Buzzing on Yahoo Sports:

Hawkins, Brothers give Rockies power tandem in relief

The SportsXchange

Colorado Rockies Closer Rafael Betancourt went on the disabled list three times last year, the last time with a season-ending injury in late August. And on each occasion, Rex Brothers moved into that role and did very well.

At one point last season, Brothers was asked how much he enjoyed getting the final three outs of a game and saving a Rockies victory.

"I really do, I mean more than I could probably even describe," he said. "I really do. You're the last defense down there and you're putting that game to sleep. There's no other feeling like that, personally, coming out of the 'pen to pitch in those situations or that kind of atmosphere."

Those situations might be less frequent this year. During the offseason, the Rockies signed LaTroy Hawkins, 41, to a one-year, $2.5 million contract and said he will be their closer.

"I have to be honest," Brothers, 26, said at the outset of spring training. "I've always wanted to be a closer. I've worked toward it. But I will take on whatever my role entails. When we signed LaTroy, I was excited. I think we were looking for ways to make our ballclub better."

Brothers went 2-1 with a 1.74 ERA last year in 72 games and converted 19 of 21 save opportunities. Only one of those blown saves occurred in the ninth inning -- Sept. 6 at San Diego to break a string of 14 consecutive successful save opportunities.

While he was closing last season, Brothers was asked whether it would be a letdown to go back to pitch the eighth after savoring the special joys found only in the ninth while closing.

"I would say it's a letdown," he said. "You got to taste it. You know what it feels like. You get that adrenaline rush. You get that feeling that you can't replicate any way, anyhow in any fashion in any other situation. I think athletes long for that. I think that's what drives a lot of people is just to be out there competing."

Barring injury or a particularly abysmal spring, Hawkins is expected to begin the season as the Rockies primary closer. But the left-handed Brothers will give manager Walt Weiss an option if left-handed hitters are lurking for the opposition in the ninth or Hawkins' workload becomes overly heavy and he needs rest or if Hawkins hits a rough patch and needs a breather from the stress of closing.

The Rockies also added left-hander Boone Logan, a free agent who left the Yankees for a three-year, $16.5 million contract with the Rockies. Right-handers Matt Belisle, Adam Ottavino and Wilton Lopez and one other reliever figure to comprise a bullpen that should be much better than last year when Betancourt's injuries -- ultimately his season ended Aug. 22 and he will miss 2014 as he recovers from Tommy John surgery in September -- roiled the bullpen, and the Rockies relievers finished last in the National League with a 4.23 ERA.

"If LaTroy can be successful as a closer," Weiss said, "and he will get some days off, our bullpen sets up really well. We will be able to match up from the sixth (inning) on, something we couldn't do last year."

Brothers strung together 30 consecutive scoreless innings over 32 games last year. He has swing-and-miss stuff with his fastball, slider and changeup. But he does tend to issue walks, albeit typically limiting damage because he can regroup and overpower hitters. Regardless of when he pitches, Brothers wants to reduce his walks. In 67 1/3 innings last year, Brothers averaged 10.2 strikeouts and 4.8 walks per nine innings, very close to his career averages in three seasons of 11.2 strikeouts and 4.8 walks.

"Obviously, you always want to get walks down, because if you walk guys, it's going to mess with your success. I think this year I would like to get more ground balls. That means pitching to contact early in counts."

NOTES, QUOTES

--RHP Jhoulys Chacin is experiencing right shoulder inflammation and will undergo an MRI on Monday. He is expected to miss at least a week.

Chacin has not thrown a full side session and has been limited to long-tossing this spring.

Trainer Keith Dugger said the injury is not related to the pectoral nerve injury that caused Chacin to miss much of the 2012 season when he made 14 starts and pitched 69 innings. Dugger said Chacin's current injury is inflammation of the right biceps tendon with the irritation near the rotator cuff.

The Rockies are counting heavily on Chacin, who has a goal of pitching 200 innings after falling short last season with a career-high 197 1/3. But for four-inning outings in two of his final three starts, Chacin would have crossed that 200-inning barrier.

Regardless, Chacin went 14-10 last year with a 3.47 ERA, the second-lowest ERA by a starter in franchise history behind only Ubaldo Jimenez's 2.88 ERA in 2010. The 14 victories were a career-high for Chacin.

His success was largely due to a vastly improved sinker. The pitch helped Chacin record 30 double play grounders, the second-best total in the National League, trailing only the St. Louis Cardinals' Adam Wainwright. Prior to last season, Chacin induced 34 double plays on ground balls in 411 1/3 career innings as he tried to miss bats and notch strikeouts.

"I always talked about pitching to contact," Chacin said, "but it was hard earlier in my career, because when I got one or two strikes on a hitter, I wanted the K. But last year, I didn't worry about it. I made up my mind that I would get quick outs."

--OF Corey Dickerson's chances of making the Opening Day roster for the first time likely were not helped by the Rockies' decision to have Carlos Gonzalez stay in left field rather than move to center field.

Newly acquired Drew Stubbs, a right-handed hitter, has done very well against left-handed pitchers but struggled against right-handers. Stubbs is a true center fielder, much more comfortable there than one of the corner outfield positions, and will make $4.1 million this season, all of which should give him an advantage over Brandon Barnes, another right-handed hitter and capable center fielder.

Stubbs could end up platooning in center field with Charlie Blackmon or Dickerson, both left-handed hitters. Dickerson has had limited experience in center field -- which at Coors Field is vast -- and is a left fielder by trade. Dickerson has worked hard on his defense, which is greatly improved. But Blackmon is the better defensive player.

However, Dickerson is the better hitter. He could play his way onto the Opening Day roster this spring if he hits well and shows he can be a reliable center fielder. If Blackmon ends up in a platoon with Stubbs, the Rockies will have to decide whether Dickerson should play every day at Class AAA Colorado Springs or be the fifth outfielder -- Barnes is also a candidate for this spot -- who pinch hits and occasionally starts.

--C Jordan Pacheco is vying with Michael McKenry for the job of backing up starting catcher Wilin Rosario. Pacheco began his career as a second baseman after being drafted in 2007 and began the conversion to catcher following spring training in 2008. He caught before being told to take ground balls at third base shortly before his September 2011 promotion from Class AAA Colorado Springs to the Rockies. He played mostly third base and first base during a robust rookie season in 2012 and played mostly first base while getting few at-bats in 2013 before being optioned to Class AAA for three weeks and then catching upon being recalled Aug. 19.

Pacheco is below average defensively at the corner infield positions, and the Rockies and Pacheco see the 28-year-old as a catcher, where he has become adept at receiving, blocking and game-calling while improving his throwing.

Assuming Pacheco wins the backup job, the Rockies want to get him more at-bats than last year when as a reserve first baseman, third catcher -- Yorvit Torrealba, who is no longer with the Rockies, was Rosario's primary backup -- and pinch hitter, Pacheco had just 247 at-bats. He hit .239 with 15 doubles, one homer and a .588 OPS.

"It's tough to keep your numbers pretty when you're in that role," manager Walt Weiss said, "and then you try to make up for lost time when you do get in there. That stuff tends to snowball. And I think that was the case. But we haven't lost any confidence in Jordan as a hitter. We still know that he is a really good hitter."

In his rookie 2012 season, Pacheco had 475 at-bats and hit .309 with 32 doubles, five homers, with a .762 OPS.

--RF Michael Cuddyer signed a three-year, $31.5 million contract with the Rockies as a free agent in Dec. 2011 and is entering the final season of that deal. He turns 35 on March 27, won the National League batting title with a .331 average last year and has been a huge contributor both on and off the field for the Rockies. His contract status and whether he will be with them in 2015 is of less concern to Cuddyer than the team's prospects after consecutive last-place finishes in the National League West.

"I am an open book," he said. "If they want to talk, that's great. It won't be a distraction. I promise you that. They had a lot of other work to do (this offseason), and I am really excited about the guys we added. We are going to compete. You can't promise results, but you can promise to put in the work. We will be better. This is what I signed up for."

--SS Troy Tulowitzki will turn 30 in October, and after this season will have $118 million remaining on his contract. That is a manageable sum for the New York Yankees, who will be looking for a shortstop for 2015 following the retirement of Derek Jeter.

Rockies owner Dick Monfort said during this offseason that the club had no intention of trading Tulowitzki. But what if the Rockies struggle again this year? Might they be more inclined to trade Tulowitzki, whose contract runs through 2020 with a club option for 2021 and who embarks on five straight seasons with a $20 million salary starting in 2015?

In any case, Tulowitzki is bound to appeal to the Yankees as they begin the post-Jeter era.

"There's no doubt that the question is not going to go away," Tulowitzki said. "Look at this (past) offseason with the trade rumors involving me. You try not to pay attention to them, but at the same time, they are there. My job is to help the Rockies win games this season. That's what is in front of me right now. It's going to be out there. I understand and I am fine with that. It's not the first time it's happened."

The St. Louis Cardinals were rumored to be interested in Tulowitzki before signing free agent shortstop Jhonny Peralta this winter. But the Cardinals, with far better prospects in the minors and promising young major league players than the Yankees, could not match up with the Rockies. So it would appear to be a challenge for the Yankees to put together a package enticing enough to the Rockies for Tulowitzki without involving a third club. Regardless, the Yankees will want to replace Jeter with a star shortstop, and Tulowitzki more than fits that description.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It'd be tough for anybody to have to fill those shoes, but we're doing it with a guy that's been a league MVP and has been an elite player in this league. Maybe that ghost isn't overwhelming for someone like Justin Morneau." -- Manager Walt Weiss on Justin Morneau, who signed with the Rockies as a free agent and will play first base following the retirement of franchise icon Todd Helton.
Sign up for Yahoo Fantasy Football
View Comments (1)