Motte working on moxie to reclaim dominance

Motte working on moxie to reclaim dominance

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Rockies right-hander Jason Motte's mission: to figure whether he can return to his former self, or how to adjust if he never achieves the 97.1 mph average fastball velocity he clocked when helping the Cardinals win the 2011 World Series.

During his latest effort to find his old self, Saturday in the Rockies' 9-3 loss to the Angels, Carlos Perez popped a pitch into the wind and watched it barely clear the left-field wall for a two-run homer. The two-hit inning lifted Motte's spring ERA to 14.40.

In good times, Motte, 34, simply threw fastballs. They were well located, and there wasn't much need for secondary stuff. But Tommy John surgery on his right elbow cost him the 2013 season, and shoulder problems limited him in 2015 with the Cubs and last season with the Rockies. Motte reports being healthy as opposed to last year, when he said he felt "good … ha ha," and took two trips to the disabled list.

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Now Motte is having to perfect a cutter that he has been throwing since 1998, and using a changeup he adopted last year. At the core, he has to gain consistency with his fastball, which sometimes is 91-92 mph, but topped out at 94.6 in his adrenaline-fueled scoreless inning against Puerto Rico in a World Baseball Classic exhibition.

Will Motte, due $5 million to complete a two-year, $10 million contract, be able to approach old, dominant velocities, or is he at the career stage where he's a veteran relying on new tricks?

"I've always said I enjoy the adrenaline; that's what gets me," Motte said. "If I'm able to go out there against Puerto Rico, that was the game I was 93-95, then put that in a normal game setting, I'll be right where I need to be. But either way, it's about locating, keeping guys off-balance.

"Even in St. Louis, I had to locate, even at 98."

Rockies manager Bud Black said the homer Motte gave up Saturday was aided by the wind and was "a wall-scraper," and added that Motte must "rely a little bit more on moxie."

Motte said he is embracing the challenge.

"I had my daughter out there the other day; she was hitting off the tee, and I was throwing some balls," Motte said. "I'm not hitting, but I'm doing the same thing -- obviously on a little bit bigger stage. But we're playing the same game."

Worth noting

• Infield candidate Pat Valaika, who has played solidly at second, third and short and is hitting .258, has been practicing at first base. Valaika, 24, made his Major League debut last year, and is being groomed as a multi-position player. He began practicing at first in the Arizona Fall League, and has a routine where he gets ample work at all his positions.

"As I've gotten older in the game, I've kind of realized that quality work is better than quantity," he said. "You don't need to take 1,000 groundballs at each position. You can take 20 good ones."

• Special front-office assistant Vinny Castilla, a former Rockies star at third base, and player development director Zach Wilson won their way through brackets consisting mostly of players to reach the finals of the team's ping-pong tournament -- which will take place this week. Charlie Blackmon, Mark Reynolds, Valaika, Jordan Lyles, Trevor Story and physical performance coordinator Mike Jasperson were the other competitors. 

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, listen to podcasts and like his Facebook page. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.