky Sox on April 21.
Arias has been with the Sky Sox all season, going 1-1 with a 1.53 ERA (three earned runs in 17 2/3 innings) in five games, two of which were starts. He was originally signed by the Rockies as a non-drafted free agent in June of 2000, and will be making his Major League debut when he pitches for the Rockies.
Ramirez in the wings: Ramirez had been arguably the Rockies' most effective reliever before he went on the disabled list April 18, having not allowed a run in his seven appearances for the club. He was hampered by a sprained right elbow, but he didn't think it was serious.
Ramirez was slated to throw a bullpen session Sunday.
"He might get on the mound," Hurdle said. "He's going to start low and see if he can work up to the top of the rubber."
On tap: The Rockies look to righty Josh Fogg (1-1, 5.79 ERA) to get their nine game road trip off to a good start as they face southpaw Noah Lowry (2-2, 3.38 ERA) in San Francisco at 8:15 p.m. MT on Monday.
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.