3/16/2014 9:10 P.M. ET
Grounders boost Lyles' confidence on mound
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Right-hander Jordan Lyles' results were mixed at best, but he saw enough good in his performance Sunday against the Dodgers.
Lyles, competing with left-hander Franklin Morales for the final spot in the Rockies' rotation, gave up three runs and five hits in 4 1/3 innings against the Dodgers. The performance rose Lyles' ERA from 1.13 to 2.92.
"I can say I feel pretty good with where I'm at physically and what I've done on the mound all spring," Lyles said.
The good was Lyles forced seven groundouts. A Carl Crawford leadoff double in the fourth, which was hit along the ground into the right-field corner, led to a two-run fourth that also included Juan Uribe's two-out double. Lyles walked A.J. Ellis behind Uribe but ended the frame by forcing a Dee Gordon grounder.
Lyles, who pitched the past three seasons with the Astros, is trying to end a negative pattern of having good work overshadowed by one big inning. But when his chance came to escape trouble, his day was done.
Lyles walked Dodgers starter Hyun-Jin Ryu to open the fifth, and admitted he might have let up. After a Yasiel Puig popout, Crawford singled. It was then that manager Walt Weiss removed Lyles because he had reached his pitch limit.
"We'll stretch it out to maybe 80-85 pitches next time out," said Lyles, acquired with outfielder Brandon Barnes for center fielder Dexter Fowler in November. "But I feel great. When guys are on base, I've been getting guys to hit the top of the ball this spring. Keeping the ball down has been pretty easy for me so far. If you keep getting ground balls, you'll get out of those jams."
Lyles is confident he can escape trouble. In the fourth, one of the runs scored on Adrian Gonzalez's single that rolled through the middle of the infield.
Weiss spoke favorably of the performance.
"Really, leadoff walk and the ball he got up and got hit [by Uribe] were the only two blemishes," Weiss said. "Other than that, he threw the ball really well. He pitched well with his fastball to both sides of the plate. He's worked on some things, created some angle, is staying over the rubber a little longer and is getting some positive results from it."
Morneau looks to simplify approach vs. lefties
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies first baseman Justin Morneau is aware of his struggles against left-handed pitching in recent years, but he has to be careful not to become too aware.
In 2010, the year he suffered a season-ending concussion while with the Twins and played in just 81 games, he batted .325 with a .575 slugging percentage against lefties. The numbers had been similar for most of his career. But he had a .144 average and .211 slugging percentage in 2011, .232/.298 in 2012 and .207/.278 last year.
The Rockies have options against tough lefties, such as moving Michael Cuddyer to first base. But the strategy will not be automatic if Morneau snaps back to previous form.
"I'm not too worried about that," Morneau said. "When I was younger it was something I didn't pay attention to. I need to go back to having a pretty simple approach against those guys. I tried some adjustments I wasn't able to make physically, and they weren't effective."
He participated in a game Sunday against Rockies Minor Leaguers and went 4-for-8 with two home runs, a double and three RBIs. In such games, a Major Leaguer can bat in as many innings as he wishes. It's a way to improve timing.
Morneau, who missed time early in the spring with neck stiffness, is 2-for-13 (.154) in five Cactus League contests. Morneau has a history of neck issues and manages it by carrying his own pillows on the road and getting treatment when necessary. With the problem under control, Morneau is working toward regular-season readiness.
"It's just timing," Morneau said. "I just want to be on time with the fastball. That's something you're going to battle all year, but especially right now. You don't feel like the timing is there. It's not necessarily mechanical at this point, it's just having a good feeling and getting ready to hit."
Morneau hit .259 with 17 home runs and 77 RBIs combined with the Twins and Pirates last season in 152 games -- his most since the injury. The Rockies signed him for $12.5 million over two years in hopes that he can approach his perennial All-Star form he displayed with the Twins.
Blackmon improving in battle for outfield role
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies outfield candidate Charlie Blackmon put a slow offensive start behind him Sunday, going 3-for-5 in the 3-3 tie with the Dodgers at Camelback Ranch.
The performance lifted Blackmon, who is in a tussle for a roster spot with fellow left-handed hitter Corey Dickerson, from .207 to .265.
Manager Walt Weiss said he isn't holding the slow start against Blackmon, who hit .309 in 82 Major League games last season -- his most action with the Rockies. Blackmon started Sunday in left field, but moved to center late in the game and has been in center most of the spring.
"Charlie finished so strong at the end of the season," Weiss said. "That carries a lot of weight, too. It's not just how you perform in Spring Training. He's done just fine.
"We want to see him play center field quite a bit this spring, and that's what he's done. He's running really well and closing on balls well. He focused a lot on speed work this offseason and it looks like he's running real well."
De La Rosa tosses five innings in Minors camp
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- In his first action since being named the Rockies' starter for the March 31 season opener at Miami, left-hander Jorge De La Rosa pitched five innings and gave up two runs on six hits in a game against Rockies Minor Leaguers at Salt River Fields.
De La Rosa, who pitched at the complex to allow the team to get an extended look at rotation competitor Jordan Lyles in the Cactus League game against the Dodgers, threw 72 pitches, including 47 strikes. He struck out two and walked two.
Catcher Wilin Rosario knocked two homers and drove in three runs while going 2-for-4. Justin Morneau went 4-for-8 with a double, a homer and three RBIs.
Strong in relief, Ottavino open to any role
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies right-hander Adam Ottavino has found his big league footing as a jack-of-all-trades relief pitcher. The intriguing question: Which traits will he master?
"I've never been a one-inning person, ever," Ottavino said Sunday, a day after pitching two spotless innings in a 4-4 tie with the Angels. "I just try to get guys out until they take me out. That's the situation I'm in."
Ottavino, 28, was a starter with the Cardinals' organization in 2006-11 but found his Major League footing in the bullpen with the Rockies. He is 6-4 with a 3.60 ERA in 104 appearances with Colorado, including 1-3 with a 2.64 ERA in 51 appearances covering 78 1/3 innings last season.
It's not as if Ottavino, who has a slider that is difficult to pick up, changed his personality when he converted to a reliever.
"I'm different just because of my natural evolution as a pitcher that brought me to this point," Ottavino said. "I think I would have gotten to this point as a starter, too -- mixing it up more and probably changing my strategy a little bit. It just happened quicker in the bullpen because a more obvious thing to do was switch my approach up."
Not even Ottavino knows where his new-found approach will take his career.
"I think the ultimate challenge is starting, but I think that ship has probably sailed," Ottavino said. "I don't know. I think I could do any role. I think it would be a good rush to close out games. But anything, really. I try not to think about it too much. I try to attack each hitter like it's the only one that matters."
Pacheco showing signs of regaining form
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies catcher Jordan Pacheco entered Sunday with a .444 on-base percentage, and drove in a run with a sacrifice fly in his first plate appearance.
The spring success in limited action (he missed several days early with a left shoulder strain) is an indication that he has a chance to regain the success he had in 2012, when he led National League rookies with a .309 batting average and had a .341 on-base percentage.
"The key is sticking to a plan and executing it," Pacheco said. "You've got to get in the batter's box and figure it out, find your comfort zone. In the offseason you just work on the physical attributes of your swing. Now is the time for your mental approach."
• Lefty reliever Boone Logan's arm responded well to a 20-pitch bullpen session Friday. Next for him will be a 30-pitch simulated game, most likely consisting of two 15-pitch innings, on Monday.
Logan, signed by the Rockies for three years and $16.5 million during the offseason, had surgery to remove bone chips and shave a bone spur in his throwing elbow at the end of last season when he was with the Yankees. Logan hopes to appear in five Cactus League contests.
• The Rockies on Sunday officially announced their decision to send pitching prospects Eddie Butler and Jon Gray to Minor League camp. Both are expected to begin the season at Double-A Tulsa. Also sent down were right-hander Josh Sullivan, left-handers Yohan Flande and Pedro Hernandez, and catchers Dustin Garneau and Tom Murphy. The moves reduce Major League camp to 44 players, including 13 non-roster invitees.
• Righty Matt Belisle entered Sunday with a 10.80 spring ERA but threw a perfect inning against the Dodgers. "Matty is fine," manager Walt Weiss said. "He's worked on some things this spring that he's trying to do in games. We know what we've got there from Matty."
• Weiss issued his third challenge and first successful one this spring. Dodgers right fielder Yasiel Puig caught Jordan Pacheco's second-inning fly ball and threw a strike that hit catcher A.J. Ellis on the fly. Ellis' tag attempt clearly missed Matt McBride, but plate umpire David Soucy called the out.
It would have been the third out of the inning. Weiss sprinted from the dugout to challenge as the Dodgers dashed off the field. Umpires reversed the call after reviewing the replay.
• Right-handed-hitting outfield candidate Brandon Barnes preserved the 3-3 tie Sunday with a leaping catch against the left-field wall late in the game.