Notes: Ojeda eyes roster opening

Notes: Ojeda may open season in Colorado

PHOENIX -- Catcher Miguel Ojeda was sincere when he said he hopes hard-luck catcher Yorvit Torrealba is healthy enough to begin the season with the Colorado Rockies.

"He's going to make us stronger," Ojeda said.

But fate seems to be working against Torrealba, which means it could be working in favor of Ojeda. Manager Clint Hurdle said Torrealba was struck on the right biceps by a foul ball on Sunday while catching Rockies' No. 2 starter Aaron Cook in a Minor League game. A few days ago, trainer Keith Dugger said Torrealba had already taken two foul balls off the same spot.

All that means Ojeda, a non-roster invitee who was signed just in case of injury, could find himself on the Opening Day roster as backup to Danny Ardoin, who has had a strong spring. Ojeda doubled in the Rockies' 8-6 victory over Milwaukee on Monday night and has been getting increasing work behind the plate as Torrealba's availability has become sporadic.

Hurdle has not given up on Torrealba, acquired this offseason from Seattle, being ready for Opening Day. But the Rockies could turn to Ojeda, who has experience with San Diego and Seattle.

"We got Miguel Ojeda for a reason -- he's a quality Major League catcher," Hurdle said. "He's a very good game caller. All his defensive skills are solid. He chips in offensively. We just ask him, offensively, to do little things -- control the barrel, move runners, score runners when they're on third.

"As I've said before, it's the most depth we've had behind the plate. He's come as advertised. I think he's comfortable here. If something were to happen with Torrealba, we'll see how that plays out."

Ojeda batted .273 with a home run and a double in five games with Mexico during the World Baseball Classic, but Monday night's double was his first hit in 10 at-bats with the Rockies this spring. However, he believes the team has confidence in his ability.

"The more you play, the more confidence you get at the plate," Ojeda said. "I'm starting to feel a lot better.

"It's all about confidence, and Mr. Hurdle gives me some confidence. He puts me in to play and do what I can. It doesn't matter what the results are, he always comes to me and gives me a pat on the back, because he's comfortable with the work I'm doing."

Eyes on the prize: Colorado starter Jeff Francis gave up four runs through 2 2/3 innings against Milwaukee, with three doubles and a Carlos Lee homer threatening to make it yet another rough spring performance.

But Francis rebounded and held the Brewers to one hit while racking up four of his seven strikeouts in three consecutive scoreless innings to get the victory. In all, six innings with four runs on five hits and seven strikeouts -- and two singles with two runs scored, offensively -- turned out to be a good night. Francis said it was a simple adjustment.

"A lot of times when I throw, after I release, I lose sight of the plate," Francis said. "I didn't want to do that. I tried to stay on the plate."

Francis threw more quality strikes, was effective inside and had a stellar curveball after his adjustment. During his next side session, he is hoping to put someone in the batter's box to continue testing his method.

"Bottom line, all said and done, I thought he made more quality pitches tonight," Hurdle said.

Putting education to use: The Rockies brought 2005 No. 1 pick Troy Tulowitzki, a shortstop from Long Beach State, to Major League camp to give him a taste of top-level baseball so he would be a step ahead when Minor League camp began. It worked.

Tulowitzki, in the words of Colorado Minor League hitting coordinator Jim Johnson, is "tearing it up" in Minor League Spring Training competition against Minor Leaguers from Arizona, the Chicago White Sox and from the Rockies system. His glove also has been stellar.

"He made a play [last week], defensively, that you won't see on any field," Rockies player development director Marc Gustafson said. "It was a back-hand play that bounced over the third baseman's head. He backhanded it, jumped, turned in the air and threw a strike to first base, and the whole complex went, 'Wow.'

"But the key is how he's swinging the bat. He's in a comfort zone right now, starting to get locked in with his swing, and he's driving the ball."

Gustafson said right-handed relievers Manuel Corpas and Matt Miller, and left-handed reliever Zach McClellan also have capitalized on the head start they received in Major League camp.

Catcher to watch: The progress has been slow for catcher Neil Wilson, a fifth-round pick out of Vero Beach (Fla.) High School. He didn't make his first appearance in advanced Class A until last season, and that was just for one game.

But Wilson made huge leaps during instructional ball last fall, and he has continued that this spring. He hit three home runs during a four-day stretch last week.

The Rockies have two prospects at Double-A Tulsa -- Chris Iannetta and Alvin Colina (fully recovered from an ACL reconstruction in his left knee surgery last July) -- so Wilson is slated to start the year at Class A Modesto.

"For me, personally, he's always shown that he has the tools to catch, swing the bat and do a lot of good things," Gustafson said of Wilson, a .256 hitter in 238 professional games. "But the difference is his confidence."

After the 2006 season, the Rockies will have to decide whether to protect him on their 40-man Major League roster.

Coming up: Righty Zach Day, a fifth starter candidate, will start against San Francisco on Tuesday at 2:05 p.m. MT. No. 4 starter Byung-Hyun Kim is also on the pitching docket at Hi Corbett Field.

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