Rockies banking on depth to cover absences

Rockies banking on depth to cover absences

Rockies banking on depth to cover absences
The Rockies didn't wait long to have some sticky situations arise in an otherwise quiet camp.

Veteran pitcher Aaron Cook experienced shoulder soreness before his first scheduled start and still hasn't appeared. Third baseman Ian Stewart sprained his right knee in a collision with left fielder Carlos Gonzalez while chasing a foul pop -- from the first batter in the first game -- and hasn't appeared since.

It isn't clear if either will be ready when the season starts. Cook, who has received a cortisone shot, threw from the slope of the mound on Tuesday.

Stewart's situation is tricky. Coming off an inconsistent 2010, the Rockies believe he'll need to play a significant amount in the spring to be ready when the season begins. If not, they're covered. Versatile right-handed hitter Ty Wigginton has been every bit the steady professional the Rockies believed they were getting when they signed him this winter. If Stewart isn't playing Cactus League games within a week or so, it's possible he'll start the year on the disabled list to make sure he's ready when he does enter the lineup.

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Beyond that, the story of camp is the depth the Rockies have shown this spring.

Utilityman Jonathan Herrera has bucked for an increased role. Catching prospect Jordan Pacheco has hit well enough to work his way into consideration for an Opening Day roster spot, especially if Stewart isn't ready and pieces can be moved to accommodate Pacheco's presence. Outfield prospects Charlie Blackmon, Tim Wheeler and Cole Garner also are on the radar for big league duty. First baseman Ben Paulsen, who hit .311 with 12 homers and 83 RBIs at Class A Modesto last year, also has made the most of his early-spring playing time.

What we've learned: Wigginton's situational hitting and ability to work most anywhere in the batting order could make a difference for a team that struggled with offensive fundamentals -- especially during road games -- last year.

The Rockies love the savvy of Wigginton, 33, who signed a two-year, $8 million contract after spending the last two years with the Orioles.

"Everything is as advertised, and he's an additional presence in our clubhouse," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said. "Here's the way Ty Wigginton approaches this game: he doesn't care that it's the Cactus League, regular season or whatever. He puts this uniform on and he's involved. It's a baseball game, he's going to give it everything he's got and do it all the right way.

"If you don't like that, then there's something wrong with you."

What to watch for: Righty Esmil Rogers, who started eight games and appeared in 20 in relief last year as a rookie, appears to have an inside shot at the starter's spot should Cook not be ready. Candidate Clayton Mortensen has been asked to tweak his delivery, so he must internalize the change before his candidacy becomes real. Former No. 1 Draft pick Greg Reynolds also has pitched well enough in most of his Cactus League time to be considered a candidate.

Then there's always Cook.

One strategy could be to not use a fifth starter until April 10, in the season's ninth game. Tracy has not committed to that idea.

"The other thing is as we go along, do we want to do it that way or do we want to realize how long a season is, and if we have the opportunity to incorporate that extra day's worth of rest [for the other starters], that's also a possibility," Tracy said. "We've made no decision either way."

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