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Bad '08 fuels Rockies' hopes for redemption

Bad '08 fuels Rockies' hopes for redemption
Back in February, before the Rockies played their first Cactus League game, manager Clint Hurdle was asked to describe his team's mission after a disappointing 2008.

"To prove we're a good team that had a bad year," he said.

Conventional Baseball wisdom had already come to the opposite conclusion, that the Rocks were a bad team that had a good run at the end of 2007.

Friday, in their 17th home opener, Hurdle's team better fit his description. With the spring wind blowing and the sun shining on a full house at Coors Field, the Rocks began anew by doing pretty much the opposite of what they did when we saw them last.

The '08 team was known for its failures in the clutch. One result was a businesslike spring training that emphasized trusting teammates in what is often viewed as an individual sport. In the 10-3 laugher over the world champion Phillies, the Rocks scored five of their first seven runs with two out.

"We're still upset about what we did last year," said outfielder Ryan Spilborghs, batting .389 through four games. "That's kind of been a fuel for us. We want to prove that we are as good as we always thought we are."

A year ago, it took the Rocks 10 games to score 30 runs. This year, they did it in four. Four games are the wink of an eye in the long, languid Baseball season, but 3-1 is better than the reverse, which is where they were at this point last year.

"I think it was an honest self-evaluation by everybody involved, the players included, about challenging ourselves this spring ? and coming out hungry and ready to go, playing with an edge," Hurdle said. "And we started in spring training, playing to win, not even thinking about anything else other than playing to win."

The Rockies' homegrown offensive talent is now coming too fast for everybody to play, a nice problem to have. Rookie center fielder Dexter Fowler forced his way onto the roster, creating more competition for playing time than there was already among young hitters such as Seth Smith, Ian Stewart and Jeff Baker.

For most of spring training, the pitching looked like another story, but the early returns have been encouraging. The worst of the first four starts came from Aaron Cook, the most reliable hurler on the staff. Ubaldo Jimenez, Franklin Morales and Jason Marquis all won their first outings.

In the home opener, the veteran Marquis did exactly what the Rocks hope he'll do all season, keeping the ball down and getting groundballs when he needed them. Phillies slugger Ryan Howard hit into three double plays, two off Marquis.

"These guys are, from top to bottom, probably the best, if not the top three best lineups in the National League," Marquis said. "You've just got to be real careful with pitches. They all have holes and you've just got to attack them and exploit them as much as possible and stay away from the mistake."

Brandon Webb and Cole Hamels are dealing with health issues, but winning three of four against Webb, Dan Haren, Doug Davis and Hamels is still a good start.

With the exception of Matt Holliday, the Rockies' personnel hasn't changed much this year. What's changed is attitude.

"In '07 we played as a group," Spilborghs said. "Last year we were good, but we didn't play as a group every game. We knew we were better than you, but we wouldn't show up. We'd just expect our talent to take over.

"This year we know we're still the same group of guys. Obviously, you're missing No. 5 (Holliday), but we still have that talent and now we have to prove it. We're not just going to throw it out there and hopefully our talent beats you. We're going to try to beat you every night."

In February, based almost entirely on the promise of the loaded homegrown offense, I said the Rocks would win 85 games this season.

Before the home opener, Mayor John Hickenlooper predicted "83 or 84." When I'm more optimistic than Mr. Sunny Side Up, let's face it, the Rocks are thoroughly under the radar. Just the way they like it.

Dave Krieger: 303-954-5297 or

Author:Fox Sports
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Added: April 13, 2009

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