Notes: Ojeda earns backstop job
Torrealba heads to DL; Rockies finish spring strong
PHOENIX -- As the Rockies took their final stand in the Cactus League on Saturday afternoon, beating the Brewers, 6-1, in the last game of Spring Training, Miguel Ojeda emerged as the last man standing in what has been a month-long battle for a backstop spot on the roster.
Ojeda came to Rockies camp as a non-roster invitee, and made the roster after Yorvit Torrealba, once projected as the Opening Day catcher, was placed on the disabled list Saturday. Ojeda joins returnee Danny Ardoin to form the club's catching duo to start the season.
"It's sad to have the opportunity the way that I did it," Ojeda said of his promotion at Torrealba's expense. "But at the same time, it's fair. I worked my [rear] off. I told them before I left for the World Baseball Classic, I know that I have a small chance, but I'm going to work hard and I'm going to make that decision tough."
Part of what made the decision tough was choosing between Ojeda and JD Closser for the backup role. Closser struggled through the 2005 season with the Rockies, but came back strong this spring. Furthermore, he still has Minor League options, meaning he remains protected if he were sent back to the Minors upon Torrealba's return.
"[The move] answers two very serious questions," said manager Clint Hurdle. "No. 1, we're putting a player in a Major League role that's been in that role. And we're going to continue to give JD every opportunity to keep the momentum that he's built up through spring into a season, and not fall into a backup role at the Major League level. To me, that would be ludicrous at this point in time, with the strides he's made, now to put him on ice and play him once or twice a week. Miguel's been in this role.
"We love what Ojeda does defensively," Hurdle said, noting the room for improvement in Ojeda's .188 spring average. "We'll see if we can get him tightened up to add a little more offense."
Unlike Closser, Ojeda would be vulnerable to a waiver claim if the Rockies tried to send him back to the Minors now that they've purchased his Minor League contract, and the newest addition to the roster was conscious of the opportunity to play his way into keeping his big-league job.
"Now I'm in a situation where they might not want to send me down," Ojeda observed. "I'm going to keep working. At the end of the time, if they decide to send me down, it will be a tough decision again."
The easy part of the decision was determining that Torrealba was not close enough to being healthy to avoid starting his season on the DL. Torrealba has experienced tightness in his shoulder for over a month in Spring Training, and his rehabilitation was slowed down when he was hit four times by foul balls in his right biceps in less than a week.
He has not played since Saturday, the 25th, and despite playing in a Minor League game during the spring, he has only 19 Cactus League at-bats, 20 fewer than the fewest registered by anybody originally named to the 25-man roster.
"He's got to take some time," said Hurdle. "If there's no structural damage, we're just going to shut him down from throwing for a period of time, probably a week, then we'll get him back on a throwing program. We'll get his strength built back up. He'll throw long, he'll throw the bases, as we work into it. And then we'll get him out on a [Minor League] rehab where he's going to catch."
"He's going to be a welcome addition to our club," Hurdle added. "He'll just be later than earlier."
Perfect pitch: The Rockies got a strong showing from their pitching staff in their Cactus League finale, with Sun-Woo Kim pitching a scoreless first, Jeff Francis pitching six innings of one-run ball, and David Cortes and Jose Mesa shutting down the Brewers for the final two innings.
Kim was only expected to pitch one inning in his only Cactus League appearance. He had been in the running for the fifth-starter's spot, but his limited action while pitching for Team Korea in the World Baseball Classic and a minor hamstring "tweak" upon his return ultimately made the timing better to make him the long man in the bullpen at the start of the season.
"His arm's healthy," Hurdle affirmed. "The velocity, arm strength's there. No jiggle [from the hamstring], he didn't feel anything. He felt pretty confident that he's gotten a lot better. He'll be ready for Opening Day now if we need an extended two- or three-inning outing."
Francis looked especially sharp in his best outing since returning from pitching for Canada in the Classic. He allowed just two hits in his six innings, one of them a home run that accounted for the Brewers only run on the day.
"His counts got cleaner," Hurdle said of Francis's outing. "He started with an inconsistent command, behind in counts. He got better as the game went on. There's better there, but that's winning without your best stuff early and then tightening up as you go along."
Some like it hot: Several Rockies bring considerable hot streaks with them as they head north for Opening Day.
Todd Helton ended the Cactus League season with a 12-game hitting streak in tact. He kept the streak alive with a two-run homer to left-center field in the fourth inning, giving the Rockies the lead. The homer made Helton 19-for-35 (.543) during the streak, with three homers, 12 RBIs, six walks, and 11 runs scored.
Jamey Carroll finished the spring hitting in his 11th consecutive start, with his leadoff double in the fourth sparking a four-run rally for the Rox. Carroll finished the spring hitting .388 (19-for-49).
Choo Freeman hit his first double of the spring in his first at-bat Saturday. He has been passing by second base en route to third throughout the Cactus League, leading the Majors with four three-baggers. Freeman finished the spring hitting .321 (18-for-56).
Jason Smith was 2-for-2 in the finale, giving him a .348 (16-for-46) spring average.
Matt Holliday hit his first triple of the spring in his final at-bat, finishing the exhibition season hitting .286 (14-for-49).
Cactus wrap: The Rockies' .586 winning percentage (17-12-2) is their best spring record ever, and it places them fourth in the Cactus League and second in the National League West, behind the D-Backs.
"If you're locked into wins in the Cactus League, you're a little too fragile," Hurdle observed, despite showing pride in turning around a record that at one point was 3-8. "If we're going to play a game, our intentions are to win. You play the game right and you win more than you lose, if you have the skills to do it. We believe we have the skills.
"This team has gone about their business as good as any team I've played on or been around," Hurdle added. "That's the way they've gone about it since they showed up. There was just a lot of anxiety and inexperience for the first three months of the season last year. We cut a lot of teeth."
On deck: With all the roster cuts behind them, the Rockies head home to Colorado on Sunday, holding a 2 p.m. MT workout at Coors Field. The workout, and a 1:15 p.m. autograph session, are open to season-ticket holders, with Gate A opening at 11:00 a.m. The Diamondbacks will workout after the Rockies, at 4:00 p.m.
On Monday, Jason Jennings toes the mound for the Rockies' Opening Day contest at 2:05 p.m. MT with the Diamondbacks, who send Brandon Webb to the hill.
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.