Rockies stepped up to the plate for catch­ers

The team’s con­fi­dence kept it from chas­ing free agents.

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Nick Groke

scotts­dale, ariz. » With spring train­ing in its last gasps, the Rockies stopped to look around thisweek. Their sea­son- open­ing pitch­ing ro­ta­tion prob­a­bly will be the youngest in the 25- year his­tory of the fran­chise. And the en­tire bat­tery will be young. So the Rockies won­dered aloud whether now is the time to find a vet­eran catcher. The an­swer came quickly. “Among the guys who have be­come avail­able,” man­ager Bud Black said, “there is not a big gap of tal­ent be­tween who we have and who we might get.”

The Rockies on Tues­day reached agree­ment on a mi­nor- league deal with vet­eran catcher Ryan Hani­gan, who was cut by the Phillies on Mon­day. The Rockies ac­quired him for depth. If he makes the team this year, he will be paid $ 1.25 mil­lion.

Hani­gan is an in­surance pol­icy. For now, the Rockies will move for­ward with three in­ex­pe­ri­enced catch­ers, start­ing with 24year- oldTonyWolters. Dustin Garneau, 29, will be his backup un­til Tom Mur­phy, a 26year- old slug­ger, re­turns next month froma bro­ken hand.

The Rockies not only went young on the mound, they went young for the full 60 feet, 6 inches.

“We feel good about these guys,” Black said of the catch­ers. “What they’ve shown this spring, with their re­ceiv­ing abil­ity, the

Rockies 10, Padres 5 At Peo­ria Sports Com­plex peo­ria, ariz. » Trevor Story’s dive-’ n’- roll play stole the show Thurs­day af­ter­noon in the Rockies’ 10- 5 vic­tory over San Diego. The short­stop dived for Yangervis So­larte’s hot shot up the mid­dle, gloved it, rolled over and si­mul­ta­ne­ously— and blindly— flipped the ball to sec­ond base­man DJ LeMahieu, who com­pleted the spec­tacublock­ing, work­ing with our pitch­ers and know­ing our pitch­ers, know­ing what I ex­pect, it is a sit­u­a­tion that is very im­por­tant to us.”

Derek Nor­ris, an all- star catcher with theAth­let­ics in 2014, was re­leased twoweeks ago by theNa­tion­als. On the sur­face, he seemed to be a per­fect fit for the Rockies, a team with a green catch­ing corps and in­jury is­sues. And he was a catcher for Black with the Padres in 2015.

ButNor­ris ended up with the Rays; he signed a $ 1.2 mil­lion con­tract with in­cen­tives last week. Those in­cen­tives are for bigleague time, and the Rockies ap­par­ently didn’t want to make prom­ises. They are all in on their young­sters.

“I don’t have very much ma­jor- league ex­pe­ri­ence, in the vet­eran sense. But I have worked­with all these guys,” Garneau said, glanc­ing at the row of start­ing pitcher lock­ers in theRock­ies’ club­house at Salt River Fields. “I’ve caught them a lot in the mi­nor leagues and a few in the ma­jors. I have a a good feel for what they can do. We have a good rap­port.”

At spring train­ing, Black of­ten has pulled aside his bat­tery for in­struc­tion. Aformer pitcher and pitch­ing coach, Black said he knows the im­por­tance of a pitcher­catcher re­la­tion­ship. He has lar dou­ble play to end the first in­ning.

“It was un­be­liev­able. He’s a stud ath­lete, huh?” Rockies start­ing pitcher Tyler An­der­son said of Story. “He made a great play even get­ting to the ball, and then to have the where­withal to stay with it? Un­real. Then DJ made the quick throw. That’s a fun in­field we have.”

Added man­ager Bud Black: “I sort of wish that had been

Young back­stops

The Rockies seem headed to­ward hav­ing the youngest pitch­ing ro­ta­tion in their 25- year his­tory, but the en­tire bat­tery will be young, too. Three in­ex­pe­ri­enced catch­ers will help shep­herd those pitch­ers from be­hind the plate: Catcher, age Games AB Avg. OPS Tony Wolters, 24 71 205 .259 .723 Dustin Garneau, 29 46 138 .196 .584 Tom Mur­phy, 26 32 79 .266 .949 Note: Ca­reer stats; OPS ( on- base plus slug­ging per­cent­age). per­son­ally shep­herded those bonds at spring train­ing.

Last week in Goodyear, Ariz., 22- year- old righthander An­to­nio Sen­za­tela walked to the Rockies’ dugout af­ter an er­ror- marred fifth in­ning that pushed Sen­za­tela to the ropes. Black stopped him at the bot­tom of the steps and dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son. We’d see that run­ning for decades. What a great play that was.” Hits: LeMahieu, the de­fend­ing Na­tional League bat­ting cham­pion, hiked his spring av­er­age to .344 with three hits and two RBIs. ... Stephen Car­dullo, still hop­ing to make the 25- man ros­ter, went 2for- 4 and is hit­ting .379. ... Lefty re­liever Mike Dunn pitched a score­less eighth. hud­dled with Garneau.

“He’s watch­ing. He’s not inmy ear, but he’s def­i­nitely watch­ing,” Garneau said of Black. “He’s mak­ing sure you’re do­ing the right thing, stay­ing on the same page. Be­tween in­nings, he’s com­ing down, talk­ing to me, talk­ing to pitch­ers. If there’s one pitch called, he’s ask­ing why. He’s very in tune with the pitch­ing game.”

Black, in a sense, is a sur­ro­gate catcher among catch­ers with lit­tle ex­pe­ri­ence. Wolters made the Rockies’ sea­son- open­ing ros­ter last year in a sur­prise, only three months af­ter they con­verted him from amid­dle in­fielder to catcher. He played in 71 games, 59 be­hind the plate. Garneau played in 24 games last year, Mur­phy 21. None re­ceived as much field time as 32- year- old vet­eran Nick Hund­ley.

The Rockies let Hund­ley go in free agency, turn­ing in­stead to their youth­ful trio. So while it seemed Nor­ris might be a good fit, theRock­iesweren’t look­ing for an­other Hund­ley when they al­ready had one.

“Their re­la­tion­ship will trans­late into good pitch­ing per­for­mances,” Black said of his catch­ers’ fa­mil­iar­ity with a young pitch­ing staff led by right- han­der Jon Gray, 25. “Bring­ing a new fel­low in, there would be a learn­ing curve­with that fella, to get ac­cli­mated towhat we do on the pitch­ing side and with our pitch­ers.”

Rockies short­stop Trevor Story makes an ac­ro­batic toss to sec­ond base­man DJ LeMahieu, start­ing a sen­sa­tional dou­ble play in the first in­ning of Thurs­day’s game against the Padres. “What a great play,” man­ager Bud Black said. Dar­ron Cum­mings, AP

In this im­age from Fox Sports, Rockies and San Diego Padres play­ers, along with the home plate um­pire, can bee seen hit­ting the ground dur­ing Thurs­day’s game when a swarm of bees that had been clumped near the back­stop took off across the field. Fox Sports via Twit­ter

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