3/15/2014 9:10 P.M. ET
Against the odds, Lyles a rotation candidate
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Right-hander Jordan Lyles has gone from a long shot to a prime candidate for a spot in the Rockies' season-opening starting rotation.
Lyles had a 14-29 record and 5.35 career ERA in 72 games, including 65 starts, from 2011-13 for the Astros, who sent him and outfielder Brandon Barnes to the Rockies for center fielder Dexter Fowler during the offseason. But Lyles, at 23, was thought to have been rushed to the Majors, and the plan was the Rockies could give him the development time he needed.
Now, however, Lyles is 0-1 with a 1.13 ERA and seven strikeouts, while allowing eight hits in three Cactus League games, including two starts, and is hanging right with more-experienced lefty Franklin Morales, who is 2-1 with a 3.97 ERA in four starts, for the final rotation spot. Lyles will start on Sunday against the Dodgers at Glendale, Ariz., live on MLB.TV at 2:05 p.m. MT.
Morales will be moved to the bullpen if Lyles wins the job. Manager Walt Weiss said Lyles is not a bullpen candidate. He has an option, so he'd be sent to the Minors if not in the rotation.
The Rockies and pitching coach Jim Wright noticed that Lyles was not landing as solidly on his front leg and suggested a tweak in the delivery to help. It has helped with Lyles' fastball, and Lyles has added a cutter -- a pitch he had used on and off in the past.
Giving in to adjustments, instead of staying in a comfort zone, has helped him succeed.
"For myself, those two go hand-in-hand -- I needed to tweak some things, and that's going to help me results-wise," Lyles said. "What we tweaked or changed in the delivery wasn't something crazy that would have taken a month or two to feel comfortable with. It was a little tweak, and I was able to roll with it quickly."
Lyles concentrated on the fastball early in spring but unveiled the cutter in his last outing, when he held the Cubs to two hits and struck out four in three innings.
Lyles hopes to make an Opening Day roster for the first time.
"There's a lot of competition here," Lyles said. "I had my opportunities in Houston to break with the team, and I didn't take advantage of those opportunities. That comes back to me and no one else."
Tulo looking to return soon from calf injury
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki tested his injured left calf in the batting cage Saturday morning and said he expects to return soon. He wasn't in the lineup Saturday against the Angels.
Tulowitzki's calf, which was hit by a pitch from the D-backs' Wade Miley on Wednesday night, was not heavily wrapped when he went to the cage. He was still moving with ease after hitting, but said there is still some healing to do.
"It feels pretty good, just normal inflammation and bruises, so we're trying to get that inflammation and fluid out of there," said Tulowitzki, who did light running and fielding drills Friday. "Once that is done, I'll be back on the field.
"If I had a timetable, I know I'm not in there today, possibly tomorrow. If not tomorrow, I know we have an off-day [Tuesday], so coming off that off-day would be the day. If I was ready, I'd be in there, but I'm not ready yet."
Prospects Butler, Gray depart with minds full
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies top pitching prospects Eddie Butler and Jon Gray demonstrated the high-end talent that has the club excited. Now they must apply what they learned in Major League camp so they can help the big club sooner than later.
On Saturday morning, the club informed Butler, a supplemental first-round choice in 2012, and Gray, the third overall pick last summer, that they'll be moved to Minor League camp.
The two had extended appearances in relief in the Cactus League -- Butler had a 3.86 ERA in seven innings, Gray a 5.40 mark in 6 2/3 innings -- but with veterans needing the innings, the Rockies will have Butler and Gray start Minor League games. Expected to start the season at Double-A Tulsa, they did nothing in camp to discourage folks from believing they could help the Major League club this season.
Butler said the key is going to the Minors with the right work ethic.
"I held my own up here, but there are some things that I need to work on that will make me an even better pitcher up here," said Butler, who said he learned to streamline his strategy by grouping hitters into categories, and that he needs to sharpen his fastball command down and away. "But for me, it's not looking to the future, but taking it literally what's in front of me today.
"You can't go down there dreaming about this, or you're going to lose touch with what you're doing, and next thing you know you're having a bad year with no shot of being up here. Focus on what you're doing."
Butler had a Rockies organization-leading 1.80 combined ERA in 28 starts at Asheville (low Class A), Modesto (Class A Advanced) and Tulsa, and Gray posted a 1.93 ERA in his nine starts at Grand Junction (Rookie) and Modesto. Both had impressive performances, but also hit bumps in the Majors.
Gray said his toughest performance -- reaching 99 mph with his fastball during his first inning but leaving the mound having yielded five hits and three runs in 2 2/3 innings against the Athletics on Thursday night -- might prove to be his best experience.
"People say you learn more from failure, and that's exactly how I feel," Gray said. "The first couple of times, I had a lot of success sticking to the game plan, getting a lot of ground balls by staying down in the zone.
"But last time, I was feeling really good, and I was trying to blow it by people. Now I know what I need to work on, and that game gave me a really good idea. I've got a plan. It's all about knowing when to use my fastball. I've got to control my aggression."
Gray said his education will continue. The Rockies emphasize pitching low in the zone, but Gray's ability to eclipse 100 mph with consistency when he's in midseason form allows him to go higher in the zone. He'll have to find the right times. He'll also have to control his arm speed and release so hitters aren't tipped off on his changeup.
"I've got to pretend like every time I throw there, I'm throwing here," Gray said. "I've got to continue to learn. I'll find out what things work and what things don't work, find out different ways to win and cross off things that lead to losses."
It's no small point that the two were given a chance to mesh with the Rockies' veterans. When they're called upon, the team knows what it is getting on and off the field.
"The big thing I accomplished here was fitting in with the group," Butler said. "I found my place here and showed them that I'm ready mentally. Game-wise, I threw pretty well, gave up some hits, gave up some runs, which happens. But I also learned some things."
Dickerson solidifying chances at roster spot
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies outfield hopeful Corey Dickerson made his candidacy for a roster spot and starts more serious Saturday, when he made his first start in center field.
Dickerson, a corner outfielder by trade, has had an impressive offensive spring -- .371 after Saturday's 2-for-4 game during a 4-4 tie with the Angels. But with Carlos Gonzalez and Michael Cuddyer set in the corners, center is where the available playing time is.
Dickerson had seen nine innings in center this spring, but has spent hours shagging flies in center during batting practice and in extra work with first-base coach Eric Young, who works with outfielders defensively.
"I feel pretty comfortable out there, the confidence I have out there is high," Dickerson said.
Saturday didn't offer much in terms of drama. There was a rocket from Chris Iannetta that bounced off the warning track for a ground-rule double, but no one would have had that one. Dickerson had to cover some ground to grab Kole Calhoun's fly in the third.
The competition -- right-handed hitters Drew Stubbs (who started in right Saturday) and Brandon Barnes, and left-handed hitter Charlie Blackmon -- all are center fielders with above-average range, well-above average in Stubbs' case. Dickerson played some in center last year and believes he plays it well enough to start games there.
The decision will likely be between Dickerson and Blackmon, the lefty hitters. Whatever choice will be made will probably be made late in camp.
Manager Walt Weiss has called center a defensive position. The area is expansive at Coors Field, but it's not easy on the road in the National League West. The area is large at Dodger Stadium and Petco Park, and tricky at Chase Field and AT&T Park.
Dickerson noted that Gonzalez, a three-time Rawlings Gold Glove Award winner, and Cuddyer help because of their range and experience.
"It's a defensive position, but if you make all the routine plays, your bat has a big play," Dickerson said. "You need offense. You need run support. That's what I bring to the table. If you have All-Star outfielders beside you, they'll take a lot of balls, too. The routine plays just have to be played."
Weiss used Dickerson in center 15 times, 12 as a starter, last season.
"The times he's been out there he's handled himself just fine," Weiss said. "I don't think he's going to have any problem covering ground. He runs well. He can put balls away out there. I think he is serviceable."
A year wiser, Bettis making major strides
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Rockies let right-handed pitching prospect Chad Bettis display his arm last year. But Bettis is showing his knowledge this spring, and the result could make the final roster choices difficult.
Called up as a starter last August, Bettis went 1-3 with a 5.64 ERA in 16 games, half of them starts. Throughout his career, he was seen as a future closer. While some of that power was evident last year, it was even clearer he had to learn how and when to use it.
By figuring out his mid-90s fastball and changeup were his best pitches, Bettis has made a major leap. He hasn't given up a run in five appearances this spring and has five strikeouts and one walk in five innings. Bettis' one inning with two strikeouts during Friday night's 2-2 tie with the Mariners was especially electric.
Bettis, 24, a second-round pick out of Texas Tech in 2010, analyzed his performances and took advice from pitching coach Jim Wright, assistant coach Bo McLaughlin and his pitching coach at Double-A Tulsa, Darryl Scott. Bettis also put in work.
"Some of it is mechanical, but it's more grip and pressure points, and then it just becomes feel," said Bettis, who can still mix his slider and curve. "It's about being consistent with that."
The Rockies will have to decide whether to keep seven relievers or their customary eight. Then they'll have to figure if there is a spot for a young, hard-throwing reliever, with Bettis and Chris Martin (1-0, 3.38 ERA in five games) possibly fitting the bill.
"There are going to be decisions made, some tough ones, but we're going to need all these guys at some point," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "Just because certain guys don't break camp with us doesn't mean we're not going to see them."
If he doesn't make the team, Bettis could go to Triple-A Colorado Springs as a closer. The ninth inning in the Majors is a career goal, and he is showing the raw ability to move toward the late innings if the Rockies need him.
"I would like the opportunity somewhere down the road to try and earn a closing job somewhere, but right now it's just trying to make the team better," Bettis said. "You never hope or wish upon anybody that there are injuries, but if that happens, someone has to step in."
• Rockies right-hander Jhoulys Chacin felt good Saturday, a day after throwing 75 pitches from 120 feet. He appears to be past his shoulder strain and inflammation, but the Rockies are being careful before putting him on a mound.
"They're waiting to get my arm right and my mechanics right," Chacin said.
It is estimated he could miss 3-5 starts at the opening of the season.
• Lefty Boone Logan, who underwent offseason surgery to shave a bone spur and remove bone chips from his throwing elbow, reported nothing abnormal Saturday, a day after his 20-pitch live batting practice session. He tested the arm by playing catch later Saturday.