Rockies' Taveras wants everyday role
Center fielder believes sporadic play has affected performance
SAN FRANCISCO -- Rockies manager Clint Hurdle is deliberating whether center fielder Willy Taveras will continue at leadoff man next season. All Taveras wants is a verdict that has him playing every day, whether it's with the Rockies or another club.
Taveras' .251 batting average and .308 on-base percentage represent dramatic drops from last year's career highs of .320 and .367. He also has 79 strikeouts in 478 at-bats and has hit the ball into the air at a rate that alarms Hurdle.
On the flip side, he suffered through numerous injuries last year that limited him to 85 regular-season starts and 33 steals in 42 attempts, but this year he has been healthy throughout and leads the Majors with 68 steals, in 75 attempts.
The struggles have led Hurdle to remove Taveras from the regular lineup on some occasions and drop him to No. 2 for 17 games in August and September. Taveras, meanwhile, believes being in and out of the lineup is part of the problem.
Just like Hurdle holds the lineup card, the Rockies hold the ultimate card with Taveras. He is eligible for arbitration this winter.
The Rockies have Ryan Spilborghs, who often played when Taveras was on the bench, and are testing Seth Smith as a possibility for duty in center. The team is also grooming prospect Dexter Fowler to take over, although that's not expected at the beginning of 2009.
"I want to be in Colorado next year, but I want to play every day," said Taveras, who has started 100 of the team's first 157 games after making 85 starts last year but doing one disabled-list stint, being held out of the lineup for leg and finger injuries and not playing in any of the last 21 regular-season games because of a sore right quadriceps. "It's hard when you don't have a good game and you're not playing the next day.
"I got traded over here to play every day. I've been healthy. They wanted me to be healthy. I should be able to play more. I know I can hit better. But, honestly, you hit better if you play more, play every day."
Taveras entered this season with a .293 batting average and .338 on-base percentage in four-pus seasons in the Majors. But by this month, he was in the position of auditioning. Hurdle put him back at leadoff for six games. He hit .227 in those contests.
"I think I saw a nice spike early and I think it's all kind of fallen back to the same level it was before," said Hurdle, who said many teams have won with a non-traditional leadoff hitter, so the club is exploring that option. "When he gets on, he's very exciting. The average hasn't spiked one way or the other. The on-base percentage hasn't spiked, really, one way or the other. The runs scored per times out really didn't spike one way or the other.
"So it's just being honest with ourselves. Is he one? Is he the other? Is he a hybrid of the seasons? Can we find a guy who's in between, .275-.280 whose on-base is .350, .345?"
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.