3/25/2014 8:55 P.M. ET
Hill doesn't let distractions linger at Triple-A level
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- In retrospect, Glenallen Hill, the manager of the Rockies' Triple-A club in Colorado Springs, had a decent team in 2013 during his first year on the job. He just rarely had a chance to manage it.
Infielders Nolan Arenado and DJ LeMahieu and outfielders Corey Dickerson and Charlie Blackmon were part of the Sky Sox's regulars for the first month of the season. But Arenado was in the Majors at the end of the first month, LeMahieu by the end of the second. Dickerson and Blackmon spent most of the second half in the Major League starting lineup. Charlie Culberson also turned out to be valuable for the Rockies after a period in the Springs.
Hill, 49, doesn't bemoan the Rockies' need to pluck from his roster, although his club ended up 67-76 in the Pacific Coast League. He sees his job as bigger than the record in Triple-A. It's holding the focus and attention of his players, some of whom were disappointed they weren't in the Majors at the beginning.
"I talk about distractions, and distractions come in many forms," Hill said. "Being disappointed because you're in Triple-A is a distraction, and I'll have no part of having distractions. They are there for one reason, and that is to put themselves in position to help the Major League team.
"During the course of the year, and it was proven to the younger kids that are up here now, anything can happen. If you're sulking and if you are not totally focused on preparing yourself to win that game that day, you're doing yourself, me and the organization a disservice."
Before going to Colorado Springs, Hill spent six years as the Rockies' first-base coach, and before that was a coach in the Rockies' system. That time also included a brief period as manager in Class A. After watching Hill operate at Colorado Springs, members of the organization see him as a prospect to manage in the Majors, which is Hill's goal.
Hill has spent his coaching career embracing initiatives such as assessing players' individual learning styles and taking those into account in his teaching. He also became a student of leadership methods. It all comes into play in Colorado Springs, where players are trying to shore up deficiencies while also dealing with the disappointment that comes with being so close to the Majors but having to wait.
Sometimes, Hill said, that means being patient and allowing a player or the team to struggle toward a goal.
"I put my hands on them physically and mentally -- in a quiet, subtle way, but it's there," Hill said. "I'd like them to feel they're supported. They know I'm going to tell them the truth. But I'm not going to beat them over the head with the truth unless the situation requires that, and they respect that communication.
"I like to create an uncomfortable environment for the players at some point in time to extend their awareness. I encourage them to get out of the box, try something and evaluate it and come out with a takeaway."
Nicasio eager to prove durability over complete season
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies right-hander Juan Nicasio has heard all he cares to about a lack of durability. Only in the regular season can he answer.
He put an exclamation point on a strong Cactus League season with five no-hit, seven-strikeout, one-walk innings in a 4-1 victory over the White Sox on Tuesday afternoon.
Of course, he could have gone longer if not for a damaged nail on his right middle finger. But Nicasio said he's dealt with it before and it's not a lingering problem. And fingernail problems aren't the issue.
Coming off two seasons of injuries, Nicasio made it past six complete innings just twice in 30 starts last season. Until he can get deep in games without a blowup that shortens the duration of his starts, the criticism will linger. But if the beginning of an answer is being sick of the question, Nicasio is ready for his reply.
"A lot of people talk too much about me, like, 'He throws four innings, five innings,' something like that," Nicasio said. "I'll show everybody, every day. I want to throw 200 innings, something like that. It's like my dream, throw 200 innings in the Major Leagues."
If he reaches that point, as a power fastball pitcher with a slider and a new split-finger pitch that he hopes will increase his innings, the Rockies just may have a realistic dream of contending. Even with his lack of length and 5.14 ERA, Nicasio managed a 9-9 record, and went 5-1 with a 3.09 ERA in 13 starts within the National League West.
One can't blame him for being happy to be there, after being hit in the head by a line drive in 2011, sustaining a left knee injury in 2012 and pitching through lingering knee pain last season. But he speaks like a man who wants more. Manager Walt Weiss believes health will take care of everything.
"I don't know if he has a chip on his shoulder or what it is, but he's healthy for the first time in a while," said Weiss, who said the fingernail should not affect Nicasio's next start, on Sunday against Minor Leaguers. "He wants to show who he really is. I think that's the bottom line with Juan. It's hard to compete in this league when you're not healthy."
Weiss and Rockies senior vice president of Major League operations Bill Geivett said repeatedly during the offseason that they believed Nicasio would justify why he was brought to the Majors from Double-A in 2011 by becoming a successful power pitcher. The organization's thought was the injuries have held him back from developing the third pitch that it takes to make it through an order three times.
It appeared the Rockies were hedging their bets, however, when they announced before camp that Nicasio had to compete for his spot. Alas, righty Jhoulys Chacin experience a right shoulder strain that could keep him out until anywhere from late April to the middle of May.
Still, Nicasio has pitched as if folks were breathing down his neck. Tuesday's performance ran his strikeout total to 23 against six walks and lowered his batting average against to .171.
"Walt, 'Givo,' they believed in me because they gave me the opportunity," Nicasio said. "I needed to show I believed in me, too. I needed to work hard and show everybody they're right."
Rockies evaluating staff options as camp ends
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Monday's strong five-inning performance by left-hander Franklin Morales spoke loudly but didn't necessarily eliminate righty Jordan Lyles from the Rockies' final rotation spot.
Lyles, who came in a trade with the Astros and is scheduled to pitch Saturday, has a 3.18 ERA and 12 strikeouts. Additionally, he has spent the spring gaining downhill plane on his fastball and, more recently, sharpening his curveball.
"Jordan has done a nice job, and he's been working on some things," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "Coming to a new club is tough. All of a sudden, there are some new things to focus on, the level of expectations and that whole thing. He's handled it well and pitched well."
The easiest move would be to go with Morales, since Lyles has a Minor League option. The move would give the Rockies a spot in the bullpen, which could mean the club could keep two righties -- Chad Bettis, who gave up his first run of the spring on Tuesday, but has been stellar for the rest of his nine innings, and Tommy Kahnle, a Rule 5 draftee from the Yankees who has a 0.93 ERA.
But Morales, with a 2.21 spring ERA, has pitched as a reliever most of his career. If Boone Logan has to spend the early days of the season on the disabled list as he completes his recovery from an elbow cleanup, the Rockies will start the year with just one left-hander -- Rex Brothers. But if the Rockies put Logan on the disabled list, it might not be for long; he'd be eligible to return April 5.
Weiss said it's possible the Rockies will announce their 25-man Opening Day roster on Wednesday, but situations such as Logan's are still being discussed.
Dickerson, Blackmon vying for time in center
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Outfielder Corey Dickerson doubled off the bench in Tuesday's 4-1 victory over the White Sox. His bid for a left-handed center-field spot, which would include somewhat regular starts, appears statistically to be somewhere between hard to deny and not to be denied.
Charlie Blackmon went 0-for-1 and is hitting .224 this spring. His best shot is a track record -- a .291 average in 151 games over three seasons.
Not only has Dickerson hit, but he has proven he is serviceable in center field. Last season, he made the plays, but at times looked awkward at all the outfield positions. That included 15 games, including 12 starts, in center. He has been smooth defensively throughout the spring.
"He's worked really hard on his defense," Weiss said. "We saw him play out in center field last year. He handled it, so I don't see him as someone who's deficient. He's worked very hard to make himself at the very least a serviceable defender."
Weiss said it's possible the club will announce its final 25-man roster decisions on Wednesday.
Cuddyer not feeling any extra pressure of batting crown
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies outfielder-first baseman Michael Cuddyer doesn't feel the weight of the 2013 National League batting crown.
He'll go into this season known around the baseball world as the defending batting champion, after hitting .331 last season. But he doesn't believe trying to hold onto the title should be any more stressful than capturing it.
"Going into the latter part of the season, it was, 'He's competing for the batting championship,'" said Cuddyer, who entered Tuesday's game against the White Sox hitting .184 in Spring Training but 6-for-21 (.286) with two doubles in his previous seven games. "That was another added pressure that you had to deal with. I felt like I was fine. I didn't change my approach. I didn't change my thought process at the plate.
"It's the same with this. Going into the year with the so-called title or whatever you want to call it, it doesn't change my approach at the plate."
Cuddyer hit cleanup and fifth much of last season, as the middle of the order was affected at times by injury-related absences of left fielder Carlos Gonzalez and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. He'll bat second this season to set up Gonzalez and Tulowitzki.
• Rockies catcher Wilin Rosario was in the Rockies' original lineup Tuesday but underwent treatment for swelling in his left calf. He could return Wednesday or Friday. The team is off Thursday.
• Culberson, an infielder who was called up as an outfielder last year, made his first Spring Training appearance in the outfield, in left, during Tuesday's victory.
"I wanted to get him out there at some point this spring," Weiss said. "He's a really good athlete."
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.