Focused Spilborghs regains stroke

Focused Spilborghs regains stroke

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Rockies outfielder Ryan Spilborghs insists he's past what amounted to a year-long identity crisis.

After four years as a part-time player, Spilborghs had a chance to become a starter last spring. But with the label change came a move to an all-or-nothing swing. He quickly lost the center-field job to Dexter Fowler and never found his hitting stroke.

Spilborghs went from hitting .299 in 2008 to .241 last year. For much of the season, he was not the reserve who should be playing but clearly No. 5 on the outfield chart.

But this spring, Spilborghs hit .353 with four doubles, two triples and six RBIs through his first 12 games.

The Rockies have four other starting-caliber outfielders in Fowler, Carlos Gonzalez, Brad Hawpe and Seth Smith. But the way Spilborghs is playing, the only way he can be considered merely a typical fifth guy is when you look at the list alphabetically.

"I don't think I'm getting left behind by the other outfielders," Spilborghs said. "I think we all are good outfielders. I still think every one of us thinks we're an everyday player, and that's what makes our outfield special. I'm not thinking I'm a fifth outfielder or fourth outfielder.

"All of us come out there thinking we're everyday players. We do what's best for the team and we're always ready when [manager] Jim Tracy calls upon us."

Spilborghs is giving Tracy plenty of reason to call his name.

One problem last season was Spilborghs' .230 batting average against left-handed pitchers. He is a .294 career hitter against lefties. If he regains that part of his game, he's a natural fit since Hawpe, Gonzalez and Smith bat from the left side, and Fowler is a switch-hitter.

Last year's struggles raised questions about whether the Rockies would tender Spilborghs a 2010 contract. But Spilborghs and general manager Dan O'Dowd had a heart-to-heart discussion that led to a two-year, $3.25 million deal.

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"It's not even a matter of losing anything," Tracy said. "It's just a matter of a mental adjustment in realizing what it was that made you good. He got away from it a little bit last year. Let's be honest, he paid for it a little bit.

"He's such a receptive kid, such a wonderful teammate that I'm sure there needs to be no further encouragement with this guy."

The inside-out swing is confirmation.

"He's identified what was going on with his swing, and he identified when he got away from the fundamentals of his preparation," said first-base coach Glenallen Hill, who also consults with hitters and outfielders. "He's aware of that now.

"And he trusts that in doing so, it will allow him to maintain his swing under any circumstance."

Spilborghs, 30, said regular spring duty has helped, especially since he broke his ritual and stayed away from winter ball in Mexico. He already has 34 at-bats.

"Last year, when I was given an opportunity to play every day and lost that opportunity, I wanted to get it back," Spilborghs said. "I wanted to get that back in one at-bat. That's definitely not my mindset anymore. I was kind of selfish with that approach last year.

"Now I'm back to wanting to hit the ball hard, I don't care where it's pitched. I'm going to hit it hard. I'm not really worried about results. Just give a quality [at-bat. It's the same stuff I've been saying for five years. It's not like I've changed."

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