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Rockies stressing keeping ball down to pitchers

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- There is the strike zone, then there is the zone the Rockies want their pitchers to hit this year.

For years, the Rockies extended parallel strings across home plate in the bullpen areas to signify the upper and lower planes of the strike zone. The strings are still there this spring, but they are much lower. The top string is at the approximate level of a batter's knees, and the bottom string is six inches lower.

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The setup is a reminder that new manager Walt Weiss wants pitches low in the zone. A former Rockies shortstop who saw bad things happen when balls were hit in the air but participated in -- and enjoyed -- many double plays during his career, he loves the idea of two outs with one pitch. He doesn't care what pitch is thrown, as long as the pitcher can force a grounder whenever he needs one.

Pitching coach Jim Wright said it's part of a big-picture coaching plan: make sure the pitcher knows the objective, then let him develop the best way of achieving it. The Rockies don't want pitchers worrying about mechanics in a vacuum.

"They'll realize that it's just getting back to the basics of throwing the ball to the catcher, which is down at the knees, and eliminating the hitter," Wright said. "Now we can find out what pitchers are working best for you on the ground, and we can tell whether or not your focus is right.

"You can't get the cart before the horse. If command is not a given, you can't do any of that stuff. We can't even go over hitter types. It's a prerequisite. It's getting them to where they're angling the ball down to the catcher, and seeing those strings is the start of that."

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