Notes: Dohmann could be key

Notes: Dohmann could be key

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Colorado relief pitcher Scott Dohmann is displaying a noticeably sleeker upper body these days. All he has added above the waist is a thick goatee.

"I had a beard until a couple of days ago, then I shaved it off," Dohmann said with a laugh after throwing a pre-Spring Training bullpen session at Hi Corbett Field on Thursday, a day before Rockies pitchers and catchers are due to report. "Actually, I changed my workout. I concentrated on the lower body. I look more like a pitcher."

Dohmann, among a large number of players in camp early, overcame a difficult beginning to 2005 and by season's end had begun to look like a Major League pitcher. If that trend continues, he'll answer a key question and help make the Colorado bullpen look more like one befitting a contender.

Dohmann's story was the Rockies' story last year, the way he struggled to 0-1 with an 18.90 ERA through nine appearances the first month while the team also struggled. But after an extended stay at Triple-A Colorado Springs, Dohmann went 2-0 with a 2.59 ERA in 23 games after being recalled on Aug. 2 and was a part of the Rockies' 30-28 record from Aug. 1 to season's end.

The Rockies have stocked the bullpen with veterans Mike DeJean, Ray King and Jose Mesa to set up closer Brian Fuentes and make sure important late innings don't have to be turned over to inexperienced relievers again. Dohmann, who turned 28 on Tuesday, first has to win a job in camp, as he and David Cortes (who had a similar development last year) try to hold off several non-roster invitees and possibly the refugees from starting rotation competitions. Then Dohmann will have his role pushed earlier in the game, but he could be called upon later in the game if a veteran is injured or fatigued.

Even though he proved late last season that he can handle the later innings, Dohmann welcomes the additions.

"I hadn't really met King or Mesa because I haven't been in the big leagues that long, but having them here means there are more people I can learn from," Dohmann said. "DeJean taught me a lot last season. All having those guys can do is make our bullpen better and make me better."

Dohmann took a key piece of advice from DeJean, a fellow Louisiana native.

DeJean joined the Rockies in early July but gathered information on Dohmann, and was prepared when the younger hurler returned. DeJean urged Dohmann to show confidence in his slider by throwing for strikes it early in his appearances, rather than using it simply to get batters to chase the ball out of the zone. Dohmann's 92-94 mph fastball was much more effective when batters couldn't predict when it was coming.

"He didn't pepper me with questions every day," DeJean said. "But when he went into the game and threw his slider, I was swelling with pride.

"I don't really know the new guys in camp so I can't comment on them, but guys like Dohmann and David Cortes can be real important to our bullpen this season. They got a lot better over the course of last season."

Health report: Head trainer Keith Dugger reported that there have been no major health concerns among the early arrivals, although he isn't celebrating that until completing physicals. Right-hander Chin-hui Tsao, the closer before undergoing rotator cuff surgery last May, is the only player known to have to miss considerable time. Tsao is not expected back until at least June.

First baseman Todd Helton, who underwent arthroscopic right elbow surgery to remove a "floating body" before camp, arrived several days ago and has relieved any concerns, Dugger said. Outfield prospect Ryan Spilborghs left winter ball in Mexico early because of tendinitis in his right knee. Dugger said he will be held out of some agility drills, but is able to do some actual baseball work.

Almost a big story: Left-hander Jeff Francis will be a key starter for Canada in the World Baseball Classic, and he believes the event will be big news north of the border ---- in good time.

"You don't hear as much about it because the Canadian hockey team is in the Olympics, and everyone is following that," said Francis, himself a big hockey fan. "But I know one of the sports networks is planning to do a lot of coverage. It'll get a lot big the closer it gets."

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