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1B Todd Helton
2B Luis Gonzalez: Gonzalez was expected to be more of a utility player, backing up at most infield positions and perhaps the outfield; he’s listed as the starter here given Aaron Miles’ sprained left knee, which could keep him out for much of April and possibly affect him beyond that. Miles is a risk, as is Gonzalez, who was poor on the pivot and was injured turning a double play last season.
SS Clint Barmes
LF Matt Holliday
CF Preston Wilson: Wilson’s left knee crushed his 2004 season, starting with a problematic plica and ending with more surgery on the same knee in September. He’s on the Moises Alou career track, a very good player when healthy who’ll miss a lot of time and remain a perpetual risk.
RF Brad Hawpe
RF Dustan Mohr: Mohr and Hawpe will platoon, more or less. Mohr had a nice season despite tearing his biceps mid-summer. His late-season knee injury was a concern, but he’s shown no lingering ill effects.
IF Aaron Miles: Miles sprained his MCL in early March, pushing him behind Gonzalez for now. He’ll likely be back starting by May, but the injury will reduce his steals and range. He doesn’t have much margin for error.
SP Jason Jennings: Efficiency matters more in Colorado than anywhere else, and Jennings isn’t efficient at all. He’ll continue to be an innings-eater.
SP Joe Kennedy: Kennedy came back from a prior shoulder injury and fared well, both injury- and performance-wise. If he continues to keep the ball down, he’ll be successful.
SP Jeff Francis: More than Kennedy, Francis appears to be the type of pitcher that Colorado needs–efficient, solid command, good velocity. He’s competing with Darren Oliver for a job. The yellow light is a nod to his youth and the elevated strain of pitching in Coors Field.
SP Shawn Chacon: His elbow didn’t hold up in 2003, which is why he was moved to closer in 2004. Given he’s now back in the rotation, that’s some serious institutional short-term memory loss.
SP Jamey Wright: Really? Jamey Wright? Just 30, Wright seems so much older. He’s certainly well traveled. He went 180 innings last year, nearly a career high and likely his ceiling. Potential HACKING MASS gold.
SP Aaron Cook: Cook is coming back from surgery that removed a rib, freeing up blood flow. He was in intensive care for nearly two weeks–pitching is almost beside the point. He’ll start the season on the DL and will take over by May for whichever starter has failed most miserably.
CL Chin-Hui Tsao: Tsao’s change to closer might help take some of the load off his shoulder, and his light workload in 2004 should also help. His change-up is the key: There aren’t many closers that feature a change, but there aren’t many changes like Tsao’s. Watch his leg kick and landing for a key to his health.
The Colorado Rockies are fast becoming the columnist’s crutch. Like a mailbag column, a baseball writer can always burn out a couple thousand words about how the Rockies will never win at altitude unless they do X. Injury-wise, there’s no difference for the home team playing at altitude. There’s a slightly increased risk for visitors, but nothing that should invoke gloom and doom. There doesn’t even seem to be a conditioning effect of playing at altitude.
So is there a medhead fix for this dismal franchise? Perhaps. The team is consistently at the bottom of the injury ratings, which is more a function of the type of players they have had than their medical staff. Certainly, focusing more on bringing in players who can play 150 or more games a year would be a plus. Overspending on pitching and balky players like Preston Wilson takes its toll.
Developing more pitchers is a problem, but the Rockies already have part of the solution. By placing their Triple-A team in Colorado Springs, the pitchers get introduced to the environment early. Having some hitters’ parks at other levels helps as well. Playing spring training at altitude could also help, if it could be done.
Mostly, the Rockies just have to stop being different. We know what wins, in Colorado and elsewhere: good pitching, solid hitting and healthy players taking the field. The Rockies have never really done that. It’s simple, but it works.