Health and bullpen willing, Rockies primed for playoff run
DENVER (AP) The Ian-Desmond-to-first-base experiment was going along better than anticipated - until he broke his hand.
Just the way spring training has gone for the Colorado Rockies.
Better now than later for a team that's trying to make the postseason for the first time since 2009. Still, it's been a trying March for a team that may finally have a starting rotation and bullpen to back a powerful lineup.
A quick review of the setbacks:
- Desmond had surgery on his broken left hand suffered when he was hit by a pitch. He will miss several weeks.
- Outfielder David Dahl is dealing with injured ribs.
- Catcher Tom Murphy could miss a month with a hairline fracture in his right forearm.
- Righty Chad Bettis stepped away from baseball to undergo chemotherapy after discovering that his testicular cancer had spread. There is no timetable for his return.
Should Colorado weather the early onslaught of injuries, the team could be a factor in the NL West. The Rockies have brought in manager Bud Black, whose pitching background should come in handy at Coors Field. They've added more thump to an already potent lineup by signing Desmond, who's quickly picking up the ins and outs of playing first base after being a career shortstop/outfielder. Even more, they have a healthy Trevor Story again after he was sidelined in late July when he tore a ligament in his left thumb. He's eager to prove his 27 homers in 97 games were no fluke.
In addition, slugger Nolan Arenado is loaded with confidence after helping Team USA win the World Baseball Classic.
And then there's this: They've repaired a shaky bullpen by adding lefty Mike Dunn and righty Greg Holland, with the hope that Holland can return to the form that made him the lights-out closer in Kansas City before missing last season after undergoing reconstructive elbow surgery.
''Just going out and getting those guys says a lot about how the front office and the players are on the same page,'' hard-throwing righty Jon Gray said. ''We all have the same goal in mind. It's a good thing to see.''
Here are things to know heading into the season:
NEW LOOK: No doubt, Dunn, Holland and Desmond are big, big additions. But the move that flew under the radar - until recently, anyway - was bringing back first baseman Mark Reynolds on a minor-league deal. With Desmond's broken hand, he could be the first baseman when the season opens. The 33-year-old Reynolds hit a career-best .282 in 2016 with 14 home runs and 53 RBIs. Reynolds was limited to 32 at-bats after Aug. 11 due to breaking the hamate bone in his left hand and then breaking his left wrist.
NEWCOMERS TO WATCH: Lefty Kyle Freeland and righty Antonio Senzatela have made strong cases to fill the last two spots in the rotation. Freeland was the eighth overall pick in the 2014 draft and grew up in Denver. Signed as a non-drafted international free agent in 2011, Senzatela spent last season with Double-A Hartford, where he went 4-1 with a 1.82 ERA in a season marred by shoulder issues.
GRAY SKIES TO BLUE: After a solid 10-10 campaign, Gray wanted to take it to the next level. So, he tried Pilates, just like 2015 NL Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta. ''I definitely feel different in a good way,'' Gray said. ''I feel a lot healthier, like nothing is holding me back.''
GETTING FIRST DOWN: Desmond has been watching Kansas City's Eric Hosmer, the Chicago Cubs' Anthony Rizzo and Reynolds this spring, just to see how they play first. He realized that he doesn't have to rush over to cover the bag on grounders. ''They glide,'' Desmond said.
RELIABLE INFIELD: The Rockies boast quite a groundball-stuffing infield with third baseman Arenado, Story and second baseman DJ LeMahieu. Arenado is a four-time Gold Glover, while LeMahieu earned one in 2014. Story could be in the running at some point, too. ''It's a lot of fun to watch, too, even when you're not pitching and on the bench,'' Gray said. ''They're amazing, defensively.''
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