2/25/2014 6:30 P.M. ET
Morales commanding attention in rotation bid
Southpaw slated to throw two innings in Rockies' Cactus League opener
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Left-hander Franklin Morales hopes to show how much he has grown since the last time he wore a Rockies uniform.
Morales, who began his career with the Rockies from 2007-11 and has spent the time since then as a Red Sox reliever, was traded back to the Rockies this winter and is vying for a rotation spot. Morales will start the first Cactus League game on Friday against the D-backs at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.
During his first go-round with the Rockies, Morales began as a starter before being moved to the bullpen. Now, like then, he can throw a fastball, cutter, curveball and split-finger pitch -- a power pitcher's mix. But there's more maturity these days.
"When you're young, you try to throw 100 percent every time, and that's the trouble with young pitchers," Morales said. "Now, I know what I'm doing now. I know how to stay calm. All my command is good right now. All I need to do is attack the hitter."
Morales is scheduled for two innings, and relievers scheduled to throw are lefty Tyler Matzek, the club's top Draft pick in 2009, righty Adam Ottavino and lefty Rex Brothers.
The Rockies also announced they will play an intrasquad game at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick on Thursday. Righty Tyler Chatwood, a member of the starting rotation, and former Rangers, White Sox and Reds reliever Nick Masset will pitch. However, many eyes with be on righty Jon Gray, the club's top Draft pick last year, and Eddie Butler, a supplemental first-rounder in 2012 -- two prospects who are expected to have a Major League impact, sooner or later.
Also throwing are lefty Jason Aquino, righty Christian Bergman, righty Raul Fernandez, lefty Kraig Sitton and righty Scott Oberg.
Rosario welcomes protection of collision rule
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The catcher's paraphernalia is traditionally referred to as "the tools of ignorance." But the Rockies' Wilin Rosario is smart enough to know what the equipment can and cannot do when a runner is barreling toward the plate with linebacker-like intentions.
"Yeah, we've got protection, but for blocking a ball, not for blocking a gentleman," Rosario said. "It's not like we have car bumpers."
Experimental new rule 7:13 is designed to reduce home-plate collisions by requiring the catcher to make a least part of the plate visible, requiring the runner to slide if part of the plate is visible and forbidding the runner from lowering his shoulder or raising is forearms, fists or elbows to strike the catcher.
It doesn't forbid all contact. If the catcher has the ball he can block the plate and the runner can make contact -- but not by slinging forearms or throwing a shoulder block. There also can be contact, as long as it's not flagrant, if the throw takes the catcher into the runner's path.
The runner can be called safe if the catcher commits a violation or out if he runs afoul of the rule. Plays also are reviewable, umpires can issue ejections and MLB can deal out supplemental discipline -- fines or suspensions -- for acts that are penalized or even un-penalized during the game.
Rosario has long been discouraged by the Rockies from planting the physique that earned him the nickname "Baby Bull" and daring the runner. He sustained a broken left wrist while in Class A on a play at the plate. Since then, he has been coached to leave much of the plate visible to the runner.
Rosario welcomes the added protection of the new rule, which has the effect of having the runner think slide rather than have to make a choice or, as sometimes was the case, premeditating a crash. Because the rule is "experimental," MLB can tweak it if unforeseen player safety issues arise.
"As a catcher, you get hurt because you receive impact," Rosario said. "He knows how he's going to do it. The only opportunity you have to not get hurt, and him get hurt, is if you receive the ball on time. That's maybe twice out of 10."
Some of the impetus for the rule came from a 2011 incident when the Marlins' Scott Cousins steamrolled Giants star catcher Buster Posey, who sustained a broken leg. Posey and the Giants are NL West rivals, but Rosario took no delight.
"He almost lost his career," Rosario said. "We're glad to have people like this. They come back again and they can play. I love to watch them play. I felt so bad when I saw that on TV. It's no reason to be that aggressive against the catcher."
Friedrich back to form, bidding for roster spot
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Left-hander Christian Friedrich just might have a little greater opportunity to make the Rockies' Opening Day roster than he originally thought. But he also has to make sure he is patient.
Friedrich, 26, debuted with the Rockies in 2012 (5-8, 6.17 ERA in 16 starts) and had his moments before being shut down after sustaining a stress fracture of the lower back in July. He went to Spring Training last year hoping to make the team, but the back didn't heal properly and Friedrich was limited to four Triple-A outings -- and four startups and shutdowns of his throwing program.
After a lengthy recovery and rehab, Friedrich insists he is ready. He came to camp as one of the pitchers trying to wrest the fifth spot from Juan Nicasio. Depending on how long Jhoulys Chacin is down with a right shoulder strain and inflammation, another spot could be open as well.
The concern, however, is the fact Friedrich essentially lost a year of pitching. The Rockies are letting him compete, but the lost year is being taken into account.
"I feel everything's full speed ahead," Friedrich said. "I haven't run into any issues and problems.
"It's still open and based on whatever they think is best. They base it off how I react to everything. But as far as I know, there shouldn't be any issues."
Friedrich vows to follow the Rockies staff's advice that "if you feel something and need to back off for a day, remember you're not trying to just make a team right now -- you're trying to get a career going, have a routine to have a full and healthy season instead of two weeks on, two weeks off."
Friedrich doesn't want to experience last year again. The fracture healed, but rebuilding the muscles of the back took longer than Friedrich expected.
"I don't think we built up enough strength around the area, and even my normal strength wasn't good enough to support it," Friedrich said. "Now, I feel like I had that strength.
"But I had to go through four months of remedial exercises -- the tedious ones. The pelvic tilt, the leg lift -- the ones where you lift one leg and you touch stuff and it's working all core, hips, flexibility and strengthening everything around the knee. They were making sure everything was good from posture, the way I sat, everything."
It was as if he had to pass charm school before returning to the mound.
"They would ask, 'How often do you sit down?'" he said. "We sit around a lot, at the field and when we come home to relax. 'Well, how do you sit?' Suddenly, I go from lounging in chairs to making sure my chest is up. All that pressure goes to the lower back. When I drive in the car, sometimes I've got the 'Costanza wallet,' so I've got to take it out and take pressure off. I had reminders, like having people poke me in the stomach to make sure I was contracting my core, and remembering to breathe while flexing my core.
"When I started lifting and getting together with a trainer in Chicago and started pushing sleds, my attitude and my health, everything … I felt like a new man."
Friedrich has said he felt like himself when he started throwing again in November.
"I played catch with Rob [Scahill, a Rockies bullpen hopeful], and he said, 'I haven't seen you like that since 2012.'" Friedrich said.
Friedrich pitched at a high of 240 pounds in 2011. He reported to camp at 205. Part of the weight loss was because of a bout with food poisoning and he'd prefer pitching around 220. At any rate, he is at fighting-for-a-job weight.
"It's neat to come back and have a chance," Friedrich said. "Last year, I thought I had a chance to make the team but my health was a crapshoot. At least I feel if I give them a good show, whether I make it or not, they know I'm back and I'm able to help the team."
Barnes' style may be fit in Rockies' outfield
SCOTSDALE, Ariz. -- Right-handed hitting center field candidate Brandon Barnes believes he has a style the Rockies will like.
Barnes, 27, entered last season as a backup with the Astros but ended up starting 115 of his 136 games. He made 115 starts in center field. Barnes hit .240 with eight home runs and 41 RBIs. The Rockies like Barnes' defense and speed, and believe he'll develop power.
"I got a little taste of it the year before last -- I got called up in August and played through late September," Barnes said. "It's a mental grind more than a physical grind. You're making adjustments and trying to figure out how to attack the next pitcher, which was the harder part for me. My body was in great shape where I could go 162 games without having to worry about injuries.
"My next steps are at the plate, making the adjustments. I started off good last year, but as they started figuring me out I ran into some trouble. I've got to have a game plan and stick with it. That's why I'm excited to be here with all these guys that have been around and done it. I want to pick their brains as much as possible."
There are obstacles to Barnes' effort to make the team or win a position. Drew Stubbs is the right-handed hitter with Major League experience. The Rockies also have two homegrown left-handed hitters in Charlie Blackmon and Corey Dickerson. But Barnes spent his time in the Majors with the Astros concentrating on some of the situational hitting that the Rockies could use, either in the lineup or off the bench.
"Last year, I was the guy that was the situational hitter, if it came down to a bunt, a squeeze, 'get him over,' I felt that was my job," Barnes said. "I pride myself on getting that done. It's not going to happen all the time but the more I can push myself to get the job done every single time, it's just going to help the team."
• Manager Walt Weiss did not rule out using right-handed-hitting center fielder Drew Stubbs as a leadoff man, although the plan is to use him below the middle of the order. Stubbs has a tendency to strike out and has a low career on-base percentage, but the potential combination of power and speed could serve the Rockies well at the top of the order on occasion.
"He's done it before and there's an element to his game -- obviously, the speed element -- that's that option appealing," Weiss said. "But I want to make sure a guy doesn't doesn't have to revamp his whole game because we're moving him to a spot that doesn't suit him.
"I'm not getting too hung up on the batting order right now. That stuff will play out. We'll figure that out. There's some kind of tweak to the lineup just about on a daily basis."
• Righty reliever Wilton Lopez, hoping for important late innings, is back throwing after being slowed over the weekend by a stiff neck.
• Sometime around the middle of March, Weiss said the Rockies will have a staff meeting to determine protocol for using instant replay challenges. They'll determine the rotating personnel who will be looking at replays to see which plays should be challenged, and how suggestions will be relayed to the dugout.