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R. Wheeler hopes left-handed power earns him spot

R. Wheeler hopes left-handed power earns him spot

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies corner infielder Ryan Wheeler is embracing the opportunity to provide left-handed power off the bench, although it isn't clear if he'll grasp a spot on the Opening Day 25-man roster.

Manager Walt Weiss has been testing Wheeler in late-inning roles, and he is responding. Wheeler doubled in the bottom of the ninth Wednesday night to spark a comeback that concluded with Charlie Blackmon's home run, which gave the Rockies a 9-6 victory over the Cubs. In 16 games, Wheeler is hitting .350 (14-for-40) with seven extra-base hits -- six doubles and a home run -- and six RBIs.

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"Last year, I had some good at-bats, and I knew the spot I'd have the best chance at would be a backup job, backing up first and third," said Wheeler, who hit .220 in 41 at-bats over three callups with the Rockies last season. "I get more excited now when I'm 1-for-1 with a nice line drive somewhere than going 2-for-3 starting, because I know they're watching me to see if I can handle that off-the-bench role."

The very existence of the role could be fluid.

Rockies senior vice president of Major League operations Bill Geivett intends to keep seven relief pitchers to start the year, although at times they could keep eight.

Seven relievers would leave room for two infielders. Candidates Josh Rutledge, Charlie Culberson and non-roster invitee Paul Janish play the middle positions as well as third, which could give them an advantage. Right fielder Michael Cuddyer can move to first base to back up Justin Morneau.

What's working for Wheeler is his ability to change the game with a swing from the left side. The Rockies have had that over the years with Jason Giambi, Mark Sweeney, John Vander Wal, Lenny Harris and switch-hitting Greg Norton.

"That's Ryan's ticket -- he's always hit," said Weiss, aware of Wheeler's offensive accomplishments with the D-backs, who traded him to the Rockies before last season, and the Rockies. "He's just a good hitter, regardless of how you use him. He's going to give you a professional at-bat. He can hit the ball from line to line and he's showing more power this spring."

Wheeler has developed an aggressive mentality on the field and a relaxed one off it, even though forecasting the roster can be stressful.

"The Rockies had to have brought in the best second team in the entire Spring Training," Wheeler said. "They're bringing in a lineup that could start for some organizations. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't challenging. But you get out there, start joking around and crushing some baseballs, you can take your mind off it."

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

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