Rockies leaning on experience to be clutch

Rockies leaning on experience to be clutch

Rockies leaning on experience to be clutch
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- When Jim Tracy looks around the Rockies' clubhouse and sees some of the most important players in his lineup -- both those who have been with the club for some time and those Colorado added during a busy offseason -- he sees veterans. And in those veterans, he sees quality at-bats.

The Rockies got a bit of a facelift this winter, and have since parted ways with five of the nine starters in their 2011 Opening Day lineup. They added Casey Blake, Ramon Hernandez, Marco Scutaro and Michael Cuddyer to the mix, all of whom are at least 32 years old and have a winning pedigree the Rockies hope they can bring to Denver.

But the most tangible and immediate benefit Tracy expects to see will come in the batter's box, where those hitters -- along with tenured Rockies Jason Giambi, Todd Helton, Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki -- can take their experience and turn it in to clutch hitting. It's an element of the game the Rockies lacked last season, in which they were tied for second in the National League in runs but 11th in batting average with runners in scoring position.

"Offensively, our lineup is deeper," Tracy said of this year's group. "Beyond Todd Helton, there are some very professional batters that are going to walk up there and take at-bats. If you go back and look at our season last year, we let an opportunity get away."

Helton is known for his long, drawn-out at-bats that test a pitcher's physical and psychological will. Cuddyer, who has an on-base percentage of at least .330 in each of the seven seasons that he has played more than 100 games, can now provide extra protection in the lineup. Hernandez, who is a sight to behold during situational hitting drills at camp this week, adds depth further still along with Blake's veteran bat.

And Scutaro, who has vast experience hitting in each of the top two and bottom three spots of the lineup, helps provide Colorado with the additional spark it may need to accompany outfielder Dexter Fowler.

"There's a lot of exciting players in here," Giambi said. "It's a little bit different culture than they've been used to in a while with a lot of more veteran players that they've brought in from the outside. I think they're trying to change it over a little bit and hopefully get us back on track."

The Rockies have arguably the National League's toughest 3-4 lineup combination with Gonzalez and Tulowitzki, but haven't had this kind of batting order depth from top to bottom lately. The new faces don't carry superstar potential and their bats won't have the pop expected from Tulo and CarGo, but the Rockies are hoping for a trickle-down effect.

"They've been there year in, year out," Blake said of the veteran mix. "They've been a couple of the best hitters in the game. And it's a great experience from some of the younger hitters to get direction from some of these guys."

What furthers the potential for this lineup's success is the notion in the clubhouse that the Rockies are never out of a ballgame, particularly in the thin Denver air at Coors Field, where some of baseball's best comebacks have taken place. Tracy is hoping this will prompt the transition from the question of whether anyone can deliver a clutch hit to, instead, which player it will be on any given night?

"There's some guys in that clubhouse that really enjoy taking the at-bat with the game on the line," Tracy said. "You've got some answers on the bench, you've got depth in the lineup. I really believe that one of the things that hurt us last year was we needed to do more in the lower portion in our lineup than we did. And now we've got some people."

Joey Nowak is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @joeynowak. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.