Notes: Speedy Taveras training for '08
Re-signed center fielder hopes to avert nagging injuries
DENVER -- Rockies center fielder Willy Taveras usually never stops moving, and he's always going quickly. This week, at least, it's been a little different.
Oh, Taveras hasn't turned slow and lazy. For a few hours every day at Coors Field, Taveras is undergoing workouts supervised by Rockies strength and conditioning coach Brad Andress.
But when the workout stops, so does Taveras, who usually prepares for the season in the Houston area. Credit the mile-high atmosphere, which Taveras hoped to train in as a way of preventing the muscle pulls that troubled him last season, when he hit .320 but was limited to 372 at-bats.
"Training here is way harder than you normally do," he said. "I train pretty hard in Houston. After working out the first day, I went back to the hotel to sleep. I usually don't sleep during the day, but my head was hurting and I was having a good time breathing. But it's good to workout here. You get so much stronger."
Taveras reports each day he feels better. He holes up in the hotel after workouts, but that's because of the cold snap that has hit Denver this week. "This cold is not for me," he said, laughing.
On Friday, Taveras could bask in the warmth of a new, one-year contract -- $1.975 million contract that includes performance bonuses that can earn him an additional $150,000 -- $50,000 each for 500, 550 and 600 plate appearances.
Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd said the Rockies are happy with Taveras, which is why they signed him quickly to the one-year contract. The club will evaluate Taveras in the future to determine if it is interested in a longer contract. The workouts in Denver are a start.
"Willy looks great," O'Dowd said. "We think Willy's just scratching the surface of how good he's going to be."
The new contract is a good reason to train at altitude and learn more about the diet, hydration and workout regimen necessary to deal with muscle problems that could be climate-related. Also, Taveras will report to Spring Training in Tucson, Ariz., well before the first full-squad workout, on Feb. 23, for more training in a dry, high-altitude climate.
Taveras had been healthy with the Astros in 2005 and 2006, but last season missed time in May with a sore right groin, and dealt with right quadriceps soreness for much of the second half of the year. Officially, he was placed on the disabled list just once, with a right groin strain in August. But he missed the final 21 regular-season games and the first round of the playoffs with quadriceps problems.
Soon after returning for the National League Championship Series, Taveras had his high moments of the postseason. He made a diving catch on a Tony Clark fly ball to prevent a run in the seventh and drew a bases-loaded walk for the winning run in the 11th inning of a 3-2 victory over the D-backs in Game 2 of the Rockies' four-game sweep.
Taveras had some at-bats in instructional ball before the playoffs, but his rust showed in a 3-for-26 postseason average. Manager Clint Hurdle benched him in Games 3 and 4 of the World Series as the Rockies looked in vain for offense. They were swept by the Red Sox.
"Nobody did well in the World Series, and even against the Diamondbacks, it wasn't like everybody was hitting -- we had some big hits," Taveras said. "No excuses, I hadn't been playing, but I did go down to instructional league. I do think the eight days off before the World Series affected us.
"But I'm happy to be here, and we have a good team. You can tell because we not only played well at home, but we played well on the road. This team has so much talent, and I look forward to this next year."
Taveras posted his highest on-base percentage, .367, and was 33-for-42 on steal attempts. He also had 37 bunt singles and would have surpassed the 42 Brett Butler had for the Dodgers in 1992 -- the most in the Majors since 1974 -- with only a modest amount of health.
The scrutiny of the postseason brought criticism that he was too dependent on bunting to the left side of the infield -- a charge he found laughable.
"Imagine if I'd had 500 at-bats, 600 at-bats," Taveras said. "I missed all those at-bats and got 37 bunt singles? It doesn't matter where you're bunting."
Morillo's big chance: Right-handed relief prospect Juan Morillo underwent an MRI in December for elbow soreness, but said that came back fine. He's taking a conservative approach to preparation for the season, doing long toss at Coors Field, but staying away from bullpen sessions for now.
He still believes he'll be ready for a full load, or something close, by Spring Training. He said trainers will decide if he'll begin Spring Training with a lighter workload.
Last season, his first as a reliever, Morillo replaced the triple-figures fastball that brought him notice with a mid-90s fastball and an effective slider while going 6-5 with a 2.55 ERA in 53 combined appearances at Double-A Tulsa and Triple-A Colorado Springs. He appeared in four September games with the Rockies.
"I learned that I didn't need to throw 100 mph to get outs," said Morillo, who said the elbow pain might have simply been an adjustment to the frequent work a reliever receives. "I could throw low strikes and get ground balls."
Morillo doesn't enter 2008 in a must-make-the-team situation. Based on his age at the time he signed with the Rockies, the club received an additional year of Minor League options for him and can send him to the Minors this year without exposing him to other clubs via waivers.
All the way? Rockies right-hander Jason Hirsh, who went 5-7 with a 4.81 ERA in 19 starts before missing the end of the season with a fractured fibula, returned to his offseason job of helping the San Diego Chargers' coaching staff during home games. He relayed pictures taken from still cameras to special teams coach Steve Crosby, starting in November.
Now, Hirsh is hoping to help them at the ultimate time, provided they beat the New England Patriots on Sunday and advance to the Super Bowl. Hirsh's wife is related to the Chargers' video coordinator.
"I hope to be there," Hirsh said. "When they're on the road, they don't have a staff. They pull people out of the stands and say, 'Hey, do you want to work on the field?' So I hope they invite me to come along."
Comeback? Right-hander Denny Stark, who went 11-4 as a rookie for the Rockies in 2004 but has seen his career derailed by elbow issues, is throwing bullpen sessions at Coors and will soon begin looking for a club that will sign him.
Stark pitched with the Rockies through 2004, but he hasn't thrown in a game since June 2005 with Colorado Springs. He has had two Tommy John elbow ligament surgeries since.
"I want to get back out there," Stark said. "There's no better job in the world than this. To get back out there would be a dream come true. I'm willing to exhaust all avenues to get another chance."
Stark said he hopes to look for a club to sign with within the next couple of weeks.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.