DENVER -- As much as the Rockies are keeping their focus on the game at hand, the club couldn't help but be buoyed by the news that two of its most important pitchers took significant steps on Thursday in the instructional league in Tucson, Ariz. "Jeff Francis threw three innings today," manager Jim Tracy said before the rubber match in the three-game set with San Diego. "The neat thing about it was that when he was finished, he said he felt good enough to where he could have gone further if they'd have wanted him to. Obviously we didn't want him to." It was Francis' first game action of the season, having undergone left shoulder surgery in the offseason. Francis threw 47 pitches in his three innings on the hill. He averaged 86 mph on the radar gun, with his fastest pitch clocking in at 89 mph.
"From a velocity standpoint, there's every reason to think that those numbers are going to come up another three or four clicks as we go forward," Tracy said. Francis has been one of the Rockies' most consistent pitchers since coming up late in the 2004 season. He had been slated as Colorado's Opening Day starter in '08, but his start was cut short when the game was rained out in the early innings. He started Game 1 of each of the Rockies' postseason series in '07, beating the Phillies in the National League Division Series and the D-backs in the NL Championship Series before losing to the Red Sox in the World Series. Manuel Corpas, the Rockies' closer through parts of 2007-09, also appeared in the instructional league game, throwing 21 pitches in an inning of action. "His slider and changeup were very good," Tracy reported. "He was a little bit inconsistent as far as command was concerned with his fastball, and that's understandable. "But both guys felt terrific when they were finished, and that is the most encouraging thing about everything. We feel really, really good with regard to what I heard about these two pitchers." Of more immediate concern, the Rockies are seeing progress from left fielder and leadoff many Carlos Gonzalez, who left Tuesday's series opener with the Padres with a tight hamstring. "It feels better," Gonzalez said Thursday. "Obviously I'm not 100 percent yet. It's something that's not going to go away one or two days later. We just have to keep working on it. We don't have a lot of games left, so I'll push myself and try to fight and play the rest of the season." Tracy had initially said that he wouldn't play Gonzalez on Wednesday unless he was "beyond 100 percent," but he acknowledged that Gonzalez is available to pinch-hit on Thursday. "He is going to be able to hit tonight," Tracy said. "If there were no other option, could he run some? Yes. Will he run like you are accustomed to seeing him run? No. Will I run him if I pinch-hit him? If I've got other options, more than likely not. As a matter of fact, no, I wouldn't. That's where we're at with him." Gonzalez has been a vital part of the Rockies' offense, hitting .280 with 12 homers and 16 stolen bases in 81 games. He moved into the leadoff spot when Dexter Fowler was injured late in August, and the Rockies are 15-5 with Gonzalez hitting leadoff. He is an instant upgrade in the outfield, capable of playing center or left. Gonzalez thought it was unlikely he'd be 100 percent in the near future, but expected to be eased back into action as the Rockies try to secure a post season berth. "We'll just have to fight like everybody else," Gonzalez said. "Everybody at some point is sore, because it's the end of the season. I'll be available tonight. I'm not in the lineup, but I'll be available. Hopefully tomorrow I'll be able to play." The issue is in the lower part of the hamstring, near the knee, and Tracy wants to be as conservative as possible with Gonzalez. "It's something that you have to be careful with," Tracy said. "Rather than push the envelope, we're backing off because I really don't want to, at this point in time in the season, be managing a game and be dealing with a player involved with a situation physically that it's touch and go."
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.