SAN DIEGO -- A pair of second-inning plays by Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki on Tuesday night -- one when he dashed behind second base to rob the Padres' Nick Hundley, the other when he barehanded a Robbie Erlin bouncer that deflected off the left hand of pitcher Juan Nicasio -- demonstrated why any game he plays is a chance to see something special.
The Rockies' decision to sit Tulowitzki a few games recently because of tightness in his right quadriceps earned the shortstop much criticism on social media. But keeping him healthy for such plays is a priority for the Rockies, who can't and won't succumb to howling.
Manager Walt Weiss said this isn't any ordinary shortstop.
"He's been showing that since the spring that he's feeling real good, moving real well," Weiss said. "Those were tough chances last night. I know, playing the position, to convert those plays into outs is very difficult. Not only does he have the strong arm, but the quick release. That one play up the middle, the ball was in his glove and gone. That's what it takes to finish those plays.
"That's what I like about him. He's got the ability to finish plays -- not only get to the ball, but finish plays."
Bullpen still coming together in early going
SAN DIEGO -- Rockies closer LaTroy Hawkins notes that the early days of a season can be difficult for relievers. They've had a chance to work in Spring Training, but the innings aren't enough, or intense enough, to truly prepare.
"Guys are swinging at the first pitch or guys are out there working on things, and you're only throwing one inning at a time," Hawkins said. "We're still getting ourselves together."
Not that Rockies relievers haven't been getting the chance to work. From the start of the current road trip through Tuesday, the bullpen worked 18 2/3 innings with 16 strikeouts, against 10 hits and 10 walks, with the walks being largely due to lefty setup man Rex Brothers' slump. From April 9 through Tuesday, the 0.79 ERA for the Rockies' 'pen was the second-lowest in the Majors to the 0.73 mark for the Giants.
"There's a fine line," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "I talk about protecting our pitching all the time, protecting our starting pitching, but there's a balance there where you're really protecting the starters and the bullpen takes on the workload. I'm aware of that."
The balance of a good bullpen can be upset easily. Last year, the Rockies were near the top of the National League West in June, until then-closer Rafael Betancourt began dealing with a series of injuries that would end his season early. He ended up undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.
Picking up veterans Hawkins and lefty Boone Logan, who has five strikeouts against five hits and a walk in three innings over five appearances, has helped stabilize the bullpen. Brothers, who has battled walks and doesn't appear to be pitching with the necessary abandon and confidence, Chad Bettis and Tommy Kahnle are getting important innings as young relievers. Veteran Matt Belisle has at times shown wear from heavy usage the past four seasons, but his last two appearances have been solid.
What isn't clear is whether this bullpen can withstand the upheaval that comes with injury, like the one to Betancourt last year. But there are possible experienced reinforcements in veteran Nick Masset, who is coming off two years of injury and is at Triple-A Colorado Springs, and even Betancourt, who plans to re-sign with the Rockies and could be available if he heals properly.
But Weiss would rather turn to other relievers in non-emergency situations.
"Last year we lost 'Raffy' for big, big chunks of time," Weiss said. "When that happens, there's not a whole lot you can do. You deal with it, but it's going to affect you. It trickles down. We ran into that last year. Hopefully, we don't lose guys for big chunks of time out there, because if that's the case, it affects your bullpen and where guys are slotted out there. I pay a lot of attention to how they're feeling every day. I try to stay on top of it, stay out in front of it."
The Rockies have to hope the heavy early workload sharpens the bullpen rather than deplete it.
"It works both ways -- you get a lot of work done, which is good," Hawkins said. "But you don't want to wear down too early and get to a point where the bullpen is tired."
LeMahieu coming through in clutch situations
SAN DIEGO -- Rockies second baseman DJ LeMahieu has become a weapon in run-scoring situations. Before Wednesday night's game against the Padres, which he didn't start, he was batting .538 (7-for-16) with two doubles with runners in scoring position.
LeMahieu entered Wednesday batting .289 overall. The ability to produce in run-scoring situations is especially important because of where LeMahieu bats in the order. Pitchers often try to entice the No. 8 hitter to chase outside the strike zone for misses or weak contact.
"He's a very reliable player," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "That sounds somewhat generic but that's a great compliment in this game, to say that a guy's a reliable player. That's what he is. On both sides of the ball, in any situation, I just feel comfortable that the situation is never going to be too big for him.
"He's got the ability to slow down the game and take an at-bat, or slow down the game and turn a tough double play. He performs well because he's able to control his emotions and control the situation."
Chacin to continue rehab work at Class A
SAN DIEGO -- Right-hander Jhoulys Chacin will throw his second injury rehab start with Class A Modesto on Friday, Rockies head athletic trainer Keith Dugger said.
Chacin, who suffered a right shoulder strain at the beginning of Spring Training, was better in his first rehab start Monday than the numbers indicated -- four runs on three hits and two walks in 2 2/3 innings, with two strikeouts. Anyhow, health and seeing game action are more important to the Rockies than the numbers.
"His pitch count was up, but a ground ball hit the bag and went over the third baseman's head, scored a run, then there was a base hit, and a guy lost one in the sun," said Dugger, who had detailed conversations with Chacin and Rockies personnel at the game. "He said he couldn't control his sinker. It was moving a lot. But that's a feel pitch. It's also the next level -- a little bit better than going against extended spring guys. It's a very good first outing."
Pacheco's pairing with De La Rosa not intentional
SAN DIEGO -- Rockies manager Walt Weiss said he hasn't made Jordan Pacheco the personal catcher for left-hander Jorge De La Rosa, even if it looks that way.
Pacheco's pairing with De La Rosa on Wednesday night against the Padres marked the third straight time they were together. This came after two well-chronicled games -- one in Spring Training, the other on Opening Night -- where it was clear De La Rosa and Wilin Rosario were having trouble with signals.
The problem with assuming that De La Rosa is being kept from Rosario, whose defense often comes under scrutiny, is his two starts with Pacheco were almost identical to the one with Rosario. De La Rosa had dominant periods, but he ran into trouble and lasted just 4 1/3 innings each time.
"It's not," Weiss said when asked if this is a personal pairing. "You probably don't believe me. That wasn't the issue. I wanted Wilin to be in there against left-handed pitching we faced the first couple of nights. He swings the bat very well against left-handed.
"I need to get Jordan in there just because he hasn't been out there in a little while. Those were the bigger factors as to who was catching Jorge tonight. Wilin will catch Jorge plenty this year."
Facing left-handers on the first two nights of the series against the Padres, Rosario was 4-for-8 with a home run and three RBIs. In De La Rosa's last start, at San Francisco, Rosario was scratched before the game because of a left wrist strain from a previous game.