After again enduring losing seasons in 2005, the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies have put their focus squarely on the future for their youthful clubs. Both try to get off to a winning start in the immediate future when the teams meet in their season opener at Coors Field on Monday.
The NL West Division rivals hope young players complemented by several veterans will result in progress this season.
Arizona, under new general manager Josh Byrnes, will try to improve on last year’s 77-85 record, its second straight sub-.500 performance. The Rockies hope to snap a stretch of five straight losing seasons, including a 67-95 effort in 2005.
One of the young players the Diamondbacks hope will eventually lead them back into contention is 25-year-old third baseman Chad Tracy, who hit .308 last season with 27 home runs and 72 RBIs, including a .356 average and seven homers against the Rockies.
“We’re definitely building for the future. We’re going to get incrementally better every year,” manager Bob Melvin said, “but we like our team this year, too. Are there some question marks? Sure there are.”
Melvin hopes Webb is not one of those question marks after the sinkerballer signed a $19.5 million, four-year contract following his best season. Webb was 14-12 last season with a 3.54 ERA in 229 innings, and he went 3-0 against the Rockies with a 3.10 ERA in four starts.
The Diamondbacks also added Gold Glove second baseman Orlando Hudson in the trade that sent third baseman Troy Glaus to Toronto, as well as outfielder Eric Byrnes via free agency. Arizona will have to find a way to replace Glaus’ 37 home runs and 97 RBIs from last season, both team highs.
Hudson, who hit .271 last season with 10 homers and 63 RBIs, will likely hit second Monday. Byrnes faces his former team, as he played 15 games with the Rockies in 2005.
The Rockies used a club-record 19 rookies last season, and general manager Dan O’Dowd hopes that experience starts to begin paying off in 2006.
“I think every young player hits his stride at a different time,” O’Dowd said. “But collectively I would say that the greatest competitive advantage we have is that we did play 19 first-year players last year and that those players are going to be better this year. And they’re going to be better next year.”
Jennings hopes to be better this year as well after going 6-9 last season with a 5.02 ERA, including 0-2 with a 4.38 ERA against the Diamondbacks.
Veteran Todd Helton had one of the worst seasons of his career in 2005, hitting only 20 homers and driving in 79 runs, but he should be happy to see Webb. The Rockies first baseman is hitting .400 (10-for-25) with two homers and five RBIs against the right-hander.
Helton will follow shortstop Clint Barmes and center fielder Cory Sullivan in the batting order. The 27-year-old Barmes played only 81 games last year due to a broken collarbone, but hit .289 with 10 homers, 19 doubles and 46 RBIs. Sullivan, 25, batted .294 with four homers and 30 RBIs in 139 games as a rookie.
Arizona won 11 of 18 meetings last season against Colorado. The teams have Tuesday off before concluding their three-game series Wednesday and Thursday.