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Cuddyer's absence, return bolster Rockies' belief

Club performed well while outfielder/first baseman was out of action

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Cuddyer's absence, return bolster Rockies' belief play video for Cuddyer's absence, return bolster Rockies' belief

DENVER -- Michael Cuddyer talked often during the offseason and Spring Training about the Rockies' need to increase their depth and their success in doing so.

Cuddyer probably wishes his case wasn't the one that proved his point, but that's the way it is.

On April 17, Cuddyer sustained a left hamstring strain that he thought was minor. On Tuesday, for the opener of an unexpectedly key three-game series at Coors Field against the Giants, Cuddyer finally returns. Colorado (25-20) went 15-10 without Cuddyer, who won last year's National League batting title and was off to a strong start this year (.310, three homers, 10 RBIs in 16 games).

The Rockies club he returns to is second in the NL West and trails the Giants by three games. Colorado also has won all seven home series. After a ridiculously hot April at home, the Rockies had to scratch to win two of three at home against the Padres over the weekend, but win them they did.

"It's not crazy hot, I guess that's relatively speaking to the way the first month has been," Cuddyer said. "That's why you need 25-40 guys on the roster in the organization. You're going to go through periods where guys get hurt, get tired, go through periods when guys need a break, need a rest.

"To be able to have the depth that we have -- that's what we talked about all offseason, being able to have the depth to counteract some of those things -- is huge."

Cuddyer's injury was one of those that Colorado supposedly couldn't afford to have. The Rockies entered the season coming off consecutive last-place finishes, but they felt they had the talent to compete if healthy. Well, Cuddyer's return puts their Opening Day lineup together for the first time since his injury.

The injuries go deeper. Left-hander Brett Anderson is out likely until July with a broken left index finger and right-hander Tyler Chatwood has a forearm issue that will keep him down for most of June. Colorado played well even though catcher Wilin Rosario missed 12 games after a nasty flu bug and didn't return until Sunday.

"What we were doing was something crazy -- we were putting a lot of runs on the board," left fielder Carlos Gonzalez said. "We slowed down a little bit. It's always nice to see Cuddyer coming soon, and now we have Wilin back.

"We have a dangerous offense. It's scary for the other team. It's not going to be easy for them to hold this club without scoring runs."

But until going to extended spring camp last week to kick his rehab into high gear, Cuddyer was with the club and witnessing it develop the resilience that it lacked last year. After a strong start, injuries derailed the season.

"I think we believe in ourselves," Cuddyer said. "We believe in going out there and believe that we can win. That's a big word. Sometimes it gets thrown out there too much. Belief is huge.

"If you go out there and believe that you're going to win each and every game, you've got a good shot. You can't say, 'Oh, man, we're winning!' You can't be surprised. You've got to expect to win and believe you're going to win."

Although the Rockies performed well in Cuddyer's absence, by no means are they better off without him.

Cuddyer, 35, is a much-needed veteran run-producing bat at a time when Gonzalez's swing is on-again, off-again because of the pain from tendinitis in his left knee and Nolan Arenado has turned cold, going 5-for-28 since his 28-game hit streak. Arenado's streak broke the club record, which Cuddyer set last year at 27 games.

"You aren't going to have eight guys hitting .350 for a season," Colorado manager Walt Weiss said. "There are cycles to the season, and like you said, ebbs and flows to the season. But we have a lot of weapons, so if we get multiple guys hot at the same time, it's a dangerous lineup."

Also, Cuddyer can reassume the No. 2 spot in the regular order. Weiss sometimes used Arenado and sometimes went with Corey Dickerson, Drew Stubbs or Brandon Barnes in the second spot. With shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who leads the Majors in bating at .393 and the NL in home runs with 13, batting third these days, Cuddyer can give Tulowitzki a man to drive home.

Cuddyer's return also gives Weiss opportunities to rest first baseman Justin Morneau (.327, nine homers, 32 RBIs). Morneau has shown little fatigue, having played in 42 of the team's 45 games. But Cuddyer can play first, which could not only give Morneau a break but allow one of the other outfielders playing time.

None of this matters if the hamstring issue -- something Cuddyer has never deal with in his career -- turns out chronic. Cuddyer, however, is certain it won't be a problem.

"It wasn't in the muscle, so I don't foresee it being a chronic issue," he said. "It's not going to come back. I made sure it's healed and we're ready to go."

Cuddyer now hopes to prove the Rockies are just fine with him.

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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