3/24/2014 10:20 P.M. ET
Morales solidifying claim to spot in rotation
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Left-hander Franklin Morales found his way back to the Rockies through a confluence of needs. But through hard work and study, Morales just might have found his way back to the starting rotation after the better part of five years in the bullpen.
Morales broke in as a starter with the Rockies in 2007, was converted to relief in '09 and pitched primarily in relief after the club traded him to the Red Sox for cash considerations in '11. But the Red Sox sent him back to Colorado, along with reliever Chris Martin, during the winter for infielder Jonathan Herrera.
Morales, 27, received a chance at the steady rotation job he has always wanted, and Monday's five strong innings in an 8-2 victory over the Royals moved him closer to it. Morales struck out seven, gave up three hits, a walk and an unearned run. He threw four-seam and two-seam fastballs where he wanted, and baffled hitters from both sides of the plate with his cutter and curveball. He has a 2.21 spring ERA.
"I had all my pitches together, I mixed it up," Morales said. "I don't think about it. I don't want to put too much pressure on me. I'm going to pitch my game and make my pitches. Wilin [Rosario, the catcher] called a good game. I have good communication with him and we mixed it up, both sides of the plate."
Morales told his agent before the trade he'd like a chance to start again, and it so happened the Rockies made the deal and were willing to give him the chance -- knowing he could also go to the bullpen. Morales is competing with righty Jordan Lyles, who has a 3.18 ERA in six appearances and will throw again Saturday against the Mariners in the final Spring Training game. Morales also is on the roster for that day.
Morales pitched in his native Venezuela during the winter to further develop his pitch repertoire.
"In Venezuela with Jesus Hernandez, my pitching coach, I worked on my tempo to throw my pitches in any count, and I learned my cutter from Gary Tuck, my pitching coach from Boston from two years ago," Morales said. "Last year, I put it in the game and this year I went to Venezuela to winter ball and I used it more to get confidence. Before I threw the cutter backdoor, now I use it on both sides."
Manager Walt Weiss is dealing with a myriad of roster decisions. Putting Morales in the rotation could open a spot for one of the deserving relievers. But if Boone Logan has to begin the year on the disabled list for a few days as his left elbow completes its recovery from offseason surgery to remove bone chips and shave a bone spur, the Rockies will have to decide if they're comfortable with Rex Brothers as their only left-hander.
But Morales' performance is speaking loudly.
"In some of these decisions, it's not always just player-to-player, who won. We've got to take into consideration design of the club and how the pieces fit, but he's made a case for himself," Weiss said. "He wanted to come in and compete for a spot, and he's performed.
"He made pitches [Monday] to get outs. Even at times when he may have missed his location, he'd get right back in the count by making a pitch. It never got away from him."
Lopez working out of 'pen with spring in step
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies relief pitcher Wilton Lopez is having a strong Spring Training with a 1.86 ERA, but that's not unusual. He has a 1.83 career spring ERA in 50 appearances since 2008. But after a rough 2013, his first in a Rockies uniform, what's important is he believes he can maintain his spring form when the real season starts.
The Rockies acquired Lopez during the winter of 2012 in a trade with the Astros, where he had been the closer, believing his power could work in a setup role. But Lopez struggled with the consistency of his delivery, and the dealt with the stress of his father's illness and death in Nicaragua. Lopez received praise from manager Walt Weiss for always making himself available, and he pitched in a team-leading 75 games, but the numbers were subpar -- 3-4 with a 4.06 ERA.
With a clearer mind and settled into being with the Rockies, Lopez appears to have corrected a delivery flaw that robbed him of downward action on his sinker. This spring, he has seven strikeouts against no walks, and has induced 1.63 groundouts for every out in the air.
Lopez said reminders from pitching coach Jim Wright to stay on balance as he begins his delivery, which means Lopez doesn't tilt back as he lifts his left leg, have helped.
"I can see that my two-seamer is going down, and I'm doing what Jimmy tells me to do," Lopez said in Spanish as catcher Wilin Rosario served as translator. "This year, I feel that I've improved."
Lopez went into last year as primary right-handed setup man, but righty Chad Bettis has been excellent this spring and has the power arm that fits late in games. Lopez, Bettis and LaTroy Hawkins, who was signed as closer but on occasion will be setup man for lefty Rex Brothers, could give the Rockies many power options late in games.
Wright likes that Lopez seems in a much better place.
"He's got much better sink and his changeup is going straight down, and it's tied into his delivery," Wright said. "He's been pitch-efficient. He's had the kind of outings we want to see out of him."
Last season, there were some hot periods but also extended slumps. Lopez will have to prove he can adjust quickly when something falls out of kilter.
"Jimmy tells me when I'm good and when I'm bad, when I do something that does not work, but right now I feel I can control myself and make a good adjustment," Lopez said.
Winning remains main thing for Tulowitzki
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- During his first at-bat on Monday against the Royals, Troy Tulowitzki reminded Rockies fans why they should be glad ownership didn't take a trade offer from the Cardinals during the winter.
Tulowitzki pulled a Jeremy Guthrie pitch over the left-field fence for his third home run this spring. Tulowitzki has hit 154 homers since his rookie year of 2007 -- most of any shortstop in the Majors -- and is one of six shortstops in history with at least four seasons of 25 or more homers. Despite missing 25 games with a broken rib last year, he hit 25.
Talks with the Cardinals were rumored all winter, so it was no surprise during the weekend when FOX Sports reported that the Rockies turned down an offer of right-handed pitcher Shelby Miller, first baseman Matt Adams and shortstop Pete Kozma for Tulowitzki. The Rockies have not commented on the report.
During the winter, Tulowitzki followed it all.
"I wasn't aware of any offer that was talked about, but I know there was some interest from the Cardinals, but things didn't work out, obviously," Tulowitzki said. "I'm a baseball fan, so I do read the paper and I know what's going on in the world. But I don't put too much thought into, 'What if this thing goes down?' If it happens, it happens, and if not then I'm in this locker room trying to win games for the Rockies right now. That trade talk doesn't do much. It's just rumors."
Tulowitzki is owed $134 million through 2020, but realizes he could be on the move if the Rockies don't start winning. Tulowitzki also wants to win. So there's one way to stop the rumors.
"Since Day One, the most important thing for me has been winning," Tulowitzki said. "I got a taste of it early in my career [a World Series trip in 2007, playoffs in 2009] and it was a lot of fun. I've been a part of some losing seasons now, and no matter how you come out of it individually, it's worth nothing because I've had so much more fun in those years we've won."
Tulowitzki has always been honest, and at times outspoken, about what he feels the club needs and its direction, even if it's uncomfortable at times for the club. He explained that it's not because he believes his paycheck makes him something more than a player. It's just burning desire for a result.
"Money is not what drives me -- it's winning, and guys get paid because they want to keep guys on those winning teams," Tulowitzki said. "I'm a very opinionated person, there's no doubt about that.
"That's just the way I am. But I'd rather go out trying to help things and not be that silent guy in the corner of the room not saying anything. Hopefully people listen."
Barnes leaves Rox for birth of second child
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies outfielder Brandon Barnes left the club on Monday to be with his wife, Shawn, for the birth of the couple's second child.
Tatum May Barnes, who checked in at 7-pounds, 3-ounces, was born at 5:43 p.m. MT. The couple also has another daughter, Kenadie.
Barnes, 27, obtained from the Astros in an offseason trade, is batting .340 with a .365 on-base percentage, one home run, three doubles and three RBIs this spring. Barnes and non-roster outfielder Tim Wheeler were named on Sunday as co-winners of the Abby Greer Award for Spring Training excellence.
Rockies facing some tough roster decisions
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Corey Dickerson started the final week of Spring Training by making a big impression, delivering a double and a stolen base, and making a leaping catch against the center-field wall for the Rockies in an 8-2 victory over the Royals on Monday.
Charlie Culberson went 1-for-2 and played a solid game at second base as he tries to close in on a backup infield job. Tommy Kahnle, a right-handed reliever who came from the Yankees in the Rule 5 Draft, had his first two-inning appearance and threw scoreless innings with two strikeouts to lower his spring ERA to 0.93. And don't forget Ryan Wheeler, who homered in the eighth for his eighth extra-base hit this spring as he tries to forge a spot for himself as a corner infielder and late-game left-handed bat.
In other words, decisions are getting tough.
Does Dickerson get the job as a left-handed hitting center fielder, which would send Charlie Blackmon (0-for-3 Monday to drop his average to .229) to the Minors -- even though Blackmon has more big league experience and better numbers? Did right-handed-hitting outfielder Brandon Barnes, who was overlooked coming into camp but has played his way into what looks like a sure roster spot, play himself into starting opportunities even though the Rockies have the more experienced Drew Stubbs?
Culberson (.279), Wheeler (.353), Josh Rutledge (.303) and non-roster invitee Paul Janish (.429) all have attributes that could put them on the team, but it appears there are only two backup infield spots. Janish also could end up being picked up by another team with a 25-man roster hole and not so many candidates.
Kahnle's case is most vital, since if he isn't kept on the 25-man roster all year he has to be offered back to the Yankees for $25,000. If lefty Franklin Morales makes the rotation -- and his five innings with seven strikeouts and one unearned run on Monday help his cause in a competition with righty Jordan Lyles -- will there be a spot for Kahnle in the bullpen? Even then, does lefty Boone Logan, who is coming off an elbow cleanup operation, have to start on the disabled list for there to be room for Kahnle?
Is it overall spring performance, or does a manager avoid being fooled by a spring and go by track record? Is it playing the hot hand at the end of spring? How much of the decision is based on Minor League options, which allow teams to hold onto players they can call up later?
"We look at the season with the bigger-picture perspective," manager Walt Weiss said. "It's not like who we break camp with, that's how it is for the rest of the season. We make these decisions understanding there's going to be an evolution of the roster. Needs are going to change. The design of the club is going to change from time to time."
• Logan threw a 15-pitch inning in a Minor League game on Monday and "all reports were good," Weiss said. Logan is pitching in the Minors because if the Rockies don't deem him ready when the season starts, they can back-date his 15-day DL placement to the day after he last threw in a Cactus League game. If Logan doesn't appear in another Major League game this spring, he will be eligible to pitch for the Rockies on April 5.
• Jhoulys Chacin threw all fastballs during a 30-pitch bullpen session on Sunday and had no complications. It was his first bullpen session since he arrived at Spring Training unable to throw off the mound because of shoulder pain. He's not expected to return until the middle of April at the earliest, but the Rockies have said it could be the middle of May.