Escalona happy with result despite ball off face
Rockies reliever believes it's far more important to get his sinker to work
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- When his left jaw stopped hurting, thanks to ice, and Rockies relief pitcher Edgmer Escalona was ruled concussion-free, thanks to new attention and precautionary handling, he could finally enjoy a small-but-important accomplishment.
Escalona was pitching in a simulated game on Tuesday, when a hard one-hopper ticked off his glove and smacked against his left cheekbone, threatening to put an end to a much-needed strong spring performance. In the end, Escalona wasn't hurt seriously.
And he figured he had fulfilled his mission.
"I've been working on my sinker, because everybody says we have to be looking for ground balls, every time," Escalona said. "After I got hit, everybody was sad. Finally, I said, 'I'm fine, but the important thing is the ground ball.'
"I got a ground ball. I don't care that it hit me in my face."
Escalona hasn't pitched in a game since then, but is scheduled to appear for two innings against the Royals on Tuesday at Surprise, Ariz. Escalona has pitched four Cactus League innings and has given up one run on four hits, with six strikeouts and zero walks. He also struck out one and pitched a scoreless inning against Team USA's World Baseball Classic squad during an exhibition game.
Being out of Minor League options, if the Rockies want to send Escalona to the Minors they must expose him to other clubs through waivers. Clubs have a hard time giving up hard-throwing relievers, however. Escalona is 0-1 with a 3.50 ERA in 41 Major League appearances over the last three seasons, including 22 games last year.
However, the Rockies plan to carry just three middle relievers, although four could be in the mix if the club goes ahead with a plan to pick up a reliever and swap out a position player during long homestands. Adam Ottavino, who functioned well in the role last year, and non-roster candidates Manny Corpas and Miguel Batista, along with Chris Volstad are right-handed candidates. Josh Outman and Rule 5 Draft prospect Daniel Rosenbaum are lefties who could pitch in the middle. The Rockies also could use starter-types who don't win a rotation spot in the role.
To distinguish himself from the crowd, Escalona is trying to improve his hard slider and show confidence in a changeup that can be nasty. Escalona said he is gaining the confidence he needs to use the changeup in games.
"I practiced in Venezuela on my changeup, threw a lot of them, and now it's working," Escalona said. "I've got to throw a changeup, because I have a good fastball. Now my slider is good. I feel confident with my pitches."
Chacin looks to stay aggressive moving forward
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Rockies' bold and desperate move to a four-man rotation during the summer of a difficult 2012 season was scoffed at and, eventually, discredited. The Rockies lost a club-record 98 games, and the discord that grew out of the pitching experiment led to some major organizational changes.
But right-hander Jhoulys Chacin is brave enough to say some good came of it.
Chacin returned from a nerve injury in his chest in August, while the Rockies were going with four starters. He had some of the team's best work before the plan was scrapped, and his work after his return -- 3-2 with a 2.84 ERA in nine starts -- served as a bright spot at a dark time. The strategy he used during that period -- staying in the strike zone and forcing at-bats to come to speedy conclusions -- is not much different from the way he plans to pitch going forward.
That plan led to some of the trouble he experienced on Sunday - four runs and nine hits in 4 2/3 innings of the Rockies' 9-7 loss to the Giants. But he theorizes that when the regular season starts and he's using all of his pitches, rather than limiting himself the way he did on Sunday, the aggressive strategy will pay dividends.
"I really learned to pitch more for contact, and that's what I'm trying to do -- make my pitch and get quick outs so I can throw more innings," Chacin said. "Here today I was just trying to throw fastball and change, work more on my changeup so when I get to the season I can throw changeup for strikeouts or ground balls. I want to throw four pitches for outs, my fastball, sinker, slider and changeup."
Chacin made his first start since returning from his participation with Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic. The Cactus League numbers haven't been good -- a 7.00 ERA in nine innings over three games. Still, Chacin is a favorite to start the opener on April 1 in Milwaukee, because he matches up well with the Brewers' right-handed lineup. If the experimentation works, he will be able to spot his fastball and set up the secondary pitches, which have been ahead of his fastball since he broke in with the Rockies in 2009.
The Rockies have a new manager in Walt Weiss, who took over after Jim Tracy unexpectedly resigned after discussing strategy moving forward. Pitching coaches Jim Wright and Bo McLaughlin took over after longtime pitching coach Bob Apodaca resigned last season, and they're with the squad from the beginning of this year.
While the team has gone back to a five-man rotation, Weiss said the information that led to the four-man experiment -- the difficulty of Rockies pitchers, visiting pitchers at Coors Field, and in the industry in general when facing a lineup for a third time -- will figure into in-game decisions with starters. Weiss also likes the idea of quick decisions and is big on the double-play grounder. So what Chacin learned last year will be useful.
Weiss backed Chacin's decision to step outside of a normal game plan, but still attack the strike zone on Sunday.
"That's what we're trying to do," Weiss said. "His changeup is a great pitch. The more that's in play, the better off he is.
"You can experiment with some things, and then when it's time to go, go out there and compete. I don't think it's much of an adjustment to try to do that."
Rockies are considering carrying extra pitchers
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Rockies are still toying with the idea of carrying 13 pitchers during lengthy homestands, given the high number of games where there is heavy bullpen use at Coors Field, and going back to 12 for long road trips.
But as with many such plans, variables such as the length of the homestand, how the team and individuals are playing, and the time it takes to bring in a player -- depending on where Triple-A Colorado Springs is playing at the time -- it's an idea that could sound better than it operates. No wonder manager Walt Weiss is noncommittal.
"It's possible," Weiss said. "A lot of that will be play-it-by-ear stuff and a lot of it will depend on what's going on. There is nothing predetermined going into the season. There may be times when we carry 13 pitchers and times when we carry 13 position players. It just depends on the circumstances."
Volstad enjoys success in 'B' game action
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies non-roster right-handed pitching staff hopeful Chris Volstad helped his cause with two scoreless innings on Sunday in an 8-5 victory over the White Sox in a "B" game at Glendale, Ariz.
Volstad had been competing for a rotation spot, but Rockies manager Walt Weiss said on Sunday that they're looking at Volstad in middle relief. Two other middle relief candidates - lefty Josh Outman and righty Adam Ottavino -- did not fare as well.
Outman gave up three runs and four hits, including a homer, in two innings. He struck out two, hit one and walked one. Ottavino gave up five hits, including a homer, and two runs in two innings, with one strikeout and one walk.
Eric Young went 2-for-4 with a walk, a stolen base and a run scored, and third-base hopeful Nolan Arenado went 1-for-2 with a double and an RBI.
Rockies second baseman Josh Rutledge had gone four games without a hit until Sunday. After two hard outs, he lashed a leadoff single in the fifth to begin a two-run inning.
Still, the fact the Rockies haven't had much reaction to the skid, which dropped Rutledge's batting average from .316 on March 5 to its current level of .212, is a sign that they're committed to him at the new position. Drafted as a shortstop, Rutledge played short while Troy Tulowitzki was injured last season and hit .274 with eight home runs and 37 RBIs in 73 games.
"He hasn't been on fire or anything but he hasn't been swinging too bad, and he hit three bullets today," manager Walt Weiss said. "That was a good day for 'Rut.'"
• Veteran right fielder Michael Cuddyer drove in three runs, one on a first-inning single and two on a seventh-inning double. Those were his first RBIs of the spring.
"He's a guy that's very reliable," Weiss said. "That's probably why we don't talk about him much."
• Righty Tyler Chatwood, trying to pitch his way onto the staff as a starter or a reliever, yielded three runs on five hits and four walks in three innings. He was replaced by Danny Rosenbaum, who gave up Cole Gillespie's walk-off three-run homer in the 9-7 loss.
"He has great counts but it's tough to pitch in bad counts up here," Weiss said. "When you're in a lot of deep counts, you end up losing some guys. There's no question about the stuff."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.