With health on mind, Street eases into spring
Rockies closer alters early preparation to help avoid injury
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It's hard to separate the crazy nature of the Rockies' 2010 season from the roller-coaster ride that was closer Huston Street's year.
The Rockies lost 30 one-run games. A third of those occurred before June 22, when Street came off the disabled list after missing 69 games because of shoulder tightness, plus a groin strain he suffered during Minor League injury rehab.
Street converted 20 of 25 save chances, including 11 of his final 12. But two blown saves came on deflating home runs that came after walks and when he was one strike away from victory. And the last blown save was a doozy. Another came on a two-run double, also with two outs and two strikes.
All that occurred the year after Street converted 35 of 37 save chances for a Rockies team that went to the playoffs in 2009, and after the season signed a three-year, $22.5 million contract with a club option for a fourth year. It would be a lot for one person to carry on his shoulders. But Street's trick is not trying to carry it.
"I will always look at it as you win as a team," Street said. "If we had won a world championship, was I going to take all the credit? No. Look at the year Carlos Gonzalez had, and the one Troy Tulowitzki had. Ubaldo Jimenez was really big for us. If we win 92 games, I'm not going to have 92 saves.
"My role is important, but at the same time it comes down to all of us doing our job. That's what makes the Rockies so fun to show up and play for. We don't blame someone when we lose. We show up on a Monday and play Monday, our absolute best. I look forward to my role within that structure."
The reasons Street couldn't conduct that role during the early going are remembered well as the Rockies embark on 2011.
After his strong 2009, Street decided to push hard to be even better. He planned to throw with intensity from his first Spring Training workout. Not long into camp, the shoulder problems flared and it took months to get him back to the mound.
Street insisted it was just an ill-fated plan. It wasn't that he was trying to live up to the dollar signs in his first big contract.
"You don't play for money," he said. "Money is surely a fantastic bonus to what we get to do every day. But it doesn't matter if I'm in the Minor Leagues or making $100 million a year. If you're out there on the field, your goal is to get better and you have to find ways to accomplish that.
"It was just an effort level, stepping out there on day one and going full, or game, speed like it was September. This year, it's a more gradual approach."
Toward that end, the Rockies have pitchers throwing a set number of pitches, rather than under a time limit that could encourage pitchers to work faster and throw more than they should.
"My arm didn't react well in camp last year, and I missed too many games," said Street, who threw his first bullpen session Wednesday.
The difference between a near-perfect season came down to just a few pitches. Street gave up a two-run Donnie Murphy homer in the bottom of the ninth inning of a 9-8 loss at Florida on July 19; a three-run, 10th-inning shot to Pedro Alvarez in an 8-7 loss at Pittsburgh on Aug. 7; and a two-run Miguel Montero double to tie the game in the ninth inning of an eventual 4-3 loss at Arizona on Aug. 20.
"We didn't have the guy for 11 weeks," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said. "When he came back to us, strike one and strike two was not the problem. The put-away pitch ... I'm not advocating strike everybody out, because that's not the type of pitcher he is. But the quality of the two-strike pitch that completely took the sting out of the bat or at times they would miss it, he was misfiring that pitch."
Street realizes he can't regain the ability to make that key pitch in the early bullpen sessions of Spring Training. But he can sure lose it then if he goes too hard and suffers injury.
"The less-is-more adage is applicable," Street said. "If I stay healthy, everything else will take care of itself."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.