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Rockies clear space for Spilborghs

Rockies clear space for Spilborghs

INDIANAPOLIS -- Rockies outfielder Ryan Spilborghs believed his play earlier in 2009 mirrored that of his club. That's not good.

"When you're not doing as well as you feel you should with your opportunity, you sometimes try to do more than you're capable of," Spilborghs said by phone from his offseason home in Santa Barbara, Calif. "The team was trying to do too much, and I fell into that trap.

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"Guys get out of their shoebox and try to crush every ball, every time. You end up hurting more than helping."

The Rockies found their way, and rebounded from an 18-28 record under manager Clint Hurdle through May 28 to a complete turnaround under Jim Tracy, one that ended with a playoff berth. But Spilborghs watched much of the turnaround. He started 37 of the first 46 games before the managerial change, but 34 games the rest of the way.

It appears Spilborghs will have a chance in 2010 to show what he learned. On Monday, the Rockies sold the rights of Matt Murton, their other right-handed-hitting outfield candidate, to the Hanshin Tigers in Japan.

Spilborghs, 30, entered 2009 with a .297 career batting average and began the year fine, hitting .301 in April. But he batted .241 in May. He was already sharing time in center with prospect Dexter Fowler, and his playing time disappeared after the Rockies promoted Carlos Gonzalez in June. Spilborghs finished the season at .241 with eight home runs and 48 RBIs.

The finish gave rise to speculation that he would be traded this offseason. However, Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd said the team ultimately decided to trust Spilborghs to make a rebound.

"We don't have a ton of depth ourselves from the right-handed part of our club," O'Dowd said. "We have made a decision with Spilly, and talking with Spilly myself, I think he's going to be a better player this year.

"That kind of puts Matty in a tough position with us, and the money was so significant for him, we just didn't think it would be the right thing to do [to keep Murton]."

A seventh-round selection in 2002, Spilborghs has grown into one of the Rockies' most popular and respected players. Even after the 2008 season, when Spilborghs was clearly established as a Major Leaguer, he spent time in winter ball in Mexico to improve as a center fielder.

Spilborghs solidified his status as a fan favorite on Aug. 24 by hitting a 14th-inning grand slam to give the Rockies a 6-4 victory over the Giants in a key game during the run to the playoffs.

"I love the team, I love the organization," Spilborghs said. "I've always been committed in every way possible to be the best player and best teammate that I could be, even if that meant going to Mexico when I wanted to hang out with family. But I've always wanted to produce at the highest level."

The Rockies acquired Murton last winter for depth in a swap with the Athletics for infielder Corey Wimberly. Murton hit .324 at Triple-A Colorado Springs, but had just 52 big-league at-bats (.250, one homer, six RBIs). He set a Colorado Springs record with a 29-game hitting streak.

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

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