SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Rockies have a crowded catching corps in camp this spring, and beyond Chris Iannetta in the starter's role, the competition for the backup slot remains up for grabs among six contenders.

Based on Cactus League stats, 25-year-old Jordan Pacheco has been making a strong case for himself. The Albuquerque, N.M., native is hitting .455 (5-for-11) with two doubles and an RBI in seven spring games. He was a Double-A All-Star for the Tulsa Drillers last year, but the jump to the Majors might be a steep step.

"We want to create an opportunity for Pacheco," manager Jim Tracy said. "Is it a stretch on Opening Day? Maybe. But as we go along during the season, to get a player like this exposed as much as you possible can to this environment -- it behooves us to do some of those type of things."

Among the other contenders are: Michael McKenry, the Rockies' Triple-A starter last season; Wilin Rosario, also from Tulsa and fighting off spring injuries; Matt Pagnozi, who has had a couple of cups of coffee with the Cards; and big league veterans Chad Moeller and Jose Morales.

"Pacheco's a young guy, but he has a presence about him that's very, very interesting," Tracy said. "It's very, very safe to say that he's a legitimate offensive player, and he's going to continue to get better. This guy is eventually going to be a big leaguer, in my opinion. No doubt about it."

Young anxious to get back in mix at second

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Eric Young is eager to get back in the mix and compete for the second base job he once thought was his. The Rockies have held him back from game competition, as he builds strength from his recurring tibia stress fracture. But if all goes well, he'll see his first Cactus League action in a split-squad doubleheader this Saturday at Salt River Fields.

"I pretty much do everything now," Young said after being cleared to run the bases on Sunday. "It's just a matter of getting in the game, which should be some time this week. I'm feeling good. I'm just ready to get out there."

Young is confident his late start will still give him plenty of time to earn a spot on the Rockies' roster -- despite having to play catch-up, as Jose Lopez and Jonathan Herrera have made big strides toward winning Opening Day jobs.

"It puts me around 15 games going into Opening Day," Young said. "Spring Training is already long, so 15 games is more than enough."

With the Rockies chasing a playoff berth last August, they recalled Young from Triple-A Colorado Springs for the second time during the season, and gave him the lion's share of playing time at second base. He started 35 of the Rockies' final 47 games, hitting primarily out of the leadoff spot.

He finished the season hitting .244 with 17 steals. It was a good showing, but not enough to win the job outright. Young knows he needs to "be more consistent" at the plate to break from the pack at second this spring.

Ubaldo thriving in role as Rockies' ace

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Ubaldo Jimenez has reached a tipping point in his career: The more he pitches, the more excited those around him get about his pitching. But Jimenez just seems to get calmer as the expectations build around him.

In his second Cactus League start Monday against the Dodgers, Jimenez continued the roll he started on -- with significant improvements. He threw three scoreless innings, allowing one hit and one walk -- and he aired out his fastball, getting up to 98 mph on the radar gun.

"In the first game, I just didn't want to throw hard. But today, I was like, 'I'm going to let it go a little bit. Start getting in shape,'" Jimenez said. "I threw a slider, I threw my curve, and they were sharp. So I think I'm really close."

Jimenez skipped his scheduled start last Wednesday in a precautionary move to ensure an infected thumbnail on his pitching hand didn't snowball into something significant. His thumb was fine, and the case of the cautious cuticle can be put to rest.

"I didn't even think about my nail, my finger," Jimenez said. "I was just going to go out there and try to throw strikes."

He left the game with a 1-0 lead, but unfortunately the 'pen was less effective -- leading to a 7-1 loss.

"Ubaldo was Ubaldo today," manager Jim Tracy said. "Three great innings of pitching, a great sacrifice bunt, which finishes his work for the day. [With the thumbnail behind him], now we got the opportunity to step on the accelerator a little bit, and let him go on and do his thing as he moves forward to the early part of April."

Consider Jimenez on track to be the Rockies' Opening Day pitcher come April 1, even if Tracy has yet to make a formal decision.

"That'll be a [heck] of an announcement, won't it?" Tracy joked. "I know that'll be a grand announcement for all of you when I make that. I think that's a pretty [darn] good assumption."

The 27-year-old ace is settling in comfortably to his newly-minted status as both an experienced veteran pitcher and a box office draw at the gate, recognizing the appeal his pitching has for fans and thriving on the opportunity to satisfy their demands.

"Every time [fans] come here and I'm going to pitch, they get really excited," Jimenez said. "Even when I'm in the bullpen, they start yelling my name. 'Go, Ubaldo, you have to win.' It's really exciting when you see that. I don't feel the pressure. I just like to go out there and make everybody happy."

Mission accomplished.

Cook making progress in return from injury

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Aaron Cook took a significant step in returning to action on Monday, playing catch on flat ground and working up to a distance of 90 feet. It's a baby step for the end of the first week of March, but it's a step that has to be taken -- as Cook tries to work himself back to throwing off a mound.

The club's all-time wins leader -- with a 69-58 record and a 4.41 ERA over parts of nine big league seasons -- experienced right shoulder soreness early in camp, and has not been able to progress through the typical spring pitching routine. He is far behind the pitchers vying for the Opening Day rotation, but the fact that he was able to play catch without incident is a step in the right direction.

"He felt fine today," pitching coach Bob Apodaca said after the session. "He was playing catch. So now it's that process that you have to go through. I can't pencil him in for any date. When I get the wink from [head athletic trainer] Keith Dugger saying, 'Okay, you got him now,' then I'll go to work. But until then, I have to rely on Duggie."

Having worked his way back from any number of serious injuries -- ranging from blood clots in both lungs to a fractured right leg -- Cook remains optimistic about being able to get himself in shape in time to make the Opening Day roster. But he's playing beat the clock, and he's running out of ticks.

"I won't sit here and say we couldn't, but it won't be the easiest thing in the world to do," manager Jim Tracy said, when asked if a pitcher at Cook's stage of development in Spring Training could be ready in time for Opening Day. "With each and every day that goes by, where we're still trying to work ourselves up to the mound, it's getting closer and closer to the point where it will be very difficult to do."

It's always a bad bet to count Cook out. He has routinely come back from life-threatening injuries -- like the blood clots -- and previous shoulder problems to pitch his way into a dramatic three-inning All-Star appearance in 2008, and to earn a World Series start in 2007 after not pitching in a big league game for 11 weeks after suffering an oblique strain. He shows no signs of backing off his pursuit to stand in purple pinstripes at Coors Field come April 1.