Notes: Youngsters filling the void
Spilborghs, Sullivan have helped offset loss of Taveras
DENVER -- The Rockies suffered a blow on Sept. 8 when center fielder Willy Taveras suffered a right quadriceps strain that has kept him out of action since.
But right-handed-hitting Ryan Spilborghs and left-handed-hitting Cory Sullivan, both of whom began the season in Triple-A Colorado Springs, have kept the lineup going.
The lineup had to be reshuffled because Taveras was the leadoff man, but Spilborghs and Sullivan have found ways to contribute. Spilborghs batted .299 with 11 home runs and 51 RBIs during the regular season, while Sullivan, starting center fielder for much of 2006, hit .286 and added value as a pinch-hitter and late-innings replacement.
Both have contributed during the National League Division Series, helping put the Rockies in position to complete a sweep of the Phillies at Coors Field on Saturday night. Spilborghs started, with the Rockies facing left-hander Jamie Moyer.
"We grinded in Triple-A, when he and I were down there working on stuff," said Spilborghs, who started the first two games and went 1-for-5 with three walks and two runs. "Cory's been an exceptional center fielder forever, so it's not out of the ordinary for him, and I try to play as well as he does defensively.
"You get nervous if you're not prepared and not used to doing it. I'm not nervous. I feel like I know what I'm doing out there."
Sullivan did not make the team out of Spring Training, started slowly in Triple-A and wasn't promoted until mid-June. He started the majority of the games in September, batting .222 but proving enough to be added to the postseason roster.
Sullivan had a pinch-hit single in Game 1 and is 1-for-2 in the series.
"There's a little sense of accomplishment, obviously, when you get sent down to Triple-A, then get back here and have relative success," Sullivan said. "It's just good to see you're making a positive donation to the team and the team's doing well."
Topping it off: Rockies second baseman Kazuo Matsui entered 2007 with a .255 batting average in 361 leadoff at-bats. But after joining the Rockies in a trade with the Mets last season, he hit .327 in 107 leadoff at-bats.
Matsui went into the year batting second, but has had to bat first because of Taveras' injuries. All he did during the regular season was hit .298 in 124 at-bats over 30 games in the leadoff spot, and his 3-for-9 performance thus far in the NLDS included a grand slam, a double and a triple in Thursday's 10-5 victory.
"I am prepared to hit first or second, so to me it's the same," Matsui said through his translator, Yoshi Ono.
Matsui endured a back injury early in the season and a hamstring injury late, so he may not push for stolen bases as much. However, teams have to watch out for him because he's running with intelligence. He was 32-for-36 on stolen-base attempts during the regular season.
"He hits smart," manager Clint Hurdle said. "He doesn't burn up at-bats, even when he has not been swinging well. He's tried to find ways to get on. His stolen bases haven't been what they were earlier when he was 100 percent, but he's running smart. He's using his skills to move up bases and take the extra base.
"He's a good player. He's filled in well ad knows what we're asking of him in that No. 1 spot, and doing a great job for us there."
Comeback trail: Hurdle said right-hander Aaron Cook, out since Aug. 10 with a left oblique strain, has thrown a simulated game in instructional ball in Tucson, Ariz., and Taveras continues to get at-bats. Also, right-hander Jason Hirsh, out since suffering a fractured right fibula on Aug. 7, has been working in instructional ball. All would be eligible for the NLCS, but Hurdle was loath to talk about it.
The final inspiration: The Rockies used none other than former Broncos quarterback John Elway, who comes as close to royalty as anyone in the Mile High City, to whip the crowd into a frenzy before the first pitch.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.