Improved Rockies don't mind being division underdogs

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) Arizona ace Zack Greinke referenced the projected top three teams in the NL West the other day, then quickly followed by saying he wasn't intending to slight the division's other two.

Greinke mentioned the ''good competition between three teams'' following his first bullpen session Friday: The three-time defending West champion Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco and his own new club, of course.

Relievers Jason Motte, Justin Miller and the underdog Colorado Rockies hardly mind any perceived disrespect at this stage, as they believe their improved pitching might just keep them in the mix in the loaded NL West.

''I like our chances. I like being kind of under the radar,'' said Miller, a right-hander in his second season with the Rockies. ''Each year there's going to be some transition and this year it seems it's in our division a lot, with the D-backs getting Greinke. It's everybody. This whole division is loaded this year, so it's crazy.''

Sure, Colorado lacks the big names the three division favorites landed: Greinke a $206.5 million, six-year contract with the Diamondbacks; Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija ready to join Madison Bumgarner and the Giants in an even year after they won World Series championships in 2010, `12 and `14; and Cuban pitcher Yaisel Sierra a $30 million, six-year deal to pitch for new Dodgers manager Dave Roberts.

''Yeah, the Giants have quote-un-quote their year,'' Miller said. ''Every other year they win it. We'll see.''

As pitchers signed big-money deals throughout the offseason, Motte paid attention from his home in Memphis.

''Good for them. I'm a relief pitcher, so I'm never going to see that kind of stuff,'' the bearded pitcher said with a grin. ''These guys are going out and are great pitchers. You watch these guys pitch. When guys are able to go out and do that, it's good for the game. It's good not only for the players now but the players to come. I'm happy for those guys. They've earned it with what they've shown, what they've done.''

The 33-year-old Motte, who went 8-1 in 57 appearances for the Cubs last season after pitching his first six seasons with the Cardinals, is already thrilled with Colorado's close-knit clubhouse at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.

Motte and new starter Chad Qualls each signed two-year contracts during December's winter meetings, Motte receiving $10 million and Qualls $6 million. Right-handed reliever Adam Ottavino, the closer early last season, could return around the All-Star break after he had Tommy John elbow reconstructive surgery last May.

The Rockies - last in the division at 68-94 in 2015 - also have right-handers Tyler Chatwood and Jordan Lyles returning healthy after Chatwood had Tommy John surgery and Lyles an operation to repair a torn ligament in his left big toe.

Fourth-year manager Walt Weiss smiled at the idea of having a healthy pitching staff at last, eager to see how the pieces fit this spring.

And all of the talented pitching in the NL West can only push everybody involved.

''When people get better it makes other people better,'' Motte said. ''It makes you want to go out and do better, play better, be better. This division definitely got better. I'm happy to see what we can do. It's about going out and doing it, regardless of what you got the year before or what you had or what you went out and got. It's about what you do with what you have. That for me is the fun part.''