© 2007 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

08/18/07 11:16 PM ET

Notes: Hurdle expects tight race

Rockies manager offers thoughts on NL West, lineup

LOS ANGELES -- Rockies manager Clint Hurdle might not have made the casting call for the lead role in the Coen Brothers' "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"

Some guy named George Clooney got the part.

But that doesn't mean Hurdle couldn't have delivered Clooney's memorable line: "We're in a tight spot!"

Seven games out of first place in the National League West, the Rockies are refusing to go away in the NL Wild Card chase despite a six-game road trip that has begun on a 1-3 skid. Colorado is 44-32 since May 22 -- the NL's second-best mark since then -- keeping the Denver hope-o-meter surging.

"I don't feel a sense of urgency to crack the whip on anybody," Hurdle said prior to Game 2 of a weekend series at Dodger Stadium.

"They know what's at stake."

On a more mundane level, Hurdle said Cory Sullivan hitting second in the lineup was based on his record against right-handers (i.e. Dodgers righty Chad Billingsley) and his good numbers at Dodger Stadium.

In turn, the manager said, moving Troy Tulowitzki to the No. 7 hole provides protection for sixth hitter Brad Hawpe.

On the topic of division rivals, Hurdle said, "The Diamondbacks have shown the most resilience. Everybody has the opportunity to control their own destiny.

"I think it's going to be tight to the finish."

When it was mentioned that the Dodgers would start right-hander Brad Penny in Sunday afternoon's series finale, Hurdle said, "Are you sure we have another game here tomorrow?"

Dark humor, of course. Penny has a 12-2 lifetime record against the Rockies, compared to that of Brett Tomko, the originally scheduled Dodgers starter, who's 6-9 lifetime against Colorado.

"My hands are full managing one club," Hurdle said.

"We're due to beat him."

Enter Morales: Rockies scout Rolando Fernandez was on hand Saturday afternoon at Dodger Stadium, and it was only fitting.

Four years ago, Fernandez signed a 17-year-old left-hander named Franklin Morales after watching him pitch in a tournament in his native Venezuela and later at the Rockies' academy nearby.

On Saturday night, after less than two seasons at the Class A, Double-A and Triple-A levels, Morales was set to make his Major League debut.

"He looks very confident," said Fernandez. "He's ready. He's only 21, but he's matured so much."

That's the key, said Glenallen Hill, the Rockies' first-base coach.

"He's got electric stuff, he's young, and he's got a lot of energy," said Hill, who spent the 2006 season as Morales' manager with the Class A Modesto Nuts of the California League.

"He needed to learn how to manage his emotions and pitch more than throw," Hill said. "It's tough to teach someone to deal with that.

"In his last six starts [with the Nuts], you could see that learning start to take hold."

Hill said his conversations with others in the organization focused on "mound presence and emotional management," adding, "I just think Francisco has the ability to be very comfortable in this [Major League] environment."

Hill also noted that Rockies regular catcher Yorvit Torrealba is known for his ability to work well with young pitchers. Ironically, Hurdle chose backup Geronimo Gil as Morales' battery mate Saturday night.

"He settles guys down as well as Yorvit," Hurdle said. "We've got a bunch of target points -- well, a few target points -- to focus on.

"We're good to go. I'm just looking forward to it."

So was Hill, who said, "Learning poise is something all Major Leaguers have to do as they progress toward maturity.

"He's a fighter. He's a nuclear bomb. He's got that energy, and he can go off at any time."

Hill put an end to the speculation, saying, "I'd buy a ticket."

Up next: The Rockies finish their series with the Dodgers on Sunday afternoon, sending left-hander Jeff Francis (13-6, 4.43 ERA) against Penny (14-3, 2.61). First pitch is at 2:10 p.m. MT.

Ted Brock is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.