4/8/2014 8:29 P.M. ET
Morneau's bat already warmed up in early going
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
DENVER -- Nothing has stood out either way about Rockies first baseman Justin Morneau's career performance in the season's first month. His .277 March-April batting average is exactly the same as his career mark heading into the season.
So Morneau, beginning a two-year, $12.5 million contract with the Rockies, appreciates his .308 batting average start to this season. Morneau had hit safely in all six games prior to Tuesday night's contest against the White Sox, when he would face left-hander Jose Quintana as the only left-handed-hitting position player. It's Morneau's longest such run to start a season in his career.
"I've had good starts and I've had bad starts, but obviously you want to have good starts," Morneau said before going 2-for-3 and raising his average to .345 in a 15-3 loss. "Sometimes you get too caught up in results, instead of whether you're hitting the ball hard or having good at-bats. But it doesn't matter how long you've been around, you want to make a good first impression."
Stripping away the numbers, Morneau is having competitive plate appearance and putting balls in play. His only extra-base hit is a double, and he'd like to make stronger contact, but the adrenaline of the regular season has made his swings more solid than during Spring Training.
The difference between Morneau, 32, who has played in four All-Star Games and started three of them, and many others is his ability to go on seeming unconscious power runs. He hit nine homers last August for the Twins, for example. The display enticed the Pirates to trade for him for the final month. He didn't homer after the trade and was frustrated by that, but is always confident the power will show.
"In September, I didn't drive the ball as well as I'd like, but it's a new season and I'm starting over," Morneau said. "Sometimes you have runs, like [the D-backs'] Mark Trumbo, with five homers in his first nine games. You know that's possible, too.
"You know it's in you. When it clicks, it's just going to be one swing. Sometimes it's a foul ball. Sometimes it's a lineout. Sometimes it's a homer. But it lets you know you're at where you need to be. I think it helps being on a team that hits really well. You feel you do your part and you fit in. It takes some pressure off."
Chatwood aces rehab start, appears ready to return
DENVER -- Rockies right-handed pitcher Tyler Chatwood dominated in an injury rehab start for Triple-A Colorado Springs on Tuesday night, and should be on schedule to return to the starting rotation against the Giants on Sunday.
Chatwood, knocked out of two starts because of a left hamstring strain that he sustained while running the bases in his final Spring Training start, struck out eight and gave up one run on five hits in 6 1/3 innings of a 4-1 victory at Round Rock in a seven-inning doubleheader game.
Chatwood threw strikes on 53 of his 86 pitches and forced eight groundouts. The only run came on a homer by Brett Nicholas.
Righty Jordan Lyles, who replaced Chatwood, has gone 2-0 with a 3.86 ERA in two starts. On Monday night, he held the White Sox to one run and five hits in 6 2/3 innings of an 8-1 victory. Lyles has Minor League options, but doesn't look ready to give up his spot.
Chatwood started in the Minors on the same night the Rockies started left-hander Franklin Morales, who has spent much of his career pitching out of the bullpen with the Rockies and Red Sox. Morales, who does not have a Minor League option and must be waived in order to be sent down, beat out Lyles for a rotation spot in Spring Training.
The roster spot for Chatwood could come from the bullpen.
Cautious Tulowitzki able to remain in lineup
DENVER -- Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki was cold and his right quadriceps was tight Monday night when he had a brief conference with head athletic trainer Keith Dugger about whether to stay in the game. But Tulowitzki also was a triple away from the cycle.
"That's funny," Tulowitzki said. "I went up to [Dugger] after my home run and he knew my quad was tight. I told him the chances of me getting a triple are below zero percent."
However, by resting the final two innings of the 8-1 victory over the White Sox, Tulowtizki assured himself of being in the lineup Tuesday night.
"I feel all right," Tulowitzki said before the game. "My leg is a little tight. That's why I came out early last night. The weather had done a little bit to it. It was just a little fatigued."
The Rockies pulled Tulowitzki from a lopsided game Friday, rested him the entire day Saturday and rested him at the end of Monday's blowout. Get used to it, since the Rockies understand Tulowitzki's history of leg muscle injuries, and they realize that they've contended or gone to the postseason when he's been largely healthy. They're also keenly aware of a schedule that has them playing 40 times in the first 42 days.
Tulowitzki, 29, experienced a left quadriceps tendon tear in 2008, missed four games with strained quadriceps before the 2011 All-Star Game but didn't need to go to the disabled list, and was limited to 47 games in 2012 and underwent surgery to remove scar tissue from his left groin. These and other injuries, such as two hand/wrist injuries and broken ribs last year, have curtailed Tulowitzki's availability over the years.
The right quadriceps that's bothering him is new, which means at least it's not a recurrence of past chronic issues. Tulowitzki said he has been dealing with the tightness since Opening Day, when he extended at first base trying to beat out an infield grounder. It was the only game in which he didn't manage a hit going into Tuesday night.
"Early on in the year in Miami, and Opening Day, I was feeling a little bit too good," Tulowitzki who went 1-for-3 with a double and two RBIs in Tuesday's 15-3 loss, said. "I have to remind myself of a good pace, staying under control. I think I get caught up in the game sometimes and want to go back to those days when you play the game all out as a kid. Sometimes that hurts me."
Manager Walt Weiss said he checks in with Tulowitzki daily. Last season, the two developed a rapport that allowed Tulowitzki to speak honestly, and he was able to ride through some leg muscle tightness early. None of that prevented the rib break, but they were successful with the traditional trouble issues.
"I check in with all of them, but Tulo, specifically, just because he's had some history," Weiss said. "It's my job to keep these guys fresh and give them a day here and there."
With the Sox using left-hander Jose Quintana and Weiss trying to find rest spots in the schedule, the Rockies rested left-handed hitters Gonzalez and center fielder Charlie Blackmon. Weiss put Drew Stubbs in center and at leadoff, Brandon Barnes second in left, moved Tulowitzki up to Gonzalez's third spot and shifted usual No. 2 hitter Michael Cuddyer to cleanup. Also, Charlie Culberson started at second and batted eighth, replacing DJ LeMahieu.
First baseman Justin Morneau and pitcher Franklin Morales were the only lefty swingers in the lineup.
CarGo accepting of night off against White Sox
DENVER -- The reasons for giving left fielder Carlos Gonzalez Tuesday's game against the White Sox off from the starting lineup, for the first time this season, were sound. The White Sox were throwing tough left-hander Jose Quintana, and the Rockies start the season with 40 scheduled games in 42 days.
But the other part was just as significant. Gonzalez, hitting .355 and leading the team in home runs with three and RBIs with nine, didn't fight the decision.
Like shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, Gonzalez is a star-level player who has dealt with injuries. Most of his have been the freakish ones, like a thumb problem he played through while winning the 2010 National League batting title, and a right middle finger sprain that rendered him ineffective with the bat or out of the lineup the second half of last season. They haven't been the muscle pulls that felled Tulowitkzi.
Still, Gonzalez understands the need for rest better than he did earlier in his career.
"Before, I used to say no to days off early in the year because I want to keep playing every day, then halfway through the season you get to the point and say, 'I should have taken those days off because the game has worn me out,'" said Gonzalez, who has hit safely in all eight games he has played. "It's a good change, especially right now. Everybody is doing really well offensively, and you have so many guys in the outfield.
"I'm not talking about injuries. I'm talking about how your body feels."
Gonzalez said often the fatigue hits after the All-Star break. He has played in three All-Star Games, and sometimes the travel and numerous events are tiring. The more he can conserve energy for playing the spacious left field at Coors, the better.
"People don't realize how difficult it is to play left field here," Gonzalez said. "It's like playing center field on any other field. It's not like you play in Fenway Park and you're just going to throw a guy out there. You're going to take two or three steps and if he doesn't catch it, it's over the wall.
"Here, you've got to go get it, especially in that left-center-field gap. The ball's hit in that gap, if you avoid a triple, that's a successful play. You have to go really hard, take like 300 steps to get there."
Clubhouse recognition helps build chemistry
DENVER -- On the upper wall of the northeast corner of the Rockies' clubhouse begins an interesting design that encircles the entire clubhouse.
Before the season began, numbers 1-100 were painted in purple on white panels. On Tuesday, the first four panels were covered in purple and in white were the numbers 0, 19, 28 and 24 -- the jersey numbers, respectively, of relief pitcher Adam Ottavino, outfielder Charlie Blackmon, third baseman Nolan Arenado and pitcher Jordan Lyles.
After each victory, players get together.
"It's kind of like a player of the game," shortstop Troy Tulowitzki said. "I think the team decides it, and me and [Michael Cuddyer] get together and talk about it. We kind of handle it that way."
It serves to build motivation and high expectations. Room for 100 wins.
"This year, when I first got to Denver, that's when I found out we were doing it, and it's pretty cool," said Arenado, who earned his spot with a two-homer game against the D-backs in a 9-4 victory on Saturday. "I guess it's nice to see us doing something together. We mess around a little bit after the game."
Story hits for cycle at Class A Modesto
DENVER -- Rockies shortstop prospect Trevor Story, a supplemental first-round pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, hit for the cycle, plus added a single for Class A Advanced Modesto on Monday night.
It's a strong start for Story, 21, from Irving (Texas) High School, who hit .233 at Modesto last season as one of the youngest players in the California League.
"After last year, I had an idea I would be coming back here, and I learned a lot about myself as a player," Story told MiLB.com. "I really tried to get back to my old self in the offseason and just really tried to repeat what I've done my whole life."
Rockies player development director Jeff Bridich said the higher level of competition hit Story, ranked 10th among the organization's top prospects by MLB.com, hard offensively last season, but the Rockies were happy his defense remained consistent. Bridich said the Rockies assured Story during Spring Training that he had the opportunity to make forward steps this season.
"We sat down with him in Spring Training two different times and explained very clearly what our hopes and expectations are for him, and he shared those hopes and expectations for the season offensively," Bridich said. "If he has, at some point in the season, outgrown that league and proven that it's no longer a necessary challenge for him, we'll move him along just like we've moved other guys."