Taste of starting duties has McKenry ready for more

Catcher willing to contribute however Rox need him, but enjoys No. 1 role

Taste of starting duties has McKenry ready for more

DENVER -- Rockies catcher Michael McKenry knows better than to believe his solid 2014 season automatically means bigger and better in 2015.

McKenry underwent left knee meniscus surgery in July 2013 with the Pirates, and he began this season at Triple-A Colorado Springs while completing his recovery. When ready, he hit a career-best .315 in 57 games, including 45 starts. But he remembers the last time he had a similarly encouraging performance.

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In 2012, McKenry started 81 games -- exactly half a season -- and hit .233 for the Pirates. He was hoping for a bigger opportunity with an improving team in 2013. The Pirates signed Russell Martin, and McKenry was the backup until his injury.

The Pirates non-tendered McKenry after the season, and the Rockies signed him to a Minor League contract. McKenry's opportunity came because regular catcher Wilin Rosario battled illness and injury, slumped offensively and went through growing pains defensively.

The dynamic makes McKenry a cog in a key Rockies offseason decision.

A season like McKenry's 2014 could lead to an equitable split of starts, or even a shot at the No. 1 job. But the Rockies could also count on Rosario returning to form offensively and improving on defense. They also could deal Rosario to fill needs and attempt to acquire a standout catcher, the way the Pirates did with Martin.

The latter two options leave McKenry, who turns 30 on March 4, again as a backup. He admitted it was difficult when it happened with the Pirates.

"It really came from outside factors," McKenry said. "People came up to me in 2012, 'Hey, we think you should be the starter.' You get that and it kind of gets in your head. It was a big punch in the gut, especially when I thought it was time for me to split time with somebody or compete with somebody. It was a learning experience."

Martin's presence and the injury meant McKenry's chance would not come until this season with the Rockies.

Called up first in May and for a final time in June, McKenry turned in an intriguing offensive season. According to Baseball-Reference.com, McKenry's OPS-plus, which is on-base percentage plus slugging percentage with park factors accounted for, was a healthy 139 (with 100 being an average player) -- behind shortstop Troy Tulowitzki (171), outfielder Michael Cuddyer (149) and breakout outfielder Corey Dickerson (142).

McKenry's solo home run
Related video: McKenry's solo home run

Under WAR, or the "wins above replacement player," which calculates a player's true value, McKenry scored a 1.7 from Fangraphs and a 2.0 from Baseball-Reference.

"I've done it in the Minor Leagues, and I've done it in short stints in the big leagues," McKenry said. "So you have to have confidence in yourself and your ability. I've made some key adjustments to my swing, and especially in my thinking. And I felt like it was going to pay off."

A right-handed hitter, McKenry batted .328 with five of his eight home runs against righty pitching, which could bode well if he earns a starting job. He hit .279 against lefties. McKenry is more comfortable against hard throwers, but he tends to be not as aggressive against other types.

"I've talked to different guys about different approaches, and one that really hit home with me was something that Michael Cuddyer told me early on this season," McKenry said. "He said he goes up there looking to hit the first pitch that's in the zone. If you wait around against those guys, they're going to nibble you right out of the box."

Defensively, the Rockies gave McKenry high marks for his ability to call games for inexperienced pitchers, but he didn't fare as well statistically.

Under pitch-framing, a developing stat that measures if the way the catcher receives the ball gains or costs a strike, he ranked 12th-worst in the Majors, according to the respected StatCorner Catcher Report.

McKenry threw out 19 percent of basestealers (eight of 42). The MLB average was 28 percent. McKenry threw out 25 percent in 58 games with the Pirates in 2011, but he since has adopted a stance friendlier to blocking dirtballs than throwing. According to a Fangraphs stat that measures the worth of pitch-blocking, he ranked 17th in the Majors.

McKenry battled scar tissue in the knee early, and tightness in his hips and legs throughout last season. A full season not encumbered with rehab should help him regain health and improve defensively.

"It was a good learning experience," McKenry said. "Glenallen Hill [his manager at Colorado Springs] said it to me in Triple-A: 'You have to have Plan B sometimes.' And that really resonated with me. Sometimes you're not going to feel great, and sometimes as a backup guy, you feel too good and you have to have a plan for that, too."

McKenry would love parlay 2014 into No. 1 duty in '15, but he vows to be ready for any plan.

"I'm a different person, I have a different outlook, a different mindset," McKenry said. "At the end of the day, it's not in my hands. I have a belief in a much higher power. I put it all in His hands and I'll see where it takes me.

"Ultimately, whether I'm first string or second string, I want to parade out on the field, jump on the dogpile, pour champagne all over each other and get a ring."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, and like his Facebook page, Thomas Harding and Friends at www.Rockies.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Rox prospect shines as pitch clock gets second look

Salt River mounts five-run eighth to upend Glendale; game time at 2:28

Rox prospect shines as pitch clock gets second look

SCOTTSDALE -- Just when it looked like the Salt River Rafters were on the verge of dropping a second straight game to the Glendale Desert Dogs, the bats came alive and pulled out the victory. The Rafters, who had been shut down for the bulk of the evening, scored five runs in the eighth inning on their way to a 5-1 win Thursday night at Salt River Fields.

Thursday night's matchup was also the second game to feature the 20-second pitch clock, which Major League Baseball's Pace of Game Committee is testing -- along with other time-saving measures -- in the Arizona Fall League. The game lasted two hours and 28 minutes, making the average of "pitch-clock games" a swift two hours and 21 minutes.

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Box score »

"It does affect it some," Rockies prospect Ryan Casteel said. "I see pitchers, not rushing, but they're getting the ball and going a little more. I think it's pretty effective."

Casteel and the Rafters were limited to just four hits over the first seven innings, but once the eighth came around, so did the offense.

Marlins shortstop Justin Bohn led off the inning with a single, and one out later, Astros outfielder Andrew Aplin tied the game with an RBI double into the right-field corner. D-backs prospect Brandon Drury worked a walk, and that set the stage for Casteel.

"We're clicking, timely hitting," Casteel said after the Rafters' seventh win in the past eight games. "We never quit either. We've got a good club, a good pitching staff. We're good all the way around. It's been fun, we've just got to keep it going."

The first baseman, who finished 2-for-4 and is now hitting .296 in the AFL, lined a single to left to give his team the lead.

"He was pretty quick to the plate, so I knew I had to get ready," Casteel said. "He left a slider up and fortunately I was able to get a piece of it."

Casteel hit .280 in 113 games with Double-A Tulsa this season -- his best batting average over the past four years -- and the 23-year-old hopes to continue trending upward in the AFL.

"I'm just trying to carry on what I've been doing offensively," Casteel said. "Just playing the game, getting more at-bats."

The Desert Dogs' lone run came in the top of the first when Corey Seager -- the No. 1 prospect in the Dodgers' organization according to MLBPipeline.com -- lined an RBI double off the 410-foot sign in straightaway center field.

Tigers prospect Robbie Ray also provided the Desert Dogs with a strong start as he threw three scoreless innings of one-hit ball.

Ray also was called for the only pitch-clock violation of the game, as he was unable to start the bottom of the first on time and was called for an automatic ball.

William Boor is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @wboor. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Brothers striving for greater consistency in 2015

Lefty reliever will be counted on to help improve Rockies' bullpen

Brothers striving for greater consistency in 2015

DENVER -- Rockies left-handed reliever Rex Brothers' control deserted him -- in the form of three walks and a wild pitch -- during the ugly eighth inning of a 5-4 loss to the Padres at Petco Park on April 14. But the aftermath was even more damaging.

"Did I necessarily leave it alone and move on?" Brothers said. "No, I didn't. That one stuck with me longer than it should have. You look up and you've had a three-week or a month bad stretch instead of a day or two bad stretch. You have to truly get it behind you and move on."

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The Rockies must pitch better as starters and relievers in 2015, and the club is expected to try to add impact performers for both. But part of the equation is improvement, or bounce-back years, from players in tow. It will help if Brothers, who turns 27 on Dec. 18 and is in his first offseason of arbitration eligibility, rebounds with greater consistency, and greater resiliency after inevitable bad games.

Brothers' 2014 began to unravel that night in San Diego. His bases-loaded wild pitch let in one run and the losing run scored on catcher Wilin Rosario's wild throw with Brothers covering the plate.

Brothers then allowed that night to become a defining moment in his season.

In 2013, Brothers posted 10.2 strikeouts, 4.8 walks and 6.8 hits per nine innings. Much of that production came in the closer role, as he filled in for the injured Rafael Betancourt. In 2014, strikeouts per nine dipped to 8.8, and walks and hits went up to 6.2 and 10.4, respectively. The homer rate per nine also increased, from 0.7 to 1.1.

Brothers established the lowest ERA for a reliever in club history in 2013, at 1.74 in 72 games. The ERA swelled to 5.59 in 74 games in '14, and the preseason notion of Brothers moving into the closer role became a dropped subject.

Brothers' appearance log doesn't clearly show that the Padres game spoiled his season. He threw scoreless ball in 14 of his following 16 outings. However, included in that period were three blown saves. Only Brothers could measure the true damage of the San Diego mess.

"It's the easiest and most cliché thing to say, to leave it behind you," Brothers said. "At the same time it's the hardest thing to do. Ultimately, when you don't just enjoy going out there competing with your teammates behind you, that's when those stumbling blocks eat you up.

"When you get back out there, you may give up a simple two-strike hit or something as small as that. You've got to be able to immediately wash it off, pick back up the target, pitch and carry on one pitch at a time. I think at times, I tried too hard to make it right."

If it was a mental break that Brothers needed, manager Walt Weiss could not provide it. Franklin Morales could have taken some of the left-handed relief opportunities, but injuries forced him into the starting rotation. Fellow lefty Boone Logan went to the disabled list three times with elbow injuries and once with a digestive ailment.

"Rex was the one lefty out there that I went to a lot," Weiss said. "It was tough to give him a breather during the season. He'll welcome this break and he'll be able to relax a little bit. But I don't doubt he's going to be an elite reliever next year."

Brothers insisted throughout the year that he didn't make an intentional mechanical change. But he wasn't right. He experienced the galling syndrome of throwing electric pitches warming up, then being flat and easy to hit once he entered the game. First batters burned him to the tune of a .365 on-base percentage, three doubles, three home runs and eight walks -- not numbers the Rockies need in a tight game.

"I have to stay athletic and fluid in my arm action and competing to the glove," Brothers said. "I've talked to other pitchers as well. Sometimes I've fallen into patterns of trying to be too fine or too cute, as I say. So I need to stay as athletic as I possibly can and fluid at the same time -- just compete to the strike zone.

"And at some point I've got to start having good results again."

Brothers received advice from teammates and coaches, but determined it was upon him to erase the San Diego game.

"These guys gave me what they had to make me better, and I appreciate it," he said. "But if I don't take it upon myself, nothing's ever going to change."

Brothers said he was in a good mental place before the season ended, even though consistency remained elusive. He has returned to Tennessee, will get married on Nov. 8, then return to the offseason program he used before the 2011-13 seasons -- a period that saw him post a 2.82 ERA to become a building block in the bullpen.

"This year has come and gone," he said. "I can tell you it's been a most trying season to me, but I've come out of it a better person and a better pitcher at the end."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, and like his Facebook page, Thomas Harding and Friends at www.Rockies.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Bridich's work as Rockies' GM already underway

Bridich's work as Rockies' GM already underway

DENVER -- Here are some items to watch in the early days of Jeff Bridich's time as the Rockies' general manager, based on conversations with various sources familiar with the situation:

Decisions, decisions

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Bridich will need an assistant GM, and a new player development director to take Bridich's old spot. Also, manager Walt Weiss will have discussions with Bridich to solidify next season's coaching staff.

Bridich, 37, is part of a younger group of club officials who are expected to have greater roles. Some of these officials in statistic analysis, contract negotiation and scouting areas were graduating to expanded duties. Even before the change, Weiss actively sought their information and assessments.

Weiss and former Rockies senior director of Major League operations Bill Geivett had exit interviews with players to set offseason expectations. With Bridich's voice carrying weight, he will meet with Weiss and talk to players who have scattered. Out of this discussion must come a cohesive strategy for trades and free-agency pursuits.

What is the role of ownership involvement

While there is no way to truly know without being in the meetings, the perception from the outside has been Geivett and former general manager/chief baseball officer Dan O'Dowd took information from the baseball side to owner, chairman and CEO Dick Monfort, and the info was hashed out until Monfort was comfortable with the decisions.

With a different structure, will Bridich make more decisions before they reach Monfort? What types of decisions will need to have ownership's direct involvement? Will Weiss's voice carry increased weight?

All questions about the process pale in comparison to the need that the decisions be sound.

Where do advanced analytics fit?

With the attention media pays to the role of advanced analytics on winning teams, the perception exists that they're ignored on struggling teams, but such an old school vs. new school scenario rarely is reality-based. Here's how it has been done in Colorado:

Weiss spent offseasons doing homework on the stats, ones that are common in the analytics community and ones the Rockies have devised that are unique to their roster and playing conditions (which they don't reveal publicly). During the year, the team's analysts share their findings daily with Weiss and the coaching staff, and Weiss said they were used in strategy and coaching. Analysts were not present in the strategy meetings, but their findings were.

By applying logic and talking to people familiar with the organization, the at-bat that creates runs or run-scoring opportunities, which can be called a team at-bat, carries heavier weight than other traditional measures. In their three playoff years, they had road batting averages of .247 (1995), .261 (2007) and .235 (2009) -- a wide variance. But in those years they averaged, respectively, 4.21, 4.71 and 4.19 runs per game.

Does Bridich, who meshes an analytics bent with a scout's eye, emphasize different measures that could affect strategy for free agency and trades?

How about the current roster?

We have offseason to consider questions. Here are some:

• Were catcher Michael McKenry and outfielders Corey Dickerson and Drew Stubbs as good as their offensive numbers, which blew away their previous performance?

• Did injuries cause catcher Wilin Rosario's offensive numbers to dip? Is his best output on offense enough to make up for defensive issues?

• How valuable are DJ LeMahieu's defensive metrics at the important second base position (according to the Fangraphs.com his 2014 defensive calculation ranked fourth in the Majors behind the Red Sox's Dustin Pedroia, the Tigers' Ian Kinsler and the Rays' Ben Zobrist). Does his offense lower his overall value to the middle of the pack?

• After a season of dramatic highs and lows in his first wire-to-wire season in the Majors, what can be projected out of center fielder Charlie Blackmon?

• Does late callup Ben Paulsen, who intends to add outfield play to his first-base skills, deserve an expanded role based on his run production in a small sample?

Pitching health

Frontline starters aren't going to flock to the Rockies or charge less than marked-up prices to pitch at altitude just because there's a new GM. But when the Rockies find creative ways to add impact to the rotation or the bullpen, can they do so without taking guys with risky injury backgrounds?

Take for example three pitchers whose seasons ended because of injuries -- righty starter Tyler Chatwood (Tommy John surgery to right elbow ligament), lefty reliever Boone Logan (left elbow cleanup), and lefty starter Brett Anderson (back surgery). All had signs of injury possibility. Chatwood had Tommy John surgery in high school, and the ligament put in his elbow then was at the stage where many break down. Logan had an elbow cleanup last October, but the Rockies signed him to a three-year, $16.5 million deal. Anderson had a long history of injuries -- elbow, foot, ankle -- with the Athletics before the Rockies acquired him last winter.

The biggest pitching decision is Anderson's $12 million club option for 2015. Do the Rockies exercise it knowing the injury history, or pass and seek a free agent of similar talent -- no doubt for more than one year and with a greater total salary commitment?

Even if they retain Anderson, the Rockies need to add impact in the rotation and the bullpen. And the decision to go with Bridich rather than bring in an outsider to remake the club and payroll means they're unlikely to deal shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, signed through 2020, and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, signed through 2017 -- stars whose 2014 seasons ended with August surgeries.

Anything can change. Gonzalez's contract makes him a more attractive trade target. But trading either before they have a chance to prove their health might not be possible, anyhow.

Still, impact pitching that can stay healthy screams as a need.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, and like his Facebook page, Thomas Harding and Friends at www.Rockies.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Helton enjoying postseason, likens Royals to 2007 Rockies

Former first baseman recently helped out at the Denver Rescue Mission

Helton enjoying postseason, likens Royals to 2007 Rockies

DENVER -- Former Rockies star first baseman Todd Helton watched as analysts at this year's American League Championship Series postgame show raved about how they'd never seen a postseason run from an off-the-radar team like the Royals.

Uh, Helton and the 2007 Rockies lived it.

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"It's funny that they said that," Helton said. "I'm watching that, and I'm thinking this is very similar to what we did. My best advice to the Royals would be to lose a game so they don't have to sit around and wait eight days to play."

Helton appeared Tuesday at the Denver Rescue Mission for a Hunt.Fish.Feed. event run by Sportsman Channel. Helton was helping to serve a venison chili prepared by Scott Leysath, host of "The Sporting Chef" on the Sportsman Channel. More than 300 people in need were served.

But Helton's heart is never far from baseball. And even though the Royals are the team of now, the Rockies of '07 are always at the front of Helton's mind.

A magical run that saw the '07 Rockies win 21 of 22 games and sweep the National League Division and Championship Series before the lengthy, momentum-killing break before the World Series. A seemingly rusty Rockies team was swept by the Red Sox in the World Series. But the Royals' run brings fond memories to Helton, who retired at the end of the '13 season. Helton spent 17 seasons in a Rockies uniform, with the sweetest time being the World Series trip.

"You see a team like that with the enthusiasm and passion with which they're playing, I think everybody's got to be rooting for them," Helton said. "I was also rooting for Chris Iannetta [a former teammate who played for the Angels in their ALDS loss to the Royals]. I'm rooting for Matt Holliday [with the Cardinals against the Giants in the NLCS] now, and he's doing pretty well. This is fun to watch."

Helton also texted well-wishes to Royals right-handed pitcher Jeremy Guthrie, who started Tuesday's Game 3 against the Orioles.

Guthrie and the Royals may not realize until much later the specialness of their undertaking.

"I remember how quickly it went," Helton said. "At the time it seemed like it took forever. But it blew by too quick. I wish I could've soaked a little more of the memories. But in that moment, in that time, a lot of things are going on. It's just a blur."

The first year of retirement for Helton brought much hunting and fishing. He and former Rockies teammate Brad Hawpe recently returned from a hunting safari in Africa. He also helped coach his daughter's softball team, and took naps.

While Helton has been enjoying a year away from the game, much has changed with his old team. Last week, longtime general manager Dan O'Dowd and senior vice president of Major League operations Bill Geivett resigned. Rockies owner, chairman and CEO Dick Monfort promoted Jeff Bridich from senior director of player development to the GM job.

"Dan had been there a long time, done a lot of great things for that organization," Helton said. "Maybe it was time to go. Maybe it wasn't. But sometimes you need some fresh ideas. Sometimes change is good. Hopefully, this is the change they need so on the field they're competitive next year."

The belief is there is a place in the Rockies' organization for Helton when he feels ready to return to the game. Two other franchises in town have hired some of their star players to set a new direction. The Denver Broncos turned to John Elway to run their football operation. Colorado Avalanche brought in Joe Sakic as GM, Patrick Roy as head coach and Adam Foote as defensive consultant. Helton has said he would take a year off before deciding whether he wanted to dip his toes back into the game.

He wasn't ready to say Tuesday, but he hasn't been in the job market.

"It's been about a year," Helton said with a smile. "My phone has not rung. But I keep my voicemail full and I don't answer the phone a lot. I'm not a slave to my phone."

The Sportsman Channel Hunt.Fish.Feed. program has fed more than 23,000 meals since its inception in '07, using game meat and fish donated by outdoors men and women. For example, the venison for the Denver event was donated by Fred and Michele Eichler, hosts of Sportsman Channel's "Easton Bowhunting TV." During his time out of baseball, maybe Helton can develop his own cuisine, although he has a ways to go.

"My recipes are improving every day," Helton said with a smile. "Christy [Helton's wife] makes elk meat spaghetti that's fabulous, but that's her recipe. For me, maybe it's a sautéed duck breast in light oil and seasoning -- salt and pepper. Just zap it real quick after a hunt. It's simple, quick. You can't cook duck too much or, personally, I think it's pretty tough to eat. Just whack it."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, and like his Facebook page, Thomas Harding and Friends at www.Rockies.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Rivals make GM, managerial changes to keep up in NL West

D-backs, Rockies and Padres shake up front office, dugout

Rivals make GM, managerial changes to keep up in NL West

As the Giants bid to win their third World Series title since 2010, most of the other members of the National League West have been busy restructuring in attempt to find the mix that might bring them the kind of consistent success San Francisco has gained with its stable and tenured management structure.

While Giants general manager Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy both stand as the longest-tenured National League employees in their respective roles, three other NL West members -- the D-backs, Padres and Rockies -- have all recently hired either a new GM or manager.

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Despite winning the division both of the past two years, the high-priced Dodgers might also get into this act if rumors about GM Ned Colletti being on the hot seat prove to be true.

The D-backs further altered the NL West landscape on Monday, when they announce they have filled their managerial vacancy with Chip Hale. As he gets his first taste of managing at the Major League level, Hale will be working with recently hired GM Dave Stewart, who was serving as a player agent until his former manager Tony La Russa provided him this new role in September.

"We wanted a guy with energy, we wanted a guy that was optimistic and will energize our ballclub, but as well be a part of the culture moving forward in the Diamondbacks organization," Stewart said of Hale, who spent the past three seasons as former D-backs manager Bob Melvin's bench coach in Oakland.

Having notched just one winning record in their past six seasons, the D-backs have made the most extensive changes among NL West clubs. These recent moves have been made courtesy of the information La Russa has gathered since May, when he was named Arizona's chief baseball officer.

Before jumping into the front-office executive scene, La Russa was a Hall of Fame manager who drew great respect from many of his players including Stewart, who served as an assistant GM for the A's and Padres before becoming an agent in 2002.

"There's not like walls of demarcation here," La Russa said when Stewart was hired. "That's not how we do it. You've got your priority, but the key is going to be a lot of coming together and soliciting opinions. A lot of times out of good baseball people, you produce a common decision."

Hale and Stewart will be introducing themselves to the NL West scene that has also welcomed Padres GM A.J. Preller and Rockies GM Jeff Bridich to the scene within the past six months. Like Stewart, Preller and Bridich have never previously held this role.

So, three of the NL West's five teams have hired a new GM since the beginning of August. This number would rise to four if the Dodgers do indeed opt to part ways with Colletti, who has been in his current position since the start of the 2006 season. At the other end of the spectrum, the Giants have been under the direction of Sabean since 1997 and Bochy since 2007.

While the Padres have employed Bud Black as their manager since Bochy exited this role after the 2006 season, Preller stands as the fourth GM they have used during this stint. Though the Rockies' front office has drawn much criticism and scrutiny over the past few years, the Rockies had employed Dan O'Dowd as their GM until Bridich was elevated to the role last week.

A Harvard University graduate, the 37-year-old Bridich will attempt to bring life to the Rockies, who have not won more than 74 games any of the past four seasons. He spent the past 10 seasons in Colorado's front office, the past three as the senior director of player development.

"We are not where we want to be, we know that," Bridich said. "We are not where we expect to be, we know that. But we do have people who are determined to get there. Make no mistake, this organization wants to win and this organization is determined to win."

With his aggressive passion for finding talent in Latin American and countless other locales with the Rangers, Preller established himself as one of the game's top scouts. Now, the 37-year-old Cornell graduate will attempt to gather talent for the Padres, who have posted a losing record in six of the past seven seasons.

"The Padres have hired themselves an absolute jewel. No one will outwork him. It's impossible to do. I find it hard to believe that he will be outsmarted," former Major League manager Jim Tracy told MLB.com in August. "In my opinion, the Padres have won the derby with this hire."

The D-backs and Rockies are hoping they are in fact the club that won the derby with their respective hires.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Weiss likes position switch for prospect Herrera

Manager also pleased with progress of pitcher Freeland, top hitters

Weiss likes position switch for prospect Herrera

DENVER -- The move of the Rockies' lanky, switch-hitting prospect Rosell Herrera from the infield to center field switched into high gear during the Rockies' recent fall instructional program, and manager Walt Weiss likes the early results.

Weiss spent several days at the Rockies' training center in Scottsdale, Ariz. He also left impressed with the top pick this year, left-handed starting pitcher Kyle Freeland, and a quartet of hitters who helped lift Asheville to the Class A South Atlantic League championship -- David Dahl, Correlle Prime, Raimel Tapia and Ryan McMahon.

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Herrera, who turns 22 on Oct. 16, led the South Atlantic League in batting at .343 and had a .419 on-base percentage at Asheville in 2013. This year at Class A Advanced Modesto, a wrist injury limited him to 72 games and helped create a statistical dropoff -- .244 average, .302 on-base. However, he was regarded highly enough to be invited to the SiriusXM Futures Game during All-Star weekend.

Herrera, listed at 6-3 and 190 pounds, played shortstop and third base this year, but he began practicing at center last fall and might have moved during this season if not for the injury. Weiss came away from Scottsdale understanding why the organization believes he is an impact player in the making.

"I saw a live bat," Weiss said. "I saw a kid with a ton of energy. It's a very athletic body. He's tall and wiry and runs very well -- a toolsy kid. He's quite projectable, when you look at him and his age."

The injury might have been a benefit. The problem bothered Herrera -- the Rockies' No. 6 prospect according to MLB.com -- during his big year in Asheville, but he hid it until it finally curtailed his offense. Scouts have wondered about his durability because of the whispy frame, but Weiss notes that Herrera's body is changing.

"He has a smaller frame, but I think that's going to change," Wiess said. "I can see he's already pretty tall, but I think he's still growing and he has room for growth physically. It's a live body and a live arm. He can play, that's for sure."

Freeland, a Denver native and former University of Evansville star taken by the Rockies with the No. 8 overall pick, made 10 professional starts, five at Rookie League Grand Junction and five at Asheville. He was 3-0 with a 1.15 ERA and held opponents to under one baserunner per inning (0.92 WHIP, or walks plus hits per inning pitched). He struck out 33 and walked six in 39 professional innings. Freeland is MLB.com's No. 4 prospect in the system.

"The Freeland kid looked good during the year, and how he looked when I saw him was very impressive," Weiss said. "It's a big-time arm, and his track record says he's always been a strike-thrower who doesn't walk people.

"Guys like that could be on the fast track, if they add polish to their game. Pitching is never an exact science. Our player development staff has a program for him. It's a matter of getting stronger, pitching and building up innings. There aren't any secrets to preparing a big league pitcher. It'll be interesting. He's a talented kid."

The right-handed hitting Prime, 20, a 12th-round Draft pick in 2012 out of Manatee High School in Bradenton, Fla., hit 21 home runs and drove in 102 runs for an Asheville squad that, according to scouts from outside the organization, possessed the highest volume of talent of any club in the Rockies' system. Prime was not a high pick, and he spent two seasons at Grand Junction, but he could find himself on prospect lists going into next season.

"He's a big kid [6-5, 222] with power, a big first baseman with a lot of raw ability," Weiss said.

Dahl, 20, a left-handed hitting center fielder and the No. 3 prospect on MLB.com's list, had a bounce-back year. After the Rockies took him with their top pick in 2012, Dahl hit .379 at Grand Junction and was named Pioneer League Most Valuable Player. But in 2013, Dahl was sent from Asheville to extended Spring Training because of a conduct issue, and after returning suffered a severe hamstring injury. He played just 10 games. This season, however, Dahl hit a combined .299 with a .355 OBP at Asheville and Modesto with 14 home runs, 55 RBIs and 28 stolen bases.

"Dahl is an athletic kid that can run and hit," Weiss said.

The Rockies have seen Tapia, 20, as a potential impact left-handed hitter since signing him out of the Dominican Republic. This season at Asheville, he finished with a .326 average -- after hitting just .244 in the first month -- with 32 doubles, 33 steals and a .382 OBP. He played left field.

"Tapia has a lightning bat," Weiss said. "He has terrific bat speed. We're talking about a pretty dynamic hitter."

McMahon, a left-handed hitting third baseman who turns 20 on Dec. 14, hit .282 with 18 home runs and tied Prime for the Asheville team lead in RBIs with 102. McMahon was a supplemental first-round Draft pick in 2013, meaning he accomplished all that offense in his first full professional season. He ranks seventh on the MLB.com prospect list.

"He's a good-looking player with rhythm and bat speed," Weiss said.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, and like his Facebook page, Thomas Harding and Friends at www.Rockies.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Passion for baseball defines new GM Bridich

Graduate of Harvard, tri-captain as player; joined Rockies operations in '04

Passion for baseball defines new GM Bridich

DENVER -- Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon recalls joining a group of Minor Leaguers on a lazy extended Spring Training day. Well, the day wasn't lazy as much as the players were -- until then-senior player-development director Jeff Bridich stepped among the guys in uniform.

Since graduating from Harvard University in 2000, Bridich built a career in professional baseball -- first in the office of the Commissioner of Baseball and since 2004 with the Rockies analyzing statistics, crunching payroll numbers and coming up with instruction. But a part of Bridich -- who was named Wednesday to replace Dan O'Dowd as the Rockies' general manager -- never stopped being the gritty catcher and outfielder who earned the honor of being a tri-captain his senior year.

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"We were playing sloppy, making mental errors," said Blackmon, who at the time was working his way back from injury. "And then someone didn't run down the line after getting jammed. Jeff stopped practice, came over and explained that we were better than that, and needed to start playing like it. It was good to see that kind of competiveness out of him.

"That says that he wants to be involved. He strikes me as a guy who really knows his X's and O's and can crunch the numbers on the front-office side of it, but he knows what players are going through. He played the game and remembers what it's like to be a player, which is something that you feel might get lost in the shuffle. That's good."

Bridich, 37, who joined the Rockies as manager of Minor League operations in 2004, does not have an extensive public profile, and that's by design. Before taking over the Minor League system late in the 2011 season, Bridich did much of the nuts-and-bolts work on contracts starting in 2006, when he was promoted to senior director of baseball operations.

But the exchange with the Rockies' Minor Leaguers helps explain what the Rockies saw in Bridich, who smiled when reminded of the exchange after his introductory news conference Wednesday.

"There were standards that weren't being met," Bridich said. "It was hot. People were feeling sorry for themselves. They were there for a reason. They weren't there just to go through paces."

Bridich moves to the top of an organization that has had four straight losing seasons, including a 66-96 record this year. Only a 64-98 performance by the D-backs kept the Rockies from turning in a third straight last-place finish in the National League West.

That would be the very definition of standards not being met -- a process Bridich and manager Walt Weiss, as well as others in a front office that will be reshaped, hope to reverse.

The promotion of Bridich is not exactly a clean break -- a situation that will be examined in traditional and social media. But none of that fazes Bridich. He owns his role in the successes and struggles of the past. He's not afraid to be challenged or to challenge. He freely credited O'Dowd for being a mentor and "father figure" in the game, but made clear that he brings his own ideas to the job.

"A lot of the good things that happened under Dan's time here as a leader and a lot of the bad things that happened and some of the challenges that we continue to face, those are shared," Bridich said. "If Dan were here, he would not just say 'I only did the good things and I have no responsibility for the bad things.' So I'm not going to shirk from that responsibility. I've been a part of this organization for 10 years."

Bridich takes the job as a virtual unknown outside of the baseball world. Several broadcasters mispronounced his last name (it's BRIDE-ich) in initial reports, even in the local media. Bridich resisted anything resembling self-promotion, even in a positive sense. It might have hurt in that his name didn't surface in connection to recent general-manager openings elsewhere, but inside people knew his qualifications.

"He's been a guy that most of the organization has looked at as a future GM from when he got here," said Weiss, who worked with the organization in a special advisory role in 2002-08 before becoming manager after the 2012 season. "Everybody saw this coming some time ago -- maybe not the way this went down, but he was a GM in the making."

Former Rockies outfielder Ryan Spilborghs, now an analyst on Rockies broadcasts for Root Sports Rocky Mountain, had a similar impression years ago of Bridich, who is just two years older.

"He's always carried himself that way, and part of that is because he's completely passionate about baseball," Spilborghs said. "He's analytical in the sense that he's willing to look at certain numbers that other GMs aren't. You have to. But at the same time you have to trust your eyesight.

"Knowing Jeff's background as being a former player, being in the fire and in the fight with guys, I really think he does use his baseball judgment, coupled with advanced metrics and analytics. That is impressive."

Bridich has not set a manifesto. Although his Harvard education and understanding of numbers paints an analytical picture, he pointed out that his time as player-development director allowed him to develop the "relational aspect" of management.

But whether it's crunching numbers, gathering ideas -- even dressing down players in uniform, if necessary -- Bridich is simply about identifying what's wrong and correcting it.

"We need to focus on four straight years of losing," Bridich said. "If you ask anybody in this organization, it's unacceptable. It's tiring. It's certainly not what people want and expect inside the organization. But we can expect a cohesive process moving forward."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, and like his Facebook page, Thomas Harding and Friends at www.Rockies.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

O'Dowd's decision to step down opens door

Rockies' farm director Bridich excited for new opportunity as GM

O'Dowd's decision to step down opens door

DENVER -- Dan O'Dowd knew it was time to move on.

Every job as a life expectancy. His tenure as the general manager of the Colorado Rockies had reached the end.

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So when he was offered a multiyear contract extension last week, he told owner Dick Monfort thanks but no thanks. O'Dowd chose to resign. It wasn't easy. But it was more than money. Things were no longer moving forward, and his value system is such that he wasn't going to keep a job just to have a job.

For 15 years he had been on the job, longer than any of his peers other than Billy Beane in Oakland, Brian Sabean in San Francisco and Brian Cashman of the Yankees.

And the last four seasons had been particularly challenging, the Rockies finishing in fourth place in the NL West twice, including this season, and last place the two other times.

Just five years ago things were looking up. The Rockies had advanced to the postseason in both 2007 and 2009, making their first and only World Series appearance in '07, and a long-range plan that O'Dowd put in place when he was hired prior to the 2000 season seemed to be working.

The core of the roster was homegrown, including pitchers who came up through the farm system and considered pitching in Coors Field as a badge of courage.

Late in the 2010 season, however, the subtle signs of a changing structure in the hierarchy were visible. With the Rockies battling for the division title, Bill Geivett, an assistant to O'Dowd at the time, informed the media and then-manager Jim Tracy that members of the media would no longer be allowed to have casual sessions with Tracy each afternoon. Geivett said he didn't want Tracy distracted from preparation.

One game out of first with 14 games remaining in the 2010 season, the Rockies lost 13 of their final 14. Since then, Geivett's role had grown to the point of having an office in the clubhouse, and he was a fixture in the manager's office, which led Tracy to resign and walk away from the final year of his contract following the 2012 season.

Two years later, it was O'Dowd who wasn't comfortable with how that role had evolved, and he too walked away. Jeff Bridich, who had been in the front office for the last decade, most recently as the farm director, was promoted to general manager.

The irony is that Geivett, who had evolved into having as much -- if not more -- power over the big league operation than O'Dowd, also left the organization on Monday in the aftermath of Bridich being given the role to oversee the organization.

Bridich, 37, does know the organization, having worked with O'Dowd the last decade, but he will face a major adjustment. His success will hinge a lot on being able to get a blend of veteran baseball men, along with the support staff already in place, to help him through the learning process of being a general manager.

The son of a high school football coach in Milwaukee and a graduate of Harvard, where he played baseball for four years, Bridich has a work ethic and a value system that is impressive, but will it translate into success in the new job?

He won't fail for a lack of work ethic.

A few years ago, Bridich was involved in a discussion about the quick ascension of young general managers. He admitted that was his ambition.

It was mentioned to him that many of the young rising stars had opened doors by befriending national media types so they would have a support group to banter their name about when GM jobs came open.

Bridich shook his head.

It wasn't his way.

He made it clear that as much as he wanted a chance to run a club, he wanted to get that opportunity as a result of his work ethic and feel for the game, not because he was able to create a public relations campaign.

It might have taken him a little longer than others.

The opportunity, however, has finally arrived with the Rockies.

Tracy Ringolsby is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Former Rox Minor Leaguer Laurent killed in crash

DENVER -- Former Rockies Minor League outfielder Chandler Laurent was killed Wednesday night when a car he was driving collided into the back of an 18-wheeler that had slowed in traffic on Interstate 12 near Covington, La., the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper reported Thursday, citing a Louisiana State Police report.

Laurent, who was to have turned 27 on Oct. 17, was a Rockies 21st-round pick out of Delgado Community College in New Orleans in the 2009 MLB First-Year Player Draft. He played in the Rockies' system through 2012, splitting that season between Class A teams Asheville and Modesto. Laurent appeared in four games last season with Sioux Falls of the independent American Association. In five total Minor League seasons, Laurent appeared in 273 games and batted .255 with 31 home runs and 143 RBIs.

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The paper reported that police believe Laurent was not impaired, but a blood sample was taken. Tests showed that the driver of the other vehicle did not show signs of alcohol impairment, either, the paper said. Laurent died at the scene.

The Rockies tweeted a statement Thursday: We're saddened by the death of former #Rockies Minor Leaguer Chandler Laurent. Our deepest condolences go out to his family & friends

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, and like his Facebook page, Thomas Harding and Friends at www.Rockies.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Back pain pulls prospect Butler out of AFL

Colorado's No. 2 prospect will not take part in Arizona Fall League

Back pain pulls prospect Butler out of AFL

DENVER -- Deciding to be careful with upper back and shoulder pain that showed up during his final 2014 start, Rockies right-hander Eddie Butler pulled out of his planned Arizona Fall League assignment after meeting with the club's training staff.

Butler, the No. 2 prospect in the Rockies' system, arrived in Scottsdale, Ariz., Friday, set to pitch for the Salt River Rafters in an effort to regain pitching mechanics that had gone awry. But after a long year that included a stint on the disabled list with a rotator cuff strain and the pain at the end of the year, the plan was changed to a rest and rehab regimen at the Rockies' training center, Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Scottsdale.

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"When I got here to Arizona, sat with the training staff and went over how things were going, they checked me out and said my body was fatigued," Butler said. "They said it would be a better idea for me to stay here and get stronger, rather than go pitch.

Butler missed time midseason because of a strained right rotator cuff, which showed up after his Major League debut on June 6. Butler rehabbed, then finished the season at Double-A Tulsa before returning to the Majors for two late-season starts -- a six-inning, one-run effort in a win over the D-backs on Sept. 20, and a 4 2/3-inning struggle in a loss to the Dodgers on Sept. 27.

After his final start, Butler reported unusual soreness in his upper back/shoulder area. The Rockies made the decision several days ago to remove him from the AFL club. It came to light Tuesday, the first day of scheduled games.

Butler said he visited with club physicians, who assured him that the upper-back pain was muscle fatigue that could be corrected with rest and rehab, and not a significant injury.

A supplemental first-round pick in '12, Butler became a top prospect in '13 when he displayed a 95-mph fastball and struck out 143 in 149 2/3 innings. He showed some of that fastball electricity during Spring Training, but during the regular season -- spent mostly at Double-A Tulsa -- his fastball velocity dipped to the low 90s and he struck out 69 in 117 1/3 Minor League innings, and three in 16 innings in the Majors.

Whether it was pain or poor mechanics, Butler felt he lost his optimal arm slot this season. The Fall League assignment was designed to give him consistent innings in hopes of regaining it. Now, Butler believes time off from pitching and his strengthening program will accomplish the same goal.

"I even talked to some scouts who saw me when I was in college," Butler said. "They mentioned things like, 'Your arm slot is not quite where it was when I scouted you a couple years ago.' I think by taking some time off and working on some physical things, it could kind of reset itself. I'll get the old muscle memory back, instead of going back to where I've been this year -- searching."

Like all teams, the Rockies want innings out of their starters. One method for pitching deep into games is forcing outs with early contact. That can be a drawback for a strikeout pitcher, since it takes at least three strikes for an out, as opposed to one on a ground ball. Although his strikeouts went down this year, Butler said he was not told to change his style or his mentality.

"It was the same mentality," Butler said. "The big difference was the maturity of the guys I was facing. In the lower levels they're much more free-swinging. Up here, they have a pitch or a location that they're looking for. It makes it tougher. Also, guys have a better two-strike approach here."

The Rockies have replaced Butler on the Salt River roster with right-hander Nelson Gonzalez, who made 47 relief appearances at Double-A Tulsa in '14 and went 6-3 with a 4.14 ERA. Gonzalez struck out 54 and walked 26 in 67 1/3 innings.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, and like his Facebook page, Thomas Harding and Friends at www.Rockies.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Bridich replaces O'Dowd as Rockies GM

Geivett, VP of Major League operations, also resigns

Bridich replaces O'Dowd as Rockies GM

DENVER -- Jeff Bridich, who has spent 10 seasons in the Rockies' front office, was promoted to general manager on Wednesday. Dan O'Dowd, the general manager since 1999 who in addition became chief baseball officer during the 2012 season, and Bill Geivett, who has been with the club since 2000 and became senior vice president of Major League operations in 2012, resigned.

"We are very fortunate to have an extremely bright, energetic and talented group of individuals currently within our own organization that are ready and eager to utilize their skills and experience," Rockies owner, chairman and CEO Dick Monfort said. "I know Jeff is anxious to begin working on the goal of putting a championship team on the field that the Rockies staff, our fans and our region deserve."

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The team held a news conference Wednesday at Coors Field.

"We are not where we want to be, we know that," Bridich said. "We are not where we expect to be, we know that. But we do have people who are determined to get there. Make no mistake, this organization wants to win and this organization is determined to win."

The overhaul comes on the heels of a 66-96 performance this year that represented the second-most losses in club history, and is more extensive than anticipated. Club officials ended the regular season believing there would be some reshuffling but nothing major. Front-office personnel began meeting late last week, and the new arrangement took focus during meetings on Tuesday.

The list of GMs is short in the 22-season history of the Rockies. Bob Gebhard held the job from the franchise's formative years through the 1999 season, when O'Dowd was hired.

Bridich, 37, is being promoted from senior director of player development, a title he has held since September 2011. He joined the Rockies in 2004 as manager of Minor League operations, and in 2006 became senior director of baseball operations -- a job that entailed contract issues, player transactions, payroll management, financial and statistical analysis and rules administration. During that period, Bridich was also instrumental in the team's strategy in arbitration cases.

Before joining the Rockies, Bridich worked in the Commissioner's Office from 2001-04 in the department of Minor League contracts and transactions.

Bridich, a Milwaukee native, played four seasons as a catcher and outfielder at Harvard University, graduating in 2000.

O'Dowd's tenure, which began on Sept. 20, 1999, was the fourth-longest currently in the Majors, behind those of the Giants' Brian Sabean (starting in 1996), the Athletics' Billy Beane (Oct. 17, 1997) and the Yankees' Brian Cashman (Feb. 3, 1998).

O'Dowd, 55, was instrumental in hiring four managers -- Buddy Bell (2000-02), Clint Hurdle (2002-09), Jim Tracy (2009-12) and Walt Weiss (2013-14), with Weiss being hired under the arrangement in which the club's day-to-day operation was overseen by Geivett.

The O'Dowd years included four winning seasons and two playoff appearances -- a surprise World Series trip in 2007 and an appearance in the National League Division Series in 2009. After the 2009 playoff appearance -- a season during which he replaced Hurdle (now the Pirates' manager) with Tracy -- O'Dowd's peers voted him The Sporting News' Major League Executive of the Year.

The Rockies went 83-79 in 2010, but late-season injuries and a difficult September stretch nixed a possible playoff run under Tracy. The Rockies have not had a winning season since.

Like Gebhard before him, O'Dowd tried many plans in an effort to overcome the challenge of pitching at a high altitude. The most radical was an experiment with a four-man starting rotation in 2012, at a time when the rotation was beset with injuries and ineffectiveness. The plan was abandoned before the season ended.

"Pitching is a global issue in baseball," Bridich said. "Any team, any organization, never feels like they have enough pitching, ever. ... Part of the reality here is we need to have very talented, highly talented [and] skilled pitchers and we need to have depth. I think it's fair to say that health, especially this past season, really hurt us.

"The altitude is part of our reality. Whatever. It's part of our reality, it's been part of our reality for 20 years. ... It's not something we think about a whole lot. I think the media and fans, I think they think about it a lot more than we do internally, because it is part of our reality and we're not going to use it as an excuse. We have been able to win in it."

When the Rockies shuffled their front office in late 2012, the setup had O'Dowd overseeing plans and policies in the Minor League system during the season and taking total charge during the offseason, with Geivett embedded with the club at home and on the road during the season. Geivett maintained an office in the Rockies' clubhouse area.

Geivett, 51, joined the Rockies' front office in November 2000, and oversaw player personnel and the Rockies' Minor League system before becoming the senior vice president of Major League operations, which carried the dual title of assistant GM. Under that arrangement, Geivett and Weiss were the main spokesmen when it came to the club's roster-building strategy.

Geivett was in charge of the Minor League system when it was named Baseball America's Organization of the Year in 2007.

Before joining the Rockies, Geivett worked in the front offices of the Expos, Rays and Dodgers, was a coach and instructor in the Yankees system, and coached at Loyola Marymount and Long Beach State. He played collegiate ball at the University of California-Santa Barbara and played four seasons as an infielder in the Angels system.

"I want to thank Dan and Bill for their years of commitment to the Rockies organization," Monfort said. "They have been friends and colleagues, and their families have been a part of the Rockies family for a very long time."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Morneau to play for MLB All-Stars in Japan games

MLB All-Stars to participate in five games against national team in November

Two of baseball's top hitters and one of its brightest young stars have been added to the roster of Major Leaguers that will represent Major League Baseball in the Japan All-Star Series in November.

The league announced on Tuesday that American League batting champion Jose Altuve, National League batting champion Justin Morneau and Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper were added to the roster, which already includes Robinson Cano, Adam Jones, Yasiel Puig and Albert Pujols.

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Red Sox manager John Farrell will manage the club, which will play a five-game series against "Samurai Japan," Japan's national team. Games will take place in Osaka, Tokyo and Sapporo, and two exhibition games will complement the five-game set.

The first exhibition game is scheduled to be played on Nov. 11, and the series is scheduled to run through Nov. 20.

Joey Nowak is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joeynowak. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Rockies hoping for more health, depth in 2015

Tulo, CarGo at full strength can help make Colorado a postseason contender

Rockies hoping for more health, depth in 2015

Days before the season ended, Rockies manager Walt Weiss thought back to those hopeful days of Spring Training, April and May. Back then, phrases like "if all goes right" and "barring injury" had not been rendered meaningless by misfortune and pain. With the season now over, Weiss is happy those caveats have meaning for 2015.

Yes, there are personnel areas that need to be improved for the Rockies' dreams of being a contender to come true. But soon, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez will go from names on the disabled list to flesh-and-blood -- and, yes, rehabbing -- stars. They may be subject to trade rumors, but more likely they'll be around in 2015.

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Tumors removed from fingers, pitchers breaking their catching hands, injuries under weird circumstances and poor road trips will be memories that can be erased.

The big difference between those hopeful pre- and early-season days and now is Weiss realizes the better-case scenarios, which would end up with the Rockies battling for the playoffs at the very least, have to come true next year.

"This year we were in position to do it, but for a variety of reasons it didn't happen," said Weiss, who will be in the second year of his three-year contract. "I've got to take responsibility for that, and I do.

"It's probably a tough sell, because we haven't performed well the last few years. But I still feel like we're within striking distance."

This year, as has been the case in recent years, the Rockies were not deep enough to withstand injuries. The good news is, according to club officials and feedback they're receiving from other teams, the Class A Asheville team's list of possible Major Leaguers is in double figures -- an unusually large number. But there are still gaps at the top of the system, which means the Rockies must acquire higher-quality depth, since they can't guarantee health.

During the rough season, outfielder Charlie Blackmon and Corey Dickerson emerged as offensive weapons, second-year third baseman Nolan Arenado's bat began to catch up with his already-acknowledged glove, and lefty Jorge De La Rosa re-signed to lead a starting staff that has some promise. But whether it's through trades or free agency, the Rockies simply have to add starting pitching depth and improve the bullpen. Whether it's from players improving or new blood, the Rockies must get better at executing and scoring runs on the road.

"We've got to take a big step forward next year, or at that point there probably are major changes on the horizon," Weiss said. "Some moves here and there, I think we're in position to do that. Again, we've got to go out and do it, not talk about it."

Potential free agents: LHP Brett Anderson ($12 million club option or $1.5 million buyout), RHP Matt Belisle, OF-1B Michael Cuddyer, RHP LaTroy Hawkins ($2.25 million club option or $250,000 buyout), RHP Nick Masset, LHP Franklin Morales.

Eligible for arbitration: RHP Jhoulys Chacin, RHP Jordan Lyles, C Michael McKenry, RHP Adam Ottavino, RHP Juan Nicasio, C Wilin Rosario, OF Drew Stubbs.

Rotation: Starters quietly improved after the All-Star break. As long as Chacin (rotator cuff and labrum damage) returns healthy to join De La Rosa at the top, there is a chance at a good rotation. Even with Anderson's health issues (he missed early time with a broken left index finger, and later a season-ending back injury), the club has to seriously consider bringing him back; his stuff was electric during his few healthy outings. Righty Jordan Lyles, whose changeup should become a greater weapon after an offseason to develop it, and rookie lefty Tyler Matzek are on the upswing. Righty prospects Christian Bergman and Eddie Butler finished the year in the Majors, and righty Jon Gray and lefty Tyler Anderson appear to be on their way. The key is depth, and it would do the club good to grab a veteran or two for the roster and some experience at the Triple-A level.

Bullpen: The Rockies are expected to re-sign Hawkins to hold down the closer role until someone else emerges. To give him company in the 40-plus club, expect Rafael Betancourt (who hits the big 4-0 in April) to attempt a comeback from 2013 elbow surgery. Ottavino could be that closer in waiting, after a second solid season. There are problems from the left, where Rex Brothers just completed an awful season after a stellar 2013, and Boone Logan had a second elbow cleanup procedure -- on a bone spur, a year after he had an operation for bone chips and a bone spur. Righties Juan Nicasio and Brooks Brown, and lefty Christian Friedrich -- all converted starters -- could be payroll-saving relievers if they turn out to be fits. But it would behoove the club to upgrade through trades or free agency.

Catcher: Expect the Rockies to get the temperature of American League clubs, which could give Rosario relief from behind-the-plate duty as a designated hitter, and see they can fill other holes in return. If that happens, though, look for them to join the sweepstakes for free agent Russell Martin or bring in a veteran catcher. They unearthed a gem, however, in McKenry, who was a pleasant surprise offensively and who took the No. 1 job late in the year while the Rockies were testing younger pitching. A payroll-saving option would be to count on McKenry as the starter and bring in a veteran backup.

First base: Justin Morneau turned out to be a shrewd signing as the veteran took home the NL batting title in 2014. After years of various injuries, he has finished the last two years healthy and productive. If Michael Cuddyer leaves, the club could give right-handed-hitting former No. 1 Draft pick Kyle Parker a shot at a combination of time at first base and in the outfield. Lefty-hitting Ben Paulsen performed well during callups, and could be a bat off the bench -- a valuable asset for a club whose payroll doesn't allow for a bigger-ticket veteran pinch-hitter.

Second base: By all rights, DJ LeMahieu should take home a Rawlings Gold Glove Award this offseason and become the third Rockies infielder with one of those -- Tulowitzki has two, Arenado has one and should get his second. He has provided some production and bat-handling late in the order. An argument could be made to seek a greater run-producer at that spot, but such a player is hard to find.

Third base: Arenado not only consistently produced highlight-level defense, but when other big hitters were out with injury he began to show the middle-of-the-order potential the Rockies saw when the picked him in the second round in 2009. When he was hurt, however, the dropoff to the other options was scary. But if the work of switch-hitting September callup Rafael Ynoa was for real, the Rockies may have their valuable low-cost utility guy.

Shortstop: The challenge becomes keeping Tulowitzki healthy. Part of that process could be giving him frequent days off early in the season. Josh Rutledge has shown the most comfort when playing short, but he has struggled at second and third. To fit on this roster, he has to become more versatile. Ynoa's emergence at season's end could allow the Rockies to seek to deal Rutledge to a team in need of a shortstop.

Outfield: The Rockies started the year with what seemed like too many outfielders. But with the injuries to Gonzalez and Cuddyer, it turned out the Rockies had enough. Blackmon earned an All-Star Game invitation, and if there'd been an All-Star gathering for the second half, Dickerson would have been invited. Drew Stubbs had his best overall season in a rotation of playing time, and Brandon Barnes showed value in a reserve role. Stubbs, headed into his third arbitration year, established his value enough that he could be dealt to fill other holes. While rumors of a Gonzalez deal will likely surface, the Rockies also could be bold and see what they could get for one of the younger outfielders. Such moves, however, aren't in the club's DNA.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, and like his Facebook page, Thomas Harding and Friends at www.Rockies.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Stars of tomorrow ready to shine as '14 AFL season begins

Stars of tomorrow ready to shine as '14 AFL season begins

Over its 23-year history, the Arizona Fall League has developed a reputation as a finishing school for baseball's top prospects. This year, once again, many of the game's best young players will gather in the desert, hoping to prove themselves in the same league that helped catapult Derek Jeter, Dustin Pedroia and Mike Trout to stardom.

When the AFL opens play Tuesday, the concentration of talent will again be readily apparent. Two of the three Opening Day games feature premium pitching matchups, and the third game is highlighted by two of the best shortstops in the Minor Leagues.

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The action begins at 3:35 p.m. ET when Peoria and right-hander Kyle Zimmer, the Royals' No. 2 prospect, visits Surprise and right-hander Taijuan Walker, whose last start was a complete game for the Mariners in the midst of their pennant race.

At the same time Tuesday afternoon, Glendale and shortstop Corey Seager, the Dodgers' No. 1 prospect, will host Mesa and shortstop Addison Russell, the Cubs' No. 2 prospect. The day ends with another pitchers' duel, as right-hander Tyler Glasnow, the Pirates' No. 1 prospect, will take the mound for Scottsdale at 9:35 p.m. ET at Salt River, facing right-hander Archie Bradley, the D-backs' No. 1 prospect.

Games with that level of talent are commonplace in the AFL, where 23 players ranked on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects list will play this season.

For the second year in a row, Byron Buxton, baseball's top ranked prospect, is among the top prospects playing in the desert this fall. Last year, the Twins' No. 1 prospect hit .212/.288/.404 in 12 games as a 19-year-old for Glendale. This year, he will be playing for Salt River as he tries to make up for lost time after missing most of the regular season due to injuries.

Buxton played in just 31 games during the regular season. A wrist injury he suffered during Spring Training delayed his start to the season and continued to hamper him throughout the first half with Class A Advanced Fort Myers. Then, in his first game after being promoted to Double-A New Britain in August, he suffered a concussion in a harrowing outfield collision and was sidelined for the final three weeks of the season.

Now healthy again, Buxton will be one of the most-watched players in the AFL. But his is far from the only storyline to watch over the next six weeks.

Making up for lost time
Like Buxton, several other players are headed to Arizona to make up for time they lost to injury during the regular season. Others who are taking advantage of the extra developmental time include outfielder Jesse Winker, the Reds' No. 2 prospect, and shortstop Tim Anderson, the White Sox's No. 2 prospect.

Many of the starting pitchers in the AFL are there because injuries prevented them from reaching their innings caps during the regular season. Bradley, Glasnow, Zimmer and Walker all spent part of this season on the disabled list, as did right-handers C.J. Edwards, the Cubs' No. 5 prospect, and Roberto Osuna, the Blue Jays' No. 5 prospect.

Recent Draft picks
Last year, just four months after he was selected second overall in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft, the Cubs sent third baseman Kris Bryant to the AFL. He hit .364/.457/.727 with six home runs in 20 games. He was named MVP and helped Mesa to the league championship game. That performance helped serve as a springboard for his historic '14 season, when he hit 43 home runs and reached Triple-A.

It is unlikely any player will be able to repeat Bryant's spectacular performance this season. But three members of the '14 Draft class will play in the AFL, led by shortstop Trea Turner, the Padres' No. 5 prospect. He was selected 13th overall in June and hit .323/.406/.448 with five home runs and 23 stolen bases in 69 games between short-season Eugene and Class A Fort Wayne.

In addition to the small group of '14 draftees, several members of the '13 Draft class will play in the AFL. Right-hander Mark Appel, the first overall pick last year, headlines the group. The Astros' No. 2 prospect had a rocky start to his first full professional season, but pitched much better after his promotion to Double-A Corpus Christi in July. He will try to build on that progress while pitching with Salt River this fall, where he joins Bradley and Buxton to form one of the most star-studded rosters in the league.

Pace of play
Major League Baseball announced last week a set of experimental rules designed to speed up the pace of play would be used in the AFL this year.

• A hitter must keep one foot inside the batter's box throughout his plate appearance, unless one of a few exceptions, such as a foul ball, occurs.

• Intentional walks will be called for by the manager and the batter will automatically take first base.

• There will be a maximum break of two minutes, five seconds between innings, with hitters required to be in the batter's box by the one-minute, 45-second mark. If either team doesn't comply, a ball or strike will be assessed accordingly.

• There will be a maximum of two minutes, 30 seconds allowed for pitching changes, including those that occur during an inning break. A ball will be called if a team takes too long.

• Each team will be permitted three "timeout" conferences covering any meeting involving pitchers and catchers, managers, coaches and batters. Timeouts during pitching changes and those that result from an injury or other emergency will not be counted toward the limit. Additionally, at Salt River home games, a 20-second pitch clock will be used. Those games will also include instant replay, as MLB continues to study potential modifications to the review system.

The experimental pace of play initiatives continue the AFL's tradition of being a testing lab for MLB's potential rule changes. Last year, the instant replay system was debuted in the AFL.

Defensive moves
Position changes often happen in a less-competitive environment than the AFL, but the league gives players who are moving around the diamond another chance to get experience.

This year, Josh Bell, the Pirates' No. 3 prospect, will be the most prominent player learning a new position. He has exclusively played the outfield in the Minor Leagues, but the Pirates already have a star-studded trio of young outfielders in the big leagues. So, this fall, Bell will try out first base, where he began taking ground balls during the regular season.

Although Peter O'Brien, the D-backs' No. 7 prospect, won't be changing positions when he catches for Salt River this fall, his progress defensively will be closely watched by evaluators. The 24-year old was a catcher in college, but has played four positions since the Yankees drafted him in the second round in '12.

The D-backs acquired O'Brien at the non-waiver Trade Deadline in exchange for Martin Prado, but injuries limited him to four games with his new club. The D-backs are sending him to the AFL as a catcher, and how he performs behind the plate over the next six weeks could inform his ultimate defensive home.

No matter where O'Brien ends up defensively, his offensive prowess gives him a chance to reach the Major Leagues. He hit 34 home runs in 106 games this season, ranking fifth among Minor Leaguers.

MLB.com's Top Prospects in AFL
1. Byron Buxton, OF, Twins
4. Francisco Lindor, SS, Indians
5. Addison Russell, SS, Cubs
9. Archie Bradley, RHP, D-backs
13. Corey Seager, SS, Dodgers
16. Tyler Glasnow, RHP, Pirates
29. Josh Bell, 1B, Pirates
38. Raul Mondesi, SS, Royals
40. Jesse Winker, OF, Reds
41. Mark Appel, RHP, Astros
47. Kyle Zimmer, RHP, Royals
49. D.J. Peterson, 3B, Mariners
53. C.J. Edwards, RHP, Cubs
60. Brandon Nimmo, OF, Mets
71. Hunter Renfroe, OF, Padres
82. Tim Anderson, SS, White Sox
84. Nick Williams, OF, Rangers
85. Daniel Robertson, SS, A's
86. Hunter Dozier, 3B, Royals
87. Miguel Almonte, RHP, Royals
88. Dalton Pompey, OF, Blue Jays
96. Trea Turner, SS, Padres
98. Matt Olson, 1B, A's

Teddy Cahill is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @tedcahill. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Injuries take their toll on Rockies in tough season

Club unable to rebound after multiple losses to lineup, rotation

Injuries take their toll on Rockies in tough season

The number of injuries, and the strangeness of some of them, are well-documented factors in a Rockies season that started promising, but descended into a fourth straight below-.500 season. But manager Walt Weiss realizes that much losing turns reasons into excuses in the eyes of fans.

"We've got to earn the benefit of the doubt around here," Weiss said. "The last couple years, finishing in last place, you don't get the benefit of the doubt. We've had a lot of injuries, obviously, but we tried not to focus too much on that."

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The Rockies can refuse to focus on the injuries, but it would be tough not to see and acknowledge them. Some are hard to forget.

Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki's standout season ended when he suffered a left hip injury just after his All-Star Game appearance and underwent season-ending surgery in August. Left fielder Carlos Gonzalez struggled early because of a tumor in his left middle finger, which was removed in June, and suffered a knee injury that led to season-ending surgery around the same time as Tulowitzki's operation.

The season also saw 2013 National League batting champ Michael Cuddyer miss time twice with left hamstring injuries, and in between he lost 60 games when he suffered a fractured left shoulder while diving for a ball while playing third base. It was a position he hadn't played at since 2010. He was playing third because 2013 rookie Rawlings Gold Glove Award winner Nolan Arenado suffered a broken left middle finger. Power-hitting catcher Wilin Rosario missed time with the flu early, and dealt with left hand and wrist issues throughout the season.

Starting pitching injuries, of course, were a problem. Righty Jhoulys Chacin, who was supposed to join lefty Jorge De La Rosa at the top of the rotation, suffered a right shoulder injury before even throwing a bullpen session in Spring Training, and made just 11 starts before being shelved for the year.

Then came the unusual injuries. Lefty Brett Anderson broke his left index finger hitting a pitch off the end of his bat in his third start and missed three months, and five starts after his return he suffered a season-ending back injury. Right-handers Jordan Lyles and Christian Bergman each ended up breaking their non-throwing hands.

Sure the injuries were extreme in their number and nature, but there was no escaping that they exposed a lack of depth in the system. Part of it is the Rockies' salary structure doesn't allow big spending on pitching and bench experience, but they didn't have enough viable players from their farm system to remain competitive.

"We feel like when we got all our pieces together we're a good club and we were a very good club early," Weiss said. "But you know what? That's part of the game. We got hit hard this year, but like I said, you've got to adapt and overcome those things."

Defining moment: By early May, the disturbing patterns of injuries and poor road play were creeping into the season. After starting 8-8 away from Coors, the team went 2-5 on its next road trip. Cuddyer was not long off the first of his three trips to the DL, and Gonzalez was resting, hoping his finger would heal. Anderson was already hurt, and Chacin was back from his Spring Training injury, but nowhere near form. Still, with Tulowitzki putting up MVP numbers, the Rockies entered a May 23 game against the Braves 26-22 and four games out of first place.

But in the second inning, Arenado suffered the broken left middle finger when he jammed it jammed into second base on a head-first slide as he hustled out a double. Then the Rockies went on a season-killing slide of their own -- 10-27 with Arenado out of the lineup. In a year of so many injuries, that one seemed to be the tipping point.

What went right: Imagine what the signing of first baseman Justin Morneau, for two years and $12.5 million, could have done for the Rockies had the team around him stayed healthy. Morneau went on to win the NL batting crown with a .319 average, but Tulowitzki had a much higher average (.340) when he went out, and Cuddyer finished with a higher mark in and around his injuries.

For a club with a moderate payroll to succeed, multiple young players have to make major strides. Although it wasn't nearly enough, the Rockies had some. Charlie Blackmon, in his first year starting in center field and first full big-league year, was one of the most productive leadoff men in the league in terms of home runs and stolen bases. Outfielder Corey Dickerson's hitting made him difficult to keep out of the lineup. Righty Adam Ottavino displayed an electric slider throughout, found increased fastball velocity as the year progressed and just might be the closer of the future. Lefty Tyler Matzek, the 2009 No. 1 Draft pick, was by far the best of the pitchers called from the Minors. Also, catcher Michael McKenry, who made a quick comeback from knee surgery last year with the Pirates, provided unexpectedly strong offensive numbers. Closer LaTroy Hawkins, who was supposed to gracefully bow out of the closer role, didn't, and had a solid season.

What went wrong: Successful Rockies teams have covered for injuries and inexperience with a solid bullpen. To help ensure themselves of such, they signed lefty Boone Logan to a three-year, $16.5 million contract -- the richest they had ever given a reliever. But Logan was coming off surgery for bone chips and a bone spur. He constantly battled elbow inflammation, and a bout with a digestive ailment to boot, and finally ended his season early for a follow-up bone spur procedure. Add to that to total meltdown of lefty Rex Brothers, who had a sub 2.00 ERA last year but was prone to walks and home runs this time, and the bullpen spent the year on the run. The starting rotation -- between the injuries and the struggles of righty Juan Nicasio and lefty Franklin Morales to avoid homers -- left a bullpen already dealing with problems with a large innings load.

Biggest surprise: The Rockies entered Spring Training needing to answer a question at the top of the order, but Weiss planned on Blackmon all along. Blackmon started the year at a pace that no hitter could keep and ended up in the All-Star Game. Although he struggled after the break, Blackmon more than adequately filled what many observers felt was a vexing problem.

Hitter of the Year: The way Tulowitzki, Cuddyer and Morneau produced, the healthiest hitter would win. It turned out to be Morneau, who missed some time around the All-Star break with a neck strain, but otherwise was healthy and productive on his way to a National League batting title.

Morneau had dealt with injuries in his final seasons in Minnesota, but proved his health this year. Also, he put up solid home/road splits -- a major problem for players throughout the history of the franchise.

Pitcher of the Year: De La Rosa's 10-2 home record with a 3.08 ERA and a .228 batting average against were more than just gaudy stats. They offered a counterpoint to the notion that Coors Field will claim any good pitcher's career. Well, De La Rosa is 45-14 with a 3.98 ERA in 81 starts at Coors. De La Rosa further perfected his blueprint for Coors pitching by adding a cut fastball, which helped him work inside to right-handers and set up his fastball and his main pitch, the changeup. The way he works hitters on both sides of the plate is serving as a teaching tool for younger hurlers such as Lyles, who added a changeup during the season, and rookie righty Christian Bergman, who works well inside against right-handers, but is developing a curveball for the other side of the plate.

Rookie of the Year: The Rockies toyed with making Matzek a reliever, sending him to the Arizona Fall League last year to convert and using him in that capacity this spring, before deciding he was more valuable as rotation depth. When Matzek received his chance, he found the control and location that had been iffy earlier in his career. His 3.55 ERA after the All-Star break was fourth-lowest among NL rookies starters.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, and like his Facebook page, Thomas Harding and Friends at www.Rockies.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Morneau claims NL batting title with .319 average

First baseman clinches ninth title in Rockies' history, enters off bench in finale

Morneau claims NL batting title with .319 average

LOS ANGELES -- Rockies first baseman Justin Morneau began this year in a big-hitting lineup but ended it without his heavy-hitting friends. Still, he won his first National League batting title.

Morneau grounded out as a pinch-hitter in his only at-bat Sunday to finish with a .319 batting average. It is the ninth batting title in club history, by the seventh different player, and the Rockies' third in the last five years.

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This season, Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki was leading the league at .340 but underwent season-ending left hip surgery in August. Michael Cuddyer entered Sunday's season finale against the Dodgers at .332, but he spent 99 games on the disabled list with various injuries and did not reach the necessary 502 plate appearances to qualify. Morneau missed time with neck stiffness but managed to play 135 games.

"The first half when we had everyone together, it was just going out there every day and trying to do your job, be a part of it," Morneau said. "But losing Tulo, losing 'CarGo' [former NL batting champ Carlos Gonzalez], and missing Cuddy for a lot of the time, missing Nolan [Arenado], it was tough. But you have a job to do."

Morneau clinched the batting title before entering the game Sunday. The Pirates' Josh Harrison, who was the closest challenger, went 0-for-4 in his team's loss to the Reds to drop to .315. The Pirates' Andrew McCutchen ended at .314.

Believing it important to help Morneau secure the crown in a season when the Rockies were out of the race early, manager Walt Weiss did not start Morneau on Saturday night with Harrison a point behind. Weiss repeated the decision Sunday.

There was a possibility that the issue would not be settled Sunday. Had the Pirates won and the Cardinals lost, they would have gone to a 163rd regular-season game to decide the NL Central title. But the loss left the Pirates as a Wild Card team and the Cards as division champion.

Morneau was one of the Majors' top stars in the American League with the Twins before he suffered a concussion in 2010. The aftermath of the concussion, along with neck and wrist injuries, cut his availability and effectiveness. But Morneau managed to play in 152 games last season with the Twins and the Pirates, batting .259. The performance led the Rockies to sign Morneau for two years at $12.5 million.

Within the game, it is generally appreciated when the manager of a team in the Rockies' situation helps a player achieve a career milestone. Some media and fans spoke against the Rockies' strategy, but Weiss was having none of the criticism.

"Anybody who has a problem with it, then their beef can be with me," Weiss said. "I'm going to try and make sure the guy wins the batting title. People can talk about backing into it and stuff, but that doesn't bother me. It takes six months to win a batting title, not one day."

In the AL, the Astros' Jose Altuve talked his way into the lineup rather than sit with a three-point lead over the Tigers' Victor Martinez. Altuve went 2-for-4 to improve his average a point, to .341, for the first batting crown in Astros history. The Astros tweeted before the game that Altuve had talked his way into the lineup.

Morneau was fine with Weiss' strategy.

"Last night it was, 'Let's see how it goes,'" Morneau said. "Today I came in ready to play, and he just said, 'We're going to sit you out and let it play as it is.'

"You work all year for it, so it doesn't come down to the last two games. There were games I sat during the year and time I spent on the DL. It's a little different if you play 160 and stop at the end. I trusted what the manager was telling me and it worked out."

In a pitching-dominant 2014 season, Morneau's is the lowest batting average for an NL champion since Terry Pendleton hit .319 for the Braves in 1991. Tony Gwynn won the NL title in 1988 at .313. The last time an AL batting champ had a lower average was 1972, when the Twins' Rod Carew hit .318.

Rockies batting champs

1993 -- Andres Galarraga, .370
1998 -- Larry Walker, .363
1999 -- Larry Walker, .379
2000 -- Todd Helton, .372
2001 -- Larry Walker, .350
2007 -- Matt Holliday, .340
2010 -- Carlos Gonzalez, .336
2013 -- Michael Cuddyer, .331
2014 -- Justin Morneau, .319

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, and like his Facebook page, Thomas Harding and Friends at www.Rockies.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Rockies unable to crash LA's party in finale

Morneau enters as pinch-hitter after clinching NL batting crown

Rockies unable to crash LA's party in finale

LOS ANGELES -- Four batters into the bottom of the first inning, Matt Kemp launched a two-run homer into the left-field stands at Dodger Stadium. For one final time in 2014 -- and too many times, frankly -- the Rockies were merely guests at someone else's party.

The National League West champion Dodgers slammed the Rockies, 10-5, to complete a season-ending three-game sweep. Although the Rockies avoided last place in the NL West after consecutive basement finishes, their 66-96 record is second worst in the club's 22-season history. Their 21-60 road mark was a franchise low, as were the 255 road runs.

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Manager Walt Weiss, who has talked so often about road woes but knows they're a subject until the Rockies can reverse them, gave the team an encouraging but direct postgame message.

"I told them how much I appreciate the way they showed up every day, especially through the toughest of times this year -- they never wavered in that department," Weiss said. "I also told them we have a lot of work to do, and to get their minds right this offseason. Take a break, then get back to work and be ready to turn this thing around next year.

"I'm ready for a break."

The Dodgers were led by Kemp's 25th homer of the year and Adrian Gonzalez's three-run shot in the fifth, his 27th. Both came off Rockies right-handed starter Christian Bergman (3-5). Roger Bernadina added his first homer of the season, for three runs in the sixth, off reliever Rob Scahill. The homers were part of a good time had by all the Dodgers, who cackled as manager Don Mattingly turned the team over for the day to veteran infielder Juan Uribe, whose career began with the Rockies in 2001.

The Rockies had some cause to celebrate. Justin Morneau won the ninth batting title in club history with a .319 average. Weiss didn't start Morneau to protect his lead over the Pirates' Josh Harrison, who finished at .315 after going 0-for-4 in his team's regular-season finale Sunday. Morneau grounded out as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning Sunday, but his average did not change.

"The thing I'll be most proud of is the consistency," Morneau said. "You go through a year and you hit .450 for a couple of weeks, then you go 0-for-30. But it doesn't have to go that way."

Producing on the road is only part of what went wrong for the Rockies. Staying healthy also was a problem, and Sunday illustrated it.

With Michael Cuddyer also out for the finale, the Rockies' starting lineup included just two Opening Day starters -- outfielder Charlie Blackmon and catcher Wilin Rosario, who opened the eighth with his 13th homer of the season.

 The Rockies' Rafael Ynoa, a former Dodgers farmhand, delivered a three-run double in the seventh.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, and like his Facebook page, Thomas Harding and Friends at www.Rockies.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Hawkins logs 1,000th career appearance

Hawkins logs 1,000th career appearance

LOS ANGELES -- Rockies right-hander LaTroy Hawkins has achieved a dependability that makes calling upon him routine. But Hawkins has fulfilled his routine so long and so well that the latest outing was a special occasion.

By retiring the only batter he faced on Saturday night's 6-5, 12-inning loss to the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium, Hawkins became the 16th pitcher in Major League history to appear in his 1,000th game. He is two games out of 15th place, held by Hall of Famer Goose Gossage.

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"It' a very humbling accomplishment … when I get back to my room tonight, I'll sit down and think about it a little bit more," Hawkins said.

Hawkins forced a Darwin Barney fly ball to left field in the eighth, with the Rockies trailing by one run. Ben Paulsen's leadoff homer in the top of the ninth tied it, but the Rockies lost on lefty reliever Franklin Morales' wild pitch with a runner on third in the 12th.

Still, the occasion was celebrated. The team gathered in the clubhouse dining room and presented Hawkins with a bottle of Dom Perignon champagne and acknowledged and applauded the accomplishment.

"It was a good moment, and I feel privileged to be a part of it, to be able to hand him the ball for his 1,000th," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said.

The night was special from the beginning. Hawkins was one of several Major Leaguers to help the Jackie Robinson West youth team with expenses for its trek to the Little League World Series, where it won the U.S. championship. The team was honored on the field at Dodger Stadium before the game. Hawkins grew up in Gary, Ind., and as a Little Leaguer played against the Jackie Robinson West program.

Hawkins also said a couple of former teammates -- he has many, having played on 10 teams, including making two tours with the Rockies -- made it even more special.

"One of the coolest things was my buddy, Eddie Guardado, and his family were in the stands -- Eddie hadn't been to a baseball game since he retired," said Hawkins, who was mentored by Guaradado when he broke in with the Twins in 1995. "He was one of the guys that was so consistent. We just followed him. His routine was so etched in stone that we followed him.

"And Glendon Rusch, one of my teammates in Chicago 10 years ago, gave me a bottle of Insignia 2000, and he signed it for me. He's a class act."

Hawkins began his career as a starter until going to the bullpen in 2000, and has pitched 1,428 2/3 career innings. The Rockies hold an option for 2015 worth $2.25 million.

"I do know I want to do it one more year, for sure," Hawkins said. "I would love for it to be here. I've been with 10 different teams, so you never know for sure. I would love to be back and I hope they would love to have me."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, and like his Facebook page, Thomas Harding and Friends at www.Rockies.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Morales' wild pitch spoils Hawkins' milestone night

Paulsen forced extra innings with game-tying homer in ninth

Morales' wild pitch spoils Hawkins' milestone night

LOS ANGELES -- The Rockies nearly made a milestone night for relief pitcher LaTroy Hawkins one to savor, but fellow reliever Franklin Morales' wildness in the 12th inning made it another loss -- 6-5 to the Dodgers in 11 innings.

After Hawkins forced a Darwin Barney fly ball to end the eighth and became the 16th pitcher in history to make 1,000 appearances, pinch-hitter Ben Paulsen tied the game with a first-pitch homer off Paco Rodriguez -- Paulsen's fourth homer of the season and second in as many nights -- to lead off the top of the ninth.

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Hawkins, 41, who could return next season on a $2.25 million club option, is two appearances behind Hall of Famer Goose Gossage, in 15th place.

"I had a lot of managers that had a lot of faith in me, a lot of good teammates, a lot of good mentors in the game, and plenty of blessings from the man upstairs to stay healthy," Hawkins said.

Rockies reliever Matt Belisle pitched scoreless ball in the 10th and 11th. But the Rockies (66-95) -- who must win Sunday's regular-season finale to avoid finishing with the second-worst record in club history -- would fall to a Dodgers squad that has clinched the National League West.

Morales (6-9) gave up a Scott Van Slyke single and hit Tim Federowicz. Van Slyke stole third, and scored on a Morales wild pitch. It made a winner of righty Carlos Frias (1-1), who threw three scoreless and hitless innings.

Early, right-handed prospect Eddie Butler showed some of the promise that made Rockies fans anticipate his arrival -- before the Dodgers delivered harsh lessons, to the tune of five runs and eight hits in 4 2/3 innings.

Butler, 23, a supplemental first-round pick in 2012 out of Radford University, gave up Adrian Gonzalez's 26th homer of the season for a 1-0 deficit in the first. But he stayed just ahead of hitters and, thanks to 2010 No. 1 pick Kyle Parker's first career RBI on a double in the fourth and Rafael Ynoa's RBI single in the fifth, he carried a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the fifth against the Dodgers and starter Dan Haren.

"My two-seamer worked early, but somewhere about the third inning it started going away -- I started losing the feel for everything," Butler said.

In the Dodger fifth, Yasiel Puig reached on a one-out fielder's choice, stole second and took third on catcher Michael McKenry's wild throw. Van Slyke singled through a drawn-in infield, and Matt Kemp added an RBI double. Andre Ethier would later add an RBI double. A.J. Ellis added an RBI single off Juan Nicasio for a 5-2 Dodgers lead.

Butler made his Major League debut against the Dodgers in a loss on June 6, but suffered a right rotator cuff strain in that game. After recovery and rehab he finished up in the Minors and two more Major League starts. But he will go to the Arizona Fall League next week to continue pitching to regain his form.

McKenry and Parker singled with one out in the sixth off Jamey Wright, and Charlie Culberson's RBI single cut the difference to two runs. McKenry opened the eighth with his eighth home run of the season, off Yimi Garcia.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, and like his Facebook page, Thomas Harding and Friends at www.Rockies.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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LeMahieu to undergo MRI on knee sprain

LeMahieu to undergo MRI on knee sprain

LOS ANGELES -- Rockies second baseman DJ LeMahieu will undergo an MRI on Monday to assess the damage in his sprained left knee, the Rockies said Saturday.

Rockies head athletic trainer Keith Dugger said he does not believe the injury will require surgery, but the club has ordered an MRI to make sure. LeMahieu reported that he had difficulty walking because of pain.

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LeMahieu sustained the injury sliding to field a ground ball during Friday night's 7-4 loss, and left the game when he could not push off the leg. LeMahieu, a Rawlings Gold Glove Award candidate, will end the season with a .267 batting average, five home runs, 42 RBIs, a .315 on-base percentage and a .348 slugging percentage in 149 games.

Nolan Arenado, the defending Gold Glove winner at third, and LeMahieu are considered the Rockies' legitimate candidates for Gold Gloves.

While the glove was consistently special, LeMahieu had better hitting before the All-Star break (.282, .351 OBP) than after (.246, .280). LeMahieu is called upon to handle the bat in the No. 8 spot in the order.

"He's establishing himself as a very steady, reliable player in this league, and there's a lot to be said for that," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "You're going to see him get better and better offensively. You're going to see him slug a little bit more -- I'm not talking about home runs, I'm talking about doubles. You're going to see him hit for a higher average. I believe that because of his instincts, his baseball instincts."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, and like his Facebook page, Thomas Harding and Friends at www.Rockies.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Dickerson's season ends as he awaits first child

Outfielder enjoyed breakout campaign, hitting .312 with 24 HRs, 76 RBIs

Dickerson's season ends as he awaits first child

DENVER -- Rockies outfielder Corey Dickerson will spend the final days of his breakout season at home with his wife, Beth Anne, who is due to have the couple's first child, the club announced Friday.

Dickerson spent all but a few early-season days in the Majors, beginning as a part-time player but earning full-time duty on his way to hitting .312 with 24 home runs in 131 games.

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His 76 RBIs were second on the team behind Justin Morneau's 82.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, and like his Facebook page, Thomas Harding and Friends at www.Rockies.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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NL batting leader Morneau powers up in defeat

Average at .319 after 2-for-3 night; Lyles loses steam in sixth

NL batting leader Morneau powers up in defeat

LOS ANGELES -- Not that the Rockies wanted it, but they witnessed Friday night how a playoff team finds ways to ignite when a game seemingly is going the wrong way.

National League batting leader Justin Morneau's two-run homer helped the Rockies to a lead after three innings and righty Jordan Lyles seemingly had the game under control. But the NL West champion Dodgers scored six sixth-inning runs and won, 7-4, at Dodger Stadium.

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"They have a really good lineup -- that's why they won their division," Lyles said. "They've got a good pitching staff to go along with it. You've got to bear down on all eight guys in the lineup."

For what it's worth, the D-backs clinched last place in the NL West with their 7-6, 10-inning loss to the Cardinals on Friday night. The Rockies finished the last two seasons in the cellar.

Even in such a year, the Rockies have a player at the top of a significant individual list.

Morneau went 2-for-3 with his 17th homer of the season -- a shot to the opposite gap in left-center to drive in two of three third-inning runs against Dodgers starter Roberto Hernandez. Morneau lifted his batting average to .319. He is being trailed by two Pirates -- Josh Harrison at .318 and Andrew McCutchen at .314.

"It's very cool to see the season 'Morney' has put together, especially after all the stuff that he's been through," said Rockies manager Walt Weiss, referring to a period of injury that started with a debilitating concussion Morneau suffered in 2010 with the Twins. "He's one of those guys you pull extra-hard for, and he's doing it down to the last out of the season."

Lyles (7-4) recorded all four of his strikeouts in the first five innings and entered the sixth with a 3-1 lead. But four of the first five batters singled, with Scott Van Slyke driving in a run and Justin Turner knocking in two. A key hit was Dee Gordon's bunt single -- his third hit -- to put runners at first and second. In the third, Gordon ended up with a double on a smash off Lyles' left foot that barely cleared the infield.

"This is the second or third time he's had an infield double off me," Lyles said.

Rockies lefty Franklin Morales entered but didn't retire a batter; instead he walked two and gave up two hits, including Juan Uribe's two-run single. Darwin Barney, who began the sixth with a single off Lyles, ended the scoring in the inning with a sacrifice fly against Rob Scahill.

Rockies second baseman DJ LeMahieu, who is considered a prime candidate for a Rawlings Gold Glove Award that would be the first of his career, left the game in the sixth with a left knee sprain -- suffered while fielding Turner's single in short center field. He is listed as day to day with two games left in the season.

Rockies reliever LaTroy Hawkins entered in the bottom of the eighth to record his 999th career appearance. He is 16th on the all-time pitching list.

Ben Paulsen, who took over for Morneau at first base in the bottom of the seventh, capped the scoring with a solo shot in the ninth.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, and like his Facebook page, Thomas Harding and Friends at www.Rockies.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Doyle enjoys time as hitting coach despite road numbers

Doyle enjoys time as hitting coach despite road numbers

SAN DIEGO -- Rockies hitting coach Blake Doyle spent well more than an hour Wednesday making underhand tosses and exchanged pleasantries with Rafael Ynoa and Cristhian Adames, two recent callups he's getting to know, and he worked in some hit-and-run advice. When veteran Justin Morneau stepped into the cage and blasted liner after liner, Doyle told him, "Your swing is the best it's ever been."

Doyle worked with most of the hitters, sweating and smiling. At 60, Doyle is on a Major League coaching staff for the first time and loving it. The team's record and the stat sheet, which is full of ugly road numbers that must improve if the Rockies hope to contend next season, can't dampen his joy.

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"I knew exactly what to expect," Doyle said. "What I did not expect is it going so quickly. I kept waiting for the grind. It never came.

"There's a reason for that -- the relationship I have with the guys, and the guys have with me, and the coaches' clubhouse. It was a lot of fun through a lot of adversity."

The road numbers make it seem as if the Rockies, whose injuries have have been a sad and continuing story, have nothing but adversity.

Going into Friday night's opener of a three-game set at Dodger Stadium to conclude the season, the Rockies have a .227 batting average, which is second-lowest in the National League and one point higher than the club record-low, in 2010. Colorado also ranks last in the NL in road runs with 241 and on-base percentage at .278, the lowest in club history. The 703 strikeouts are tops in team history.

Doyle doesn't hide from those numbers, but many other stats glow for the Rockies despite their 66-93 record (21-57 on the road). The overall batting average going into Thursday was tied with the Tigers for the Major League lead at .277 (Detroit had played one more game). The Rockies were third in the Majors with 741 runs.

"We've got guys that never give up," Doyle said. "We lead all of baseball in hitting when we're behind [at .279, 10 points better that second-best Tigers]. That is indicative of the kind of player that [manager] Walt [Weiss] wants on this team. When you're always fighting, there's no time to relax and there's no time to think about the bad stuff."

It's exactly what Weiss wanted after Dante Bichette resigned after one year to spend more time at home.

A Minor Leaguer in the '70s, Doyle and his brothers -- former Major Leaguers Denny and Brian -- built a business in Orlando tutoring players, from pee-wees to pros. One of those players was a young Weiss, whom Blake Doyle converted from pitcher to shortstop at age 14. Weiss and many other top-level players kept coming to Doyle throughout their pro careers. It was a greater volume of players than a Major League team -- even one like the Rockies, whose cast changed constantly because of injuries.

Weiss' reservation was the workload under Major League pressure, with travel and considered going to a hitting coach and an assistant the way other teams have. But Doyle believes he and Weiss are on the same page, and other voices might create confusion.

Weiss knew Doyle could handle it.

"He didn't have any first-hand experience as a Major League coach, but that never concerned me with him, because he's got all the attributes to be a great Major League coach," Weiss said. "He's a workhorse and he's got a gift in connecting with people and communicating. I knew it wouldn't take long to earn the players' trust."

Rockies history is full of hitters who see the same ball, which was a homer or an extra-base hit at home, land softly in a fielder's glove at the warning track on the road.

But the object is to score runs, even if players much set the batting average aside. The 2007 World Series team hit .261 on the road, but the team that made the postseason in 2009 hit .235. However, the Rockies managed 382 road runs in '07 and 340 in '09. The team must score at home and away without going to separate swings and approaches -- which would be foolish in a game based on routine.

Rockies hitters may need a confidant more than hitters on any other team.

"He keeps notes on each guy, what terminology guys like to use," said Morneau, who entered Thursday leading the NL in hitting at .317, just ahead of the Pirates' Josh Harrison (.316) and Andrew McCutchen (.313). "He's pretty observant as far as knowing what each guy is trying to do and trying to accomplish with their at-bats."

Whatever issue affects the club on the road, players insist Doyle's coaching isn't to blame.

"I don't think he has any control of that whatsoever -- it's our job," said Corey Dickerson, who has talked with Doyle about keeping his weight properly distributed, and used the advice to a .312 average with 76 RBIs. "When I'm batting, I'm not thinking of anything Blake or anyone else has said. I'm just trying to battle that pitcher.

"What we need to be able to do is put together better at-bats back-to-back, and get execution hits."

Doyle's desire to assist players in doing that isn't waning.

"All you need to do is follow me in October, November, December and January," said Doyle, who will return to the baseball school this winter. "This is easy in comparison."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, and like his Facebook page, Thomas Harding and Friends at www.Rockies.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Rockies lose challenge on out call at plate

Ruling stands as Crawford's strong throw keeps Ynoa from scoring

Rockies lose challenge on out call at plate

LOS ANGELES -- Rafael Ynoa was an infielder in the Dodgers' system from 2006-13 without ever making it to Dodger Stadium. Now a Major Leaguer with the Rockies, Ynoa had plenty of screen time Friday night.

The Rockies challenged a call in the seventh inning, when Dodgers catcher Drew Butera was ruled to have tagged out Ynoa at the plate after receiving a strong throw from left fielder Carl Crawford. Rockies manager Walt Weiss challenged the ruling, and after a replay review, the out call stood, which came with the Dodgers leading, 7-3.

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The play, which occurred on Michael Cuddyer's single, was shown several times on video screens at Dodger Stadium. The crowd reaction was mixed until the final decision was rendered.

The result left Weiss 14-for-37 on instant-replay challenges this year.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, and like his Facebook page, Thomas Harding and Friends at www.Rockies.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Flande denied first big league win as offense struggles

Loss gives Rockies their worst road record in franchise history

Flande denied first big league win as offense struggles

SAN DIEGO -- The Rockies' road season was summed up best by Wilin Rosario's groundhog-ish Wednesday night. Rosario came up empty in scoring situations, twice with two out, in a 4-3 loss to the Padres at Petco Park. The defeat assured the Rockies of the worst road record in their history.

Rosario grounded into a fielder's choice with runners at first and second in the fourth. He popped to the shortstop, and Josh Rutledge flied solidly to center after him in the sixth. Finally, with runners at second and third with two down in the eighth, Rosario swung hopelessly at a Kevin Quackenbush curveball off the plate.

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It just happened to be Rosario's turn Wednesday to come up dry, but there have been lots of empty nights as the Rockies have gone 21-57 on the road.

But Charlie Blackmon, who led off the first with his 19th homer of the season (which ties the Brewers' Carlos Gomez for most in the Majors from the leadoff spot), noted that it's more difficult to produce when everyone isn't available. The Rockies have more playoff trips in their 22 years (three) than winning road seasons (one).

This year, the Rockies are going to finish with Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez and, most likely, Nolan Arenado unable to finish the year in uniform because of injuries, and they missed Michael Cuddyer for significant periods.

"It wasn't like we had the No. 26 guy on the roster get hurt; we're talking big guns," Blackmon said. "Three times with runners in scoring position with two outs. Say we have Troy in the lineup; I won't say he's automatic, but he's the next best thing to that.

"Then again, the guys who are playing because he's not playing are playing pretty well. We hit some balls hard tonight. Rut [Rutledge] hit a ball hard. Barnes hit a ball hard. Rutledge hit some balls hard yesterday with guys on base. It's just bad luck."

Still, the Rockies have a chance to avoid the National League West cellar for the first time since 2011. They head into a season-ending three-game series with the Dodgers starting Friday two games better than the last-place D-backs.

After Blackmon put the Rockies ahead, Rockies lefty Yohan Flande (0-6), hoping to break into the win column to finish his rookie year, yielded Tommy Medica's three-run shot in the bottom of the first.

"He [Flande] has been pretty stingy early in games, but Medica got the barrel to that ball on the inner half and hit it out," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "It's always tough to score runs here. That was a big shot."

The Padres led 4-1 in the sixth when Rafael Ynoa and Justin Morneau drew one-out walks from Padres starter Joe Wieland (1-0), who gave up three runs on seven hits in 5 1/3 innings. Cuddyer and Corey Dickerson, who had three hits apiece, followed with RBI singles off R.J. Alvarez, but Rosario and Rutledge could not provide more scoring.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, and like his Facebook page, Thomas Harding and Friends at www.Rockies.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Catcher Williams undergoes knee surgery

Catcher Williams undergoes knee surgery

SAN DIEGO -- Rockies catcher Jackson Williams, who made his Major League debut this season and appeared in seven games, underwent surgery on his right meniscus Wednesday, the club announced.

Williams, who suffered the injury in a Sept. 19 game against the D-backs, hit .214 (3-for-14) with one home run and three RBIs.

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A supplemental first-round pick of the Giants (43rd overall) in 2007, Williams played in the Giants' system from 2007 to 13 before signing a Minor League deal with the Rockies this season. He played 72 games at Triple-A Colorado Springs and hit .256 with four home runs and 34 RBIs for the Sky Sox.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, and like his Facebook page, Thomas Harding and Friends at www.Rockies.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Brandon Barnes makes incredible grab in left field

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Brandon Barnes makes incredible grab in left field

In the second inning of Tuesday's Rockies-Padres game, Brandon Barnes made a great leaping catch. But that's not why we're here. We're here for his incredible, extra-base-hit saving grab in the eighth. We're here for him crashing into the wall, robbing a fan of a souvenir and getting REALLY pumped up about it.

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Fortunes split on pair of replay challenges

Fortunes split on pair of replay challenges

SAN DIEGO -- Padres manager Bud Black challenged a pair of close plays down the first-base line in the fourth inning of Wednesday's Padres-Rockies game, and he finished the frame 1-for-2.

With a man on first base and no one out, Padres left fielder Tommy Medica used the entire field for his fourth-inning double -- a double that wasn't even awarded until a review proved the ball had landed fair, kicking up chalk on the right-field foul line.

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But first-base umpire and crew chief Jerry Meals ruled the ball foul, prompting Padres first-base coach Jose Valentin to march toward Black in the dugout, asking for a challenge.

Turns out, Valentin got it right, and Medica was awarded second base after a review overturned the call. Yasmani Grandal went to third.

Grandal later scored, making it 4-1 Padres, but Medica was stranded after Padres pitcher Joe Wieland was tagged out trying to beat an infield grounder. Rockies shortstop Josh Rutledge threw wide to first base, but first baseman Justin Morneau applied a leaping swipe tag.

After a replay, the call was confirmed and Wieland was outl.

Black has now been successful on 17 of his 33 challenges this season.

AJ Cassavell is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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