Tracy wants Rox to re-establish 'identity'
Interim manager looking for better execution, unselfish play
DENVER -- The Rockies' decision to replace manager Clint Hurdle with Jim Tracy on an interim basis sends a new message that the club hasn't sent in years:
Better baseball trumps stability on the Rockies' list of goals.
That means removing Hurdle is a signal more change will come if the Rockies continue to underachieve -- as they did in going 18-28 to precipitate the move to Tracy, who has managed the Dodgers and the Pirates. If the Rockies can jettison Hurdle, who joined the Minor League system in 1994 and managed from 2002 to Friday with one winning season, they're prepared for change.
From an organizational standpoint, the heat shifts to Tracy, who joined the team this year as bench coach and is under a one-year contract, and general manager Dan O'Dowd, who was hired at the end of the 1999 season and is at the end of his current contract.
But more immediately, a mostly homegrown roster comes under scrutiny. The Rockies were lauded as a model team built from within when they made a surprise appearance in the 2007 World Series. But a 74-88 record last year and this year's slow start -- a period marked by poor execution and an inability to deliver at key moments -- could force a rethinking.
Any thinking that the message from the manager had become stale becomes moot. The Rockies are 2-7 in one-run games. Tracy said five of the losses are games the Rockies would have won with better fundamental execution -- a puzzling evaluation, considering that the Rockies took a Minor League approach when it came to drilling and emphasizing the basics.
"There are some things we're going to have to address, things that we're going to have to look at, there are people in that room that are going to have to realize that what they're doing has to get a little bit better in order for the club to improve," Tracy said. "I've stood next to Clint for 46 games. I've managed against Clint for five-plus years. I can't sit here and tell you that I saw a number of things that I would've done differently.
"There does come a point in time when your players, when called upon, have to execute a given situation. Whether it's from the bullpen, whether it's finishing a play, whether it's executing a situation offensively, all of these different types of things, if you're going to be a good team, that's what you have to do."
O'Dowd has entered an evaluation period, not only of Tracy but of the roster. So far, many players have a long way to go to achieve a passing grade based on 2009 performance.
"There are certainly some issues from a talent standpoint that you've got to shore up," O'Dowd said. "They're not easy things to shore up because of some of our health issues.
"Separate from that, we have certainly underachieved. We only have five guys who you'd consider having good years to above years. Everybody else has been average or significantly below. So Jim's challenge is to get them in a relaxed frame of mind but also challenge them to get better. My challenge is to continue to see if I can shore up some of the needs."
Veteran first baseman and team leader Todd Helton, right fielder Brad Hawpe, rookie center fielder Dexter Fowler, starting pitcher Jason Marquis and closer Huston Street have performed to expected levels.
On the other end, third baseman Garrett Atkins (.195 going into Friday), shortstop Troy Tulowitzki (.227) and relievers Manuel Corpas (0-3, 6.65 ERA) and Jason Grilli (0-1, 6.06 ERA) fall squarely into the underachieving category. Tulowitzki and Corpas signed multiyear deals after the World Series trip. Atkins is making $7.05 million via arbitration. Grilli is at $800,000 as a first-time arbitration-eligible player.
Rockies starters generally have performed better than relievers, but it would help if Aaron Cook (4-2, 4.82 ERA) and Ubaldo Jimenez (3-6, 4.37) go on a roll and receive the run support to turn good pitching into victories.
But for the Rockies to improve, the attention has to move away from individual numbers. Tracy noted that the three-game sweep at the hands of the Dodgers this week illustrated that. The Dodgers outscored the Rockies, 31-13, without hitting a home run.
The Rockies have hurt their chances of winning with big swings in situations where solid contact was all that was necessary. The Dodgers, meanwhile, are without their big swinger (Manny Ramirez, suspended under MLB's performance-enhancing drug policy) but are winning big.
"We're seven games under [1-8] to that team," Tracy said. "We're three games under against everybody else that we play. But what they're trying to do, that's what we're trying to get."
Tracy made reference to the Rockies re-establishing their "identity," meaning going back to the unselfish baseball of 2007.
More bad baseball could define the Rockies' identity in less-complimentary ways.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.