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Notes: Taveras has green light to steal

Notes: Taveras has green light to steal

DENVER -- The season is opening and the light is staying green for new Rockies center fielder Willy Taveras.

The last two years with the Astros, including 2005 as a rookie in the starting lineup for a club that went to the World Series, Taveras never had the "green light" -- permission to attempt to steal a base if he feels he can get a good start. Problem was, there wasn't enough firepower in the middle of the team's lineup.

It's a little different with the Rockies. The Opening Day lineup, which Taveras led off, should be the most frequently used order this season. With Garrett Atkins, Todd Helton, Matt Holliday and Brad Hawpe batting in the Nos. 3-6 spots, there figures to be more guys to take up slack in the case of an unsuccessful steal.

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Running when he felt necessary during Spring Training, Taveras was 8-for-9 on steal attempts. Of course, he was allowed to run during the spring with the Astros, too, but this time, Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said he won't flip the switch to red, except for situations dictated by the score.

Taveras, 25, is 68-of-88 in steal attempts since being called up for 10 games in 2004. He'd like to approach his career total with his 2007 attempts alone.

"I'm just a player here. I know my ability, and I'm sure they want to use it. If they give me the green light, I'm happy to have it, because that is my game. But when they say I'm not going to steal, it's the manager's decision."

Beyond providing speed, Taveras gives the Rockies another valuable trait -- postseason experience. The 2005 Astros were an afterthought until catching fire after the All-Star break. He is the only starter in the Rockies Opening Day lineup to have appeared in a postseason game.

"We had some good pitching and some good players, too, but we had to get on the same page," Taveras said. "We've all got to be on the same page if we're going to be able to get there. I don't see anybody doing it by himself. We have young players, but we're good."

Hurdle said Taveras' experience could make him valuable to a young club.

"He has been to a World Series, but, as for leadership, he's a quiet man, but there can be confidence with quietness," Hurdle said. "That's more along the lines of what he's shown. At the same time, he's very anxious to take the next step, prove himself at this level in a little more rounded fashion."

Yah, boo: Some of the loudest applause during pregame ceremonies went to new front office assistant Vinny Castilla, who worked on the field during Spring Training and was in uniform for introductions. First baseman Todd Helton's applause was almost as loud.

There were mostly cheers but also some scattered boos for right-handed reliever Byung-Hyun Kim, who during Spring Training expressed disagreement with the decision to put him in the bullpen and said he wanted to be traded to a club that needed a starter.

On his way back: Right-hander Brian Lawrence participated in Opening Day ceremonies, but the first time he appears as a player will be Thursday for Triple-A Colorado Springs in an injury rehab start.

Lawrence missed last season because of shoulder surgery, and the club would like for him to continue building arm strength.

Lawrence said most of his pitches are better than they were before surgery. He pitched through some tightness in the years before the full-fledged injury.

"I have a better slider, and my fastball is getting to be better -- I'm getting more consistent sink than I had before, a lot sharper and later," Lawrence said. "The rest of the pitches, the cutter and changeup, you've got to develop a feel for them. Later in Spring Training, they've been getting to be better.

"Everything is getting better because I'm getting extended. With an injury, you don't get [your arm] extended. You cut everything off, so your pitches aren't as sharp. Getting the full extension out front is going to translate."

Youngest Opening Day Rockies: On Monday, the Rockies started two rookies, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and catcher Chris Iannetta, who happen to be two of the six youngest Opening Day starters in club history. The youngest are:

Roberto Mejia - 21 years, 355 days on April 4, 1994
Tulowitzki - 22 years, 174 days on April 2, 2007
Juan Uribe - 23 years, 10 days on April 1, 2002
Juan Pierre - 23 years, 231 days on April 2, 2001
Jeff Baker -23 years, 287 days on April 4, 2005
Iannetta -23 years, 359 days on April 2, 2007

And a day off, too? Not only did Hurdle sign a two-year contract extension on Monday, but he won't have to work on Tuesday.

Actually, the day off isn't vacation. Hurdle was suspended for the day because pitcher Jeff Francis threw behind the Padres' Kevin Kouzmanoff during a Spring Training game after both teams had been warned.

Hurdle will turn the club over to bench coach Jamie Quirk.

Francis, who will start on Tuesday against Diamondbacks righty Livan Hernandez at 6:35 p.m. MT at Coors Field, has been suspended for five games. His suspension is under appeal.

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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