04/03/2013 9:05 PM ET
Lopez's confidence unmoved by shaky debut
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
MILWAUKEE -- The first appearance for right-handed reliever Wilton Lopez, the Rockies' primary right-handed setup man, didn't go well at all. The second wasn't as bad, but it wasn't long, either.
Lopez gave up three runs on four hits in the eighth inning of Monday's 5-4, 10-inning loss to the Brewers, and was slapped with a blown save. Partly due to matchup purposes and partly because he was so taxed Monday, Lopez faced just two batters (allowing one hit) in the ninth inning of Tuesday's 8-4 victory.
It's not a dream introduction for Lopez, 29, acquired in an offseason trade with the Astros. But he insisted his confidence hasn't taken a hit. He has the two lowest walks-per-inning-pitched seasons in Astros' history, and for all that has gone wrong, walks aren't the problem. He also comes with a reputation for forcing ground balls, and two of the three hits that came before Aramis Ramirez's game-winning double on Monday didn't leave the infield.
"I've been throwing the sinker, and it's good," Lopez said. "I feel good, and I'm ready to go tonight [Wednesday] if they need me. I'm ready to go every day."
Lopez said in retrospect, he should have thrown Ramirez a sinker rather than a changeup when Ramirez launched the game-turning double.
Tulo-CarGo duo off to blazing start
MILWAUKEE -- Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki loves the smell of fear.
He expects to get that sense when games are close and opponents have to deal with Carlos Gonzalez batting third and himself in the cleanup spot. Each of the Rockies' standouts homered in each of the first two games of the season.
"It's just a good feeling when you know that you feel dangerous," Tulowitzki said. "You feel like the other team knows when you're coming up. They have to plan their pitching around it.
"I know when a lefty's getting up, 'CarGo' is there, but then I'm over there knowing I might get a chance to face a lefty unless they bring the righty in. You see the whole game change a little bit when we're both swinging the bat well and hitting three and four."
Gonzalez is just happy he doesn't have to do his damage without Tulowitzki. Last year, Tulowitzki played in just 47 games due to a left groin injury.
"He's one of the best players in the game," Gonzalez said. "Having him healthy, any team would like to have him in the lineup. We all feel pretty good when he's in the lineup because he can do a lot of things on the baseball field. He can win games by himself, offensively and defensively, too."
Most experts expect the Rockies, with questionable starting pitching, to finish in the lower part of the National League West. Manager Walt Weiss isn't giving in to those expectations, partly because of the heart of his batting order.
"Seeing 'CarGo' and 'Tulo' in the 3-4 holes is nice," Weiss said. "We've got to have those guys if we're going to make a push at this thing."
Bichette excited by simple execution more than homers
MILWAUKEE -- Rockies hitting coach Dante Bichette loves home runs. He hit 274 in his big league career, including 201 for the Rockies from 1995-'99. But good at-bats with two strikes, when a runner needs to score by any means, truly satisfy him.
Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki's seventh-inning sacrifice fly to give the Rockies the lead and begin a three-run inning in their 8-4 victory over the Brewers Tuesday meant more to him than the homers by Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. Truth be told, he enjoyed those even more than the three homers the Rockies hit in their season-opening loss on Monday.
"That was probably the most exciting at-bat of the night to me," Bichette said. "That's what we've been working on all spring, that situational-type hitting and getting those runs home that sometimes seem easy. You'd think it would be executed quite a bit, but it's only executed in the high 50s, maybe 60 percent of the time. It's not executed as much as you think it is."
Bichette knows the plight of a Rockies player. Often, his numbers and abilities are shrugged aside because the offensive numbers are dramatically higher at home, with no regard for the demand to adjust to the radical difference in pitch action in opposing ballparks due to the mile-high atmosphere. Because the coach understands in a personal way, the players appear to have bought into Bichette's insistence that they approach two-strike or scoring-position situations with what he calls a "bulletproof approach," which forces them to concentrate on contact, hitting fly balls when necessary and putting the ball in play rather than trying to crush it.
"Obviously, we do really well at home, but we're trying to change those things [on the road]," Gonzalez said. "We've been working all Spring Training, bulletproof, take a good pitch and try to hit it, don't try to do anything special. That's special, when you're thinking about just doing your job. That's professional hitting right there. We're going to hit grand slams, but if you take that approach you're going to have more success."
It's just two games into the season, and the approach will be tested after the Rockies have a long homestand and benefit from their friendly park, only to see that friendliness disappear as soon as they board a plane.
The Rockies recorded 26 hits in their first two games. What will happen in those inevitable close games when hits are not as plentiful? The execution was not as crisp in the 5-4, 10-inning loss on Monday as it was Tuesday.
"It's evident that guys have embraced it," manager Walt Weiss said. "Guys are not going to be able to come through every time, but that was exactly what you want your hitter to do in that situation -- be in the big part of the field and find a way to score that run."
Cuddyer enjoys strategizing in right field
MILWAUKEE -- Michael Cuddyer considers himself simply a baseball player more than he identifies with any position, although he proved Tuesday night that he can make big plays in right field.
Cuddyer's diving catch and throw to complete an eighth-inning double play was the best defensive sequence of the Rockies' 8-4 victory.
But the mental part of the game for Cuddyer trumps any physical feats. He delights in discussing the plays that didn't work out -- a sneaky attempt to throw to first from the outfield and rob Brewers pitcher Marco Estrada of a second-inning single that drove in a run, and a sixth-inning throwing error when he nearly caught Jean Segura after making too wide a turn after a single.
"I like everything about every position," Cuddyer said. "Baseball is so much more than just run, catch and throw. Last night, a guy gets a little too far off and we try to back-pick him. If it doesn't hit his helmet, he's out. I like strategy like that. Pitcher gets a hit to right. We're probably not going to throw [Carlos] Gomez out at home, so we try to throw out the pitcher at first base. I like strategy like that, thinking along with the game."
• Rockies manager Walt Weiss went to a speed-based lineup on Wednesday, with Eric Young Jr. hitting leadoff and Dexter Fowler hitting second. But he also hoped to enhance the power by moving catcher Wilin Rosario up from seventh to fifth. Usual No. 5 hitter Michael Cuddyer and No. 6 hitter Todd Helton were not in the lineup, but it's possible Rosario could move up even when Cuddyer and Helton are present.
"Wilin is a middle-of-the-lineup guy," Weiss said. "In our lineup, there are times he'll hit as low as seventh, but those guys at five, six and seven are going to float a little bit. Wilin has tremendous power and is going to be a real good hitter in this league, not only power-wise. He's going to hit for a high average throughout his career."
Rosario made that pay off with a two-run homer in the second inning.
The Rockies also started Jordan Pacheco at first base and Reid Brignac at third. Pacheco played 21 games at third last season, but didn't play there much at all during the spring, so Weiss is not going to immediately play him there.
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.