DENVER (AP) – Walt Weiss the big league shortstop was known for his spunky play and fundamentally flawless execution.
Walt Weiss the rookie major league manager hopes his club will be regarded in much the same manner as he attempts to turn around a Colorado Rockies squad coming off a franchise-worst 98 losses.
This spring, Weiss has been harping on the basics of baseball, just like he did a year ago when he was in charge of his son’s high school team. The Rockies, he pledges, will be fundamentally sound. They will do things the right way.
After all, that was his prime philosophy during his playing career.
“There’s no reinventing the wheel,” said Weiss, given a one-year deal to get the Rockies back on track after taking over for Jim Tracy. “I’m excited about watching our team play and excited about trying to win games again at this level.”
Early on at spring training, Weiss’ mission was simple: Reminding players the slate is now clean. Last season is just that – last season.
The message quickly seeped in.
“Obviously, it was a disappointing season for all of us last year,” outfielder Dexter Fowler said. “We’re just trying to go out and start with a bang and keep it going throughout the season.”
The Rockies were never completely healthy in 2012 as they spiraled down the standings. All-Star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki was sidelined in late May with a groin injury that eventually required surgery to remove scar tissue.
He’s rounding back into form this spring, along with hard-throwing lefty Jorge De La Rosa, who’s attempting to bounce back from tearing an elbow ligament in 2011. Jhoulys Chacin, a staff ace in the making, also missed more than three months with shoulder inflammation.
Those ailments on the mound led the Rockies to experiment with a four-man rotation where starters were limited to 75 pitches.
It didn’t pan out. Nothing really worked out.
Simply that kind of season.
And while the Rockies are counting on resurgences from De La Rosa and Chacin, the team just recently added veteran Jon Garland to help bolster the young staff. The 33-year-old Garland missed the last 1 1/2 seasons following shoulder surgery. He went 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA in four starts for Seattle this spring and asked for his release after he was informed he wouldn’t make the Mariners’ starting rotation.
To make room in the rotation, Colorado sent Drew Pomeranz – the gem in the July 2011 trade that landed Ubaldo Jimenez in Cleveland – to minor league camp.
Asked what he expected from Garland, Weiss simply responded, “Stability.”
Tulowitzki’s presence in the lineup provides that as well. With him missing, teams were able to pitch around slugger Carlos Gonzalez, who still hit .303 with 22 homers and 85 RBIs despite missing his primary protection in the order.
“I had special numbers at the end. But I don’t show up just to put up numbers,” Gonzalez said. “Last year, everything was miserable.”
So, is this team good enough to bounce back from a 64-98 season?
“Yeah,” Gonzalez succinctly said. “If our pitchers do their job, we’re going to be competing. We’re going to be in the race.”
The Rockies plan to ease the strain on 39-year-old Todd Helton this season by giving him more days off. The five-time All-Star is a lifetime .320 hitter, but batted a career-low .238 in 69 games before having season-ending surgery on Aug. 10 to repair a torn labrum in his right hip.
He got off to a splendid start in spring training , hitting over .400.
This has been a tumultuous few months for Helton, the face of the franchise. Just before heading to Arizona, he was arrested on charges of DUI and careless driving.
“Part of making a mistake, making a monumental mistake like I made, is recognizing the mistake and doing all you can to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Helton said as he fought back tears at a news conference last month. “I’m doing everything I can to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
The focus will be on Weiss this season to see if he can make the unusual leap from coaching high school to managing in the majors with no other head coaching jobs in between.
Then again, in Weiss’ estimation, baseball is just baseball and really boils down to one thing – impeccable execution of the basics.
That’s what he was known for as a player.
And that’s what he wants his team to be known for as a skipper.
– By Pat Graham, AP Sports Writer
AP Baseball Writer Janie McCauley and freelance writer Doug Pace contributed to this report.
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