03/06/11 3:45 PM ET
Giambi reaps benefits of new spring home
By Owen Perkins / Special to MLB.com
The search for solutions can sometimes lead to clutching at straws, but the change in location of the Rockies' Spring Training facility has already led to an encouraging change of pace for veterans like Jason Giambi, who is on fire through his first three games, hitting .714 (5-for-7) with three RBIs and a run.
With the move to Scottsdale cutting travel time by a couple of hours for road games, the Rockies have a much more flexible approach to getting at-bats for veteran players -- who wouldn't otherwise be prime candidates for the lengthy bus trips that are traditionally the dues that younger players pay as they battle for spots on the roster.
"In the past when we were in Tucson, it was tough to get DH days, because you had to drive the two hours from down there," Giambi said after a two-double day as the designated hitter in Surprise against the Royals. "Even though I did it last year, the nice part is, Skipper [manager Jim Tracy] has been able to get me in there a lot sooner, and a lot earlier to help Todd [Helton] and me get our swings going. It makes it nice, where we're so close to where we can play some games here."
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Half of the Rockies' opponents -- and more than half of the Spring Training facilities -- are now within 45 minutes of the Rockies' Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, as opposed to all but one road trip taking over two hours in the past. As a result, Giambi made back-to-back road trips to the two furthest destinations from Scottsdale, facing the Indians in Goodyear a day before trekking to Surprise. He collected four hits during his travels.
"It's nothing compared to Tucson," Giambi said of his newfound affinity for the road. "It's a lot easier. As I'm getting older, those trips get a lot tougher."
Giambi's 2010 spring was further slowed by a biceps injury that put him out of action and made it that much harder to get his groove on. He's well ahead of schedule in that regard and is looking forward to stockpiling at-bats this spring in preparation for his backup role behind Helton at first.
"There were some times last year when Jason first came back that it didn't look like he was quite on-time," said bench coach Tom Runnells after managing Saturday's game in Surprise. "He [was] 2-for-3 with two doubles. ... He's ready to go."
Helton, 37, and Giambi, 40, make a unique pair of veteran lefties sharing one position -- and the challenge is to find the ideal balance between them, while ensuring both get ample opportunities against live pitching, particularly during Cactus League play.
"Both [Jason] and Todd are going to get a lot of at-bats," Runnells said. "I know [Tracy's] got a plan for them. This worked out really perfect to have a couple games against American League teams, where [Jason] can just DH."
Though veterans have always been loathe to take the longer bus trips, younger players are just as affected by the many alternating days in the lineup early in camp before rosters are pared down. As much as players recognize the wisdom of easing into their spring schedule, the only way everyday players can fully get into the routine of the regular season is by getting the consistent repetition they thrive on.
"It's always that travel, stay at home one day, play the next that [makes it] hard for regular players to get any consistency," Runnells said. "If we can get it for them here, when they go into April, they'll be ready to go."
Already this spring, Carlos Gonzalez found extra work by getting double-digit at-bats in a simulated game on a day he was scheduled to be out of the lineup, while the team commuted to Goodyear. The dividends showed up the next day, when CarGo went 2-for-3 with a double, two runs, and an RBI in Surprise.
"Last year, that's what Todd and I were doing," Giambi said of the search for more swings. "We were taking a lot of at-bats in the Triple-A games. We both sort of started out slow down there last year. I don't know if it's because maybe we didn't get enough at-bats. But it's nice, because I feel good right now, so far. I'm happy where my swing's at. My bicep feels great, so everything's going good."
The selfless attitude and the ceaseless dedication to his craft has been a big part of Giambi's value to the Rockies since joining the club for the stretch run in 2009. His approach at the plate and his emphasis on proper preparation have helped showcase the work ethic the Rockies hope to see permeating through their younger players.
"He always works counts, he knows what he has to do at the plate," Runnells said of Giambi. "He's really a professional hitter, and it's fun to watch. I hope a lot of the kids watch him, because he doesn't get a lot of at-bats -- but he still goes up there and has quality at-bats all the time."
The fact that the quantity is that much easier to come by from the Rockies' new spring home at Talking Stick makes Giambi's commitment to quality even more plausible to pursue.
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.