Spilborghs might play more in center

Spilborghs might play more in center

DENVER -- Willy Taveras once again started in center field Wednesday against the Giants, as manager Clint Hurdle gave Ryan Spilborghs another day to rest his sore lower back.

But once everyone is healthy, a situation to watch is the playing time dynamic in center. Taveras has been the starter since arriving in a trade with the Astros before last season. But Spilborghs put up strong numbers in spot starts the last two years and entered Wednesday hitting .312 to Taveras' .234.

Hurdle hinted at giving Spilborghs increased time in center Tuesday and went there again Wednesday. He did not call Spilborghs his new guy in center, but said he would receive increased activity.

Spilborghs, who said he has healed from being beaten up on dives defensively, said he feels comfortable in center, even though he lacks the speed of Taveras. Spilborghs said he and Hurdle haven't talked about the issue of increased time in center.

"I think I play center field as well as you can play it," said Spilborghs, who gained a hitting rhythm while replacing left fielder Matt Holliday and right fielder Brad Hawpe when they were injured. "Obviously, Willy's going to make some plays that few guys in the entire Major Leagues can make.

"I don't think I'm a liability at all in center field. I feel super-comfortable out there, and it's a natural position for any outfielder."

If the playing time tilts Spilborghs' way, however, it will be because the Rockies want to improve offensively. Taveras entered with a .290 on-base percentage. Rockies leadoff hitters this season had the lowest on-base percentage in the National League at .276 and the next-to-lowest batting average, .217.

Scott Podsednik has fared better as a pinch-hitter than as a starter (.218 average, .290 OBP in 15 games as leadoff man). Also, Spilborghs hasn't fared well in limited leadoff duty (.194, .257 OBP in nine games).

Hurdle said Taveras has been "incrementally better" recently. Taveras, one of the league's top stolen base threats, is 23-for-25 on steals. But Hurdle believes competition for playing time is healthy.

"Nobody stays hot the entire time, so when guys can piggy-back off one another -- until a guy just takes off and runs away with the position -- that's always a good thing to have," Hurdle said. "It keeps people sharper and fresher."

Taveras, however, said he feels the competition mentality leads to the selfish pursuit of stats.

If Taveras, making $1.975 million this season with two years of arbitration to follow, is the odd man out, he is aware it could lead to his departure in a trade. He feels extra work with hitting coach Alan Cockrell will help, and he would prefer to stay as the regular center fielder.

"It's not a competition for me; that's not why they traded for me here -- it was to be the everyday leadoff and center fielder, and hopefully they still need it," said Taveras, who battled injury last season but finished with a .320 average,.382 slugging percentage and .367 on-base percentage, all career bests. "If the future is not here for me, it might be somewhere else.

"It's happened to me before; I've been traded before. But I'm ready to do whatever they want. They want me to steal bases, and I want to be hitting better so I can steal the bases they want. I'm going to keep working hard. But I'm not going to compete for a job and just get numbers."

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