Slowing runners a priority for Rockies |

Slowing runners a priority for Rockies

AP Photo/John MillerColorado Rockies manager Clint Hurdle throws part of batting practice at the Hi Corbett practice fields in Tucson, Ariz., Monday.

TUCSON, Ariz. – Each inning of Colorado’s first intrasquad game on Monday started with runners on first and second so the team could work on holding runners.That’s no surprise. Every day on every field at Colorado’s spring training site, the Rockies work on holding runners, picking off runners, slowing runners.And it’s hard not to blame the Rockies for the emphasis considering they were one of baseball’s worst teams at throwing out runners, allowing a 75 percent success rate.”The running game in particular was a thorn in our side last year,” Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said. “We were one of the clubs that was the bottom of the barrel as far as controlling the running game.”But when the Rockies work on slowing opposing runners, it’s not all about getting the catchers to throw better and quicker.

Sure, that’s part of the equation in throwing out runners, but the pitchers also have to do a better job of working pickoffs and the infielders have to pay closer attention to runners, doing their best to make sure someone doesn’t wander too far off base.”Everybody in the infield, their awareness has been heightened,” Hurdle said. “All the defensive players, every pitcher they’ve got to perform that move or stop the runner – one of the two. Just saying I’m going to get the runner out that’s not acceptable because now we’ve got a history to go on that doesn’t always work.”Of course, for a team that’s had one winning season in the last seven years, there’s plenty of room for improvement.”The way we’ve got to make improvements and close the gap in the National League West and the National League is that we’ve got to become better,” Hurdle said. “They’ve got to take the next step. The elite teams, you talk about it in every sport, they perform well and execute well at critical times. That’s what separates everybody.”JOHNSON’S DILEMMA: The Rockies have decided to go with J.D. Closser and Todd Greene as their primary catchers, leaving Charles Johnson waiting for either a trade or to get released.

It would seem like an awkward situation, but Hurdle doesn’t see it that way.”I’m not so sure now how awkward a situation it is. The situation has been explained and he’s completely understanding,” Hurdle said. “He’s got to prepare for a major league season. Nothing’s changed. The minute Closser goes down, Johnson slides into the fold. And if not, Charles needs to prepare for a major league season for Charles.”As far as Johnson’s preparation, Hurdle hasn’t noticed a difference.”It’s spring training and it’s probably a heightened awareness at spring training for him,” Hurdle said. “He’s working extremely hard. He’s in the right frame of mind. There’s no doubt in my mind he’s in the right frame of mind just by his comments and the way he’s going about his business.”INTRASQUAD SUCCESS: The Rockies played their first intrasquad Monday and there were plenty of good signs.

While some of the young pitchers worked a little too quickly and left some pitches up in the zone, the defense was sterling at times, the hitters hit some balls hard and the bunt drills went on with few hitches.On defense, third baseman Jeff Baker flashed some handy glove work with a diving stop in the second inning and centerfielder Choo Freeman made a diving grab on a sinking liner in the third. First baseman Ryan Shealy made a diving stop in the fifth and Eddy Garabito did the same in the sixth.”I think we got about just about as much as we could have expected out of that 5 1/2 innings performance today,” Hurdle said.It was nice to see the young players do so well, but Hurdle wasn’t about to put too much stock in the performance.”I didn’t write anything down, of significance I thought as far as if a guy won a plus today or a minus, there was none of that going on,” he said. “Nobody made the club, nobody was asked to leave.”

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