LaTroy and Rex, brothers in bullpen arms
Hawkins taking over as closer, but both pitchers getting along great
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- There hasn't been a single hard feeling between Rex Brothers, who finished last season as the Rockies' closer, and LaTroy Hawkins, signed for the job this year.
Hawkins quickly tried to make sure there were no hard feelings or misunderstandings, not that there was any worry about two guys cut from the same whatever-it-takes cloth.
"We played phone tag -- the whole offseason, literally," Brothers said. "It was back and forth for a month. Then we exchanged texts for about a month. When we both got here, we both laughed. He said, 'Tag, you're it.'
"I don't think there's any ego involved. The common ground is we want to work collectively as a bullpen to help the team win as many games as we can."
Brothers, 26, with a heavy fastball and slider, earned 19 saves last season while Rafael Betancourt dealt with various injuries. Hawkins, 41, with the hard slider of a younger man, earned 13 saves for the Mets after taking the job in August.
The role isn't as cut-and-dried as it sounds. Manager Walt Weiss has said all along he can use Brothers in the ninth depending on the matchup. With lefty Boone Logan, in the final stages of recovery from an offseason elbow cleanup surgery, and young, hard-throwing righty Chad Bettis looking as if he'll be part of the late bullpen, Weiss can play matchups until the end of the game without having a true closer.
"I'm not a title guy -- I don't care about a title," Hawkins said. "When I pitched in the sixth inning, I was the closer for the sixth inning. When I pitched in the seventh inning, the eighth inning, I was closer for that inning. All bullpen guys have to have that mentality. You're the closer when it's time for you to do your job. The only thing is the last guy doesn't get to pass the baton. The other guys get to pass the baton."
Deep down, Hawkins believes, as the season progresses, Brothers will emerge as the chairman of the closer committee. The two have become close once they finally met face-to-face.
"I love him," Hawkins said. "He's got a great arm. I've been saying it from Day 1, I'm just keeping that seat warm. That's all, just keeping it warm. When he's ready, I'll give it to him. That's Brothers' inning. He has way more years doing that job than I do."
Better late than never, the real De La Rosa surfaces
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Maybe Rockies left-hander Jorge De La Rosa needed to be close enough to Opening Day to feel it. Maybe he needed to see the Giants.
Whatever the reason, De La Rosa shook off a distracted performance in his previous start and wrapped up his Spring Training by striking out seven and giving up three hits and one walk in six scoreless innings against the Giants on Wednesday afternoon at Scottsdale Stadium.
De La Rosa tends to pitch well against the Giants (8-4, 3.90 ERA in 19 career games, 15 starts), but his fastball-changeup combination Wednesday would have worked against anyone.
Wednesday's work dropped his final spring ERA more than three runs, to 5.44. De La Rosa demonstrated that his stuff and focus were where they need to be, with the season opening Monday night at Miami.
"To finish throwing like this gives you a lot of confidence," De La Rosa said. "I'll try to take that into my next game and keep doing the things I did today."
It was far different from De La Rosa's previous start, when he gave up six runs on nine hits and two walks in just three innings of a loss to the Indians. In addition to seeing his pitches have a magnetic pull right into the hitting zone, De La Rosa admitted he lost focus on the signs from catcher Wilin Rosario.
De La Rosa spent much of the spring working on pitching inside, at times to a greater degree than he has at any point of his career. De La Rosa went back to what has worked with him during a career that has produced two 16-win seasons with the Rockies -- 2010 and last season.
"I pitched a lot inside today, but I pitched my game but I pitched the way I was pitching last year," De La Rosa said. "I threw a lot of changeups, and I worked the slider in. Everything was working.
Rosario missed the Wednesday game because of a left calf bruise. De La Rosa had a smooth flow with Michael McKenry, who has big league experience with the Rockies and Pirates and is known for his ability to work with pitchers.
"I hardly shook him off, and he gave me a lot of confidence," De La Rosa said. "I didn't think too much and I got my focus."
McKenry said De La Rosa could grow this year.
"He threw that front-hip sinker to righties," McKenry said. "I had been on him all spring about it.
"He has a changeup that's unhittable, so to speak. You know it's coming and still swing and miss. If he can add that with his cutter, slider and four-seamer, it gives him so much more."
Roster not yet finalized, though Bettis looks good
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies manager Walt Weiss did not reveal the Opening Day roster on Wednesday, and said some spots were up in the air.
Weiss did hint that righty Chad Bettis, who has given up just one run in nine Cactus League appearances, would get a spot. He also said lefty Boone Logan was a "long shot" to avoid beginning the season on the disabled list as he completes recovery from an offseason elbow cleanup surgery. Logan is throwing in Minor League games, which would backdate his 15-day DL placement to March 21 and have him eligible to be activated April 5.
Here are the decisions that remain:
Pitchers: Bettis has one of two possible bullpen spots. The other depends on whether the Rockies go with righty Jordan Lyles (0-1, 3.18 ERA in five Spring Training games) or lefty Franklin Morales (3-1, 2.21 in six games) as the fifth starter.
If it's Morales, Lyles will likely be optioned to Triple-A Colorado Springs and a spot will be opened in the bullpen. It would allow the Rockies to keep their Rule 5 draftee from the Yankees, Tommy Kahnle, a righty who has a 0.93 spring ERA. If the Rockies go with Lyles, Morales would go to the bullpen as the second left-hander. Setup man and sometimes closer Rex Brothers is the other lefty.
Outfield: Right-handed-hitting Brandon Barnes' strong spring (.340, strong defense at all three positions) has been widely assumed to have earned him a job.
That leaves left-handed hitters Corey Dickerson, whose two hits Wednesday included his fifth double and upped his average to .379, and Charlie Blackmon, who went 0-for-3 with two walks and is hitting .212. Blackmon has more big league experience but Dickerson has been hot.
Whoever is picked will start occasionally. The other will get his starts at Colorado Springs.
Infield utility: If the roster is configured as expected, there are two jobs. Non-roster invitee Paul Janish has the most experience, plays all three positions, and has hit .413 after going 1-for-4 with a double Wednesday. Josh Rutledge (.270 this spring) and Charlie Culberson (.277) are in the mix as multi-position players.
The wild card is left-handed-hitting Ryan Wheeler (.339), who is a corner player with power. Do the Rockies have room for such a bat?
Backup catcher: The easy move is to go with Jordan Pacheco (.346), who is out of Minor League options, and option the catcher with more experience, Michael McKenry (.265). But on Wednesday, McKenry and Opening Day starter Jorge De La Rosa were efficient for six scoreless innings. This was on the heels of De La Rosa's poor communication in his last start with the regular catcher, the offense-oriented Wilin Rosario.
Rosario's backup: Pacheco or McKenry?
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- If the Rockies already have an answer to their backup catching situation, the smooth work Wednesday between lefty Jorge De La Rosa -- who will start Monday night's opener in Miami -- and Michael McKenry might have raised questions from the outside.
The Rockies will go with power-hitting Wilin Rosario as the regular and hope his defense begins to approach his offense. But De La Rosa's last start, a three-inning mess against the Indians, featured repeated shaking off of calls and rough communication with Rosario.
The issue is Jordan Pacheco, who has played utility infield the last two years but has defensive skills, has played well and hit well, and he is out of Minor League options. McKenry, who is healthy after missing the last four months with a knee injury last year while with the Pirates, has a Minor League option.
McKenry is considered gifted when it comes to calling a game. He has struggled with steals the last couple of seasons, but he's working toward regaining the prowess in that area -- something he showed as a Rockies prospect a few years back.
Outside of the decision between McKenry and Pacheco, manager Walt Weiss must decide whether De La Rosa and Rosario are a good match.
Last year, when De La Rosa was coming off missing the better part of two seasons with elbow surgery, Weiss paired him with veteran Yorvit Torrealba early. But by year's end, De La Rosa had 15 games with Torrealba (3.07 ERA) and 14 with Rosario (3.82).
Weiss said he would probably not start anyone other than Rosario on Opening Day, but pairing De La Rosa with Pacheco or McKenry, depending on who is on the team, is a consideration.
"That's a good question," Weiss said. "They [De La Rosa and McKenry] worked well back there. It was a bit of a struggle last time out with De La and Wilin. But I think they got some of those things ironed out from the last time out."
As a player with the Braves, Weiss watched Greg Maddux often prefer to work with a backup catcher whose concern was defense rather than hitting, although he isn't certain he agrees with a personal catcher policy.
"It's not the worst thing in the world," Weiss said. "But it does tie your hands at times when you get in tough matchups. We did it last year with De La for maybe the first month, then we didn't pay much attention to it after that. It worked out just fine. Wilin caught a lot of De La's wins."
Rosario (.306, two homers, seven RBIs this spring) has missed the last two days after a bruised left calf. He is expected to play again Friday against the Mariners.
LeMahieu showing signs of increased production
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies second baseman DJ LeMahieu's career numbers don't speak loudly, but manager Walt Weiss sees a player whose production will equal his physical attributes.
LeMahieu heads into this season with a .283 batting average in 227 games, but a .314 on-base percentage. However, Weiss sees LeMahieu treading upward because of the baseball sense that earned him a spot in the lineup in the first place.
"He has such a great feel for the game that his on-base will go up," Weiss said. "And he's going to slug higher than we saw last year [.361]."
Indications this spring have been positive. LeMahieu is hitting .357 with a .413 on-base percentage, and his three doubles and one triple have his slugging percentage at .476.
"With guys I was around and saw last year, I put a lot of stock in that," Weiss said. "I think he's a guy who's going to be a doubles machine in his career."
LeMahieu most likely will bat No. 8 in the order, but he's also an option at leadoff -- where the Rockies can take advantage of the abilities that helped him to 18 steals in 109 games last season.
• Rex Brothers was strong until the last three outings, two of which saw him give up runs. He walked a batter then gave up Hector Sanchez's two-run, wind-blown homer to right field that ended the Rockies' 8-6 loss to the Giants on Wednesday. He also bounced three pitches.
"He's trying to find his groove," manager Walt Weiss said. "With all these guys, when that bell rings, that switch gets flipped and your whole mentality changes. The spring doesn't matter one way or the other. You don't know whether you had a good one or a bad one."