2/18/2013 9:05 P.M. ET
Rockies stressing keeping ball down to pitchers
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- There is the strike zone, then there is the zone the Rockies want their pitchers to hit this year.
For years, the Rockies extended parallel strings across home plate in the bullpen areas to signify the upper and lower planes of the strike zone. The strings are still there this spring, but they are much lower. The top string is at the approximate level of a batter's knees, and the bottom string is six inches lower.
The setup is a reminder that new manager Walt Weiss wants pitches low in the zone. A former Rockies shortstop who saw bad things happen when balls were hit in the air but participated in -- and enjoyed -- many double plays during his career, he loves the idea of two outs with one pitch. He doesn't care what pitch is thrown, as long as the pitcher can force a grounder whenever he needs one.
Pitching coach Jim Wright said it's part of a big-picture coaching plan: make sure the pitcher knows the objective, then let him develop the best way of achieving it. The Rockies don't want pitchers worrying about mechanics in a vacuum.
"They'll realize that it's just getting back to the basics of throwing the ball to the catcher, which is down at the knees, and eliminating the hitter," Wright said. "Now we can find out what pitchers are working best for you on the ground, and we can tell whether or not your focus is right.
"You can't get the cart before the horse. If command is not a given, you can't do any of that stuff. We can't even go over hitter types. It's a prerequisite. It's getting them to where they're angling the ball down to the catcher, and seeing those strings is the start of that."
Pacheco putting in extra work after practice
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The morning dew is one of those pleasures of life for those who stop to enjoy it. No doubt the Rockies' Jordan Pacheco appreciates nature, but it does make for a little longer day.
Pacheco, who led National League rookies last season with a .309 batting average, reported to camp with the pitchers and catchers and has stayed with them during the first couple of full-squad workouts. However, last season he appeared in 82 games defensively at third base, 43 at first base and just five behind the plate.
The Rockies are looking to work Pacheco into the catching mix more, but Pacheco knows it's smart to put in the work at the spots he has played more often at the big league level. That means extra work either before or after practice.
"Right now, it's going to be afterward because the fields are a little wet in the mornings," Pacheco said. "I'm not going to try to overdo it, but do enough where I feel comfortable at the positions if I have to go play them."
As Monday's workout was ending, Pacheco shed his catcher's gear, grabbed his fielder's mitt and looked for someone to hit him ground balls. Fellow third baseman Chris Nelson, himself looking for some extra work with the bat, obliged. The first one bounced off the heel of Pacheco's glove and careened away. Both laughed.
"I'm a catcher, bro," Pacheco quipped.
The next one Pacheco handled with smooth style.
"Got your groove back now," Nelson shouted.
Pacheco said he is often asked what his favorite position is, but he doesn't contemplate the question. Even with his success last year, he is more concerned that he'll receive a big league uniform when the regular season starts.
"They haven't told me anything yet," Pacheco said. "I still have to make the team. I have to show them I can play at this level, and prove to my teammates that I can help this team win. If I don't, I don't deserve to be on the team."
Prospect Arenado feeling more confident this spring
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies third-base prospect Nolan Arenado, who is likely to start the year at Triple-A Colorado Springs but is being given an opportunity to make the big club this spring, is lighter than he would like to be because of an illness he suffered just before camp. However, he doesn't expect his lack of weight to hurt him.
"I'm probably 212 [pounds] now, and I'd like to be 215-220," he said. "I know I've leaned out, but I feel strong. That's the main thing. I'm stronger than I was coming into camp last year. I feel a lot quicker at third base and better in general. Hopefully, I just burn fat but not any muscle."
Arenado, who turns 22 on April 16 and is the Rockies' No. 2 overall prospect, battled a midseason slump last year but finished strong at Double-A Tulsa. He ended the year with a .285 batting average, 12 home runs and 56 RBIs.
Arenado said he will not let dreams of grabbing a big league job cause him to lose focus this spring.
"It feels a lot more comfortable than last year, but still, this isn't my locker room," he said. "I'm still a second-year big league camp guy. But I'm a lot more comfortable, a little more settled in, and I know what to expect. That helps out a lot.
"I'm just trying to hit the ball hard when I go up to the plate, make my plays on defense, do the right thing and be a good teammate. If I do that, a lot of good things can happen."
Young, Astacio serving as special instructors
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- New manager Walt Weiss is reaching back to the Rockies' roots.
Eric Young, a standout second baseman with the Rockies in their early days and father of current Rockies player Eric Young Jr., arrived at camp Monday as a special instructor. He'll be in for a couple of weeks and will return for the end of cap, working with baserunners and helping players prepare for the National League West. Young was in the division last year as the D-backs' first-base coach.
"They have the freedom to coach, but with basestealing, he's got a lot to offer," Weiss said. "He's coached in the division, knows the pitchers. He brings a lot of positive energy. It's great to see him here."
Weiss also said Pedro Astacio, a 17-game winner for the Rockies in 1999 and fifth on the team's all-time wins list with 53, will arrive soon to work with pitchers.
Astacio found ways to be effective at Coors Field in the days before the team began storing baseballs in an atmosphere-controlled chamber to prevent them from shrinking and hardening. He finished 1999 with a 5.04 ERA, yet his 5.6 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) made for the second-best single-season WAR for a pitcher in Rockies history, according to Baseball-Reference.com. Only Ubaldo Jimenez's 7.3 in 2010 was better.
Weiss said chief baseball officer Dan O'Dowd and executive vice president of Major League operations Bill Geivett saw Astacio in the Dominican Republic a few weeks ago and invited him. Weiss, who has former teammates Dante Bichette (hitting coach) and Vinny Castilla (special front-office assistant) in camp, would like as many former Rockies as possible to be involved.
"I love that stuff," Weiss said. "Bringing guys back that have been here and have a connection to the organization, that have been successful -- there's nothing negative about that. We don't have a lot of history here, so there's some credibility there. 'Petey,' having him around our pitchers is going to be great.
"My message to him is to roam around here, spread some love and some wisdom."
Asked if Larry Walker, who won the NL Most Valuable Player Award in 1997, might be asked to spend some time with the club after serving as Canada's hitting coach during the World Baseball Classic, Weiss smiled and said, "We'll see."
Chacin may get his wish to pitch for Venezuela
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies right-hander Jhoulys Chacin might receive his wish -- pitching for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic.
Because a nerve issue in his chest ended up limiting him to 14 starts last season, he was not included on Venezuela's provisional roster. However, with Mariners star pitcher Felix Hernandez having bowed out after recently signing a seven-year, $175 million contract -- he didn't want to risk injury -- the door has opened some for Chacin, who could be invited as a replacement.
On Monday, Chacin faced hitters for the first time and felt good about the session. He said he would love to pitch in the Classic and expressed that to Rockies executive vice president of Major League operations Bill Geivett.
"They want to see how I feel, and how I look, too," Chacin said. "My priority is the team here. I really want to go. It would be like a dream for me to pitch for Venezuela."
Chacin said if there are no unforeseen problems with his physical -- Venezuelan club officials are awaiting the results -- he can be placed on the roster.
Teammate Carlos Gonzalez, a left fielder who is one of the Venezuelan team's headliners, said he is happy for his countryman but wants to make sure that he will be healthy for the Rockies. Catcher Ramon Hernandez also is on Venezuela's squad.
"He's very competitive, and he always showed that he wanted to represent Venezuela," Gonzalez said. "For us, it's nice. We don't get that opportunity very often. It's going to be our first time. I think that will help him in the process of getting ready."
Chacin pointed out that he proved his health by pitching in winter ball in Venezuela, so he should be beyond the injury concern.
• Left-hander Christian Friedrich, whose throwing program was slowed because of back stiffness that he suffered just before camp, said he is "almost" back to a regular pace. However, Friedrich's route back received a curve on Monday, when he woke with a stiff neck. He is competing for a starting rotation spot and has played long toss and hopes to throw from the slope of the mound by week's end.
• The Rockies will have a pitcher making the rare choice of wearing a single-digit jersey number. Right-handed reliever Adam Ottavino will switch to No. 0 -- from his current No. 37 -- when the regular season begins.
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.