At Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, AZ, Colorado slugged Cincinnati around for a 7-3 victory before a happy sell-out crowd of Rockies fans.
Peyton Manning’s former University of Tennessee football teammate Todd Helton was the star of the day, belting two home runs (one to right field and the other to left) off of Johnny Cueto pitches that were up in the strike zone.
At 38, Helton continues to battle chronic back problems that have been the reason for his declining power numbers the last several years. However, on Sunday, Helton said, "today my back felt good," and he proved he still had some pop in the bat.
What else did we learn about these two teams from their game?
Besides Helton, Casey Blake, starting pitcher Jhoulys Chacin and pitcher Alex White had good days.
Blake, after an injury-plagued 2011 season, is trying to make the Colorado roster. The third baseman also launched a home run and appears to be shaking off neck woes, but at his age (38), there's no way to know if his injury woes could return.
Chacin lacked the type of command he and manager Jim Tracy would prefer with his fastball, yet he did a much better job keeping the ball down, compared to other spring outings. His breaking pitches either missed Cincinnati bats or left them unable to pull the trigger to swing.
Alex White had a lively fastball with a lot of movement, and Colorado coaches had to be encouraged that White’s slider showed more movement. The jury is still out on whether White will make the big club as a reliever to start or work in Triple-A as a starter, but at least everyone felt better about Cleveland’s former No.1 draft choice from 2009.
The pickup of Michael Cuddyer should be a real positive for the Rockies. He’s a full-effort player with a good bat and should bring more energy to a team that lacked it a season ago.
Oddsmakers have Colorado pegged for 81.5 wins. They are the type of team that might surprise and go to 85 wins and be in the playoff hunt, or settle back and finish with 75 victories. If the Rocks play back to typical Coors Field standards after last year’s dismal 38-43 home campaign, it might get them in the swing of things, literally.
Sunday brought all kinds of news about Cincinnati. First was the resignation of knowing new closer Ryan Madson needed Tommy John surgery and was done for the year. There's a real possibility that he might not ever pitch in a Reds uniform in a regular-season game, since he has just a one-year contract with a sizable mutual option ($11M, with 2.5M buyout) for the second year.
The Reds will have to exercise all their options to determine a closer, which will include Sean Marshall, formerly of the Cubs, or possibly closing down the chances of Aroldis Chapman being the team’s fifth starter and return him to the bullpen.
Manager Dusty Baker trotted out what could be his Opening Day lineup, with admittedly possible changes in left field and at catcher. This is what it looked like.
2B Brandon Phillips
SS Zack Cozart
1B Joey Votto
3B Scott Rolen
RF Jay Bruce
LF Chris Heisey
CF Drew Stubbs
C Devin Mesoraco
P Johnny Cueto
Baker acknowledged that outfielder Ryan Ludwick will be part of this mix, along with catcher Ryan Hanigan.
Cincinnati banged out 11 hits but never could get them in bunches, which is why they only scored three runs. The Reds had several good swings at Colorado pitchers with Chris Heisey manufacturing three hits and Joey Votto rounding into form with a pair of base knocks.
Cueto made three major mistakes, and each one was taken deep by Colorado batters in his six innings of work. Cueto was not overly concerned and felt he was on schedule and thankful not be feeling pain like he did at this time a year ago.
Similar to Texas', Cincinnati players appear somewhat bored, knowing they are a good club and have spent enough time in the desert. Baker’s job this week is to keep them moving in the right direction and, by next Monday, have them primed with just a few days remaining until the traditional home opener, this year against Miami.
Oddsmakers still have the Reds pegged for 88 wins and favored to win the Central Division.
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