HOUSTON -- Rockies left fielder Carlos Gonzalez enters the 2012 regular season quietly, the way he prefers it.Last year, he was a freshly anointed star, having signed a seven-year, $80 million contract. The numbers were still strong -- .295 average, 26 home runs and 92 RBIs -- but there was an early slump, then repeated injuries to his right wrist after he found his groove. Gonzalez ended up playing just 127 games. Even more, Gonzalez played all three outfield positions with distinction, but because he didn't play any of them regularly enough, he was hurt in the Rawlings Gold Glove Award voting and didn't win one, after winning it the previous year. Gonzalez, 26, hit .259 with a home run, 16 RBIs and three doubles in Spring Training, but most of the time he was working on an opposite-field stroke and not attempting to crush the inside pitch the way he does during the regular season. Not being in the media's eye all the time -- the bigger lineup story was the addition of several veterans to solidify the order -- gave him a chance to work on his stroke. "It's exciting when you play your first game," Gonzalez said. "We all want to do well, we want to make this team better. I'm going to try to stay healthy, play as much as I can, stay on the field." Gonzalez began the 2011 season in right, moved to center when Dexter Fowler was demoted in the middle of the year, and wound up playing more in left than anywhere else. The injuries occurred when he crashed into the wall in center and in right, both times at Coors Field. Keeping him in one position could reduce the injury risk because he can familiarize himself with one position, not only at home but in other ballparks, too.
Nelson earns Opening Day nod at third
HOUSTON -- Chris Nelson does limited social media. He found out he was starting at third base for the Rockies in Friday's Opening Night game against the Astros the old-fashioned way."I didn't know until I walked in," Nelson said. "I don't have Twitter. Neither my dad nor my mom have it. We just use the Internet for a little Facebook, but I haven't done anything [to let them know]. They said they were going to watch the game, anyway. Hey, I'm in there. "When you look up [at the lineup card], you expect it. Every day you come to the ballpark, even last year, I was expecting it. So I was expecting to play today, and with the power of attraction, I'm in the lineup." Nelson, 26, hit .250 in 63 games with the Rockies last season, which included a brief run as the starting second baseman before the Rockies acquired Mark Ellis (now with the Dodgers) in a trade. During Spring Training, Nelson, the Rockies' top Draft pick in 2004 out of Redan High School outside of Atlanta, hit .275 with a .464 slugging percentage, two home runs, five doubles, a triple and 12 RBIs. Versatile Jordan Pacheco hit .339 with a home run, seven doubles and nine RBIs in 23 games. Manager Jim Tracy said both will get plenty of playing time, but he felt Nelson earned the start Friday not only because of his defense, which is above average at third and good enough at second and short, but his offense. "Offensively, he's been extremely consistent all spring long -- even his outs at times have been very hard outs," Tracy said. "In relation to where he was at a couple of years ago and where it is he's come to, to be starting on Opening Day, I'm sure he feels good about himself. As well he should." Pacheco, 26, who like Nelson is on an Opening Day roster for the first time, plays third base, first base and catcher, which makes him a valuable and versatile member of the bench on days he doesn't start. "There were games in Spring Training where I came off the bench and played the last half of the game, so I'm prepared to do whatever," Pacheco said. "Me and 'Nellie' come to the park ready to play, to do whatever we can to help the team. "I'm ready for any position. At the end of the day, it's baseball. You've got to field the ball. You've got to catch the ball. You've got to throw the ball. Keep it simple and you'll be all right."
Giambi expects to get more at-bats off bench
HOUSTON -- Rockies veteran Jason Giambi hit a home run once every 29.3 at-bats in 2010, and once every 10.1 at-bats last year. That's a game-winning weapon on the bench.With an improved overall bench this year, Giambi believes manager Jim Tracy will give him more chances to turn contests in the Rockies' favor. "There are a lot more options this year, and Jim will be trying to get me an opportunity earlier in the game sometimes," Giambi said. "It'll give me a chance to have a few more at-bats to stay strong. Sometimes the hardest thing is [Tracy] would save me until the end of the game, and a lot of times that time never came." Giambi will be joined on the bench by left-handed-hitting Tyler Colvin, and one of two right-handed-hitting infielders, Jordan Pacheco or Chris Nelson, depending usually on who starts at third base. Also, with Pacheco able to catch, either he or right-handed-hitting rookie catcher Wilin Rosario also will be available. Speedy Eric Young Jr. also can win games with his speed. He is 48-for-62 in stolen-base attempts over parts of three Major League seasons, and has the ability to take the extra base with the ball in play. "We feel as though we have answers for a lot of different situations," Tracy said.
Friday was Rockies first baseman Todd Helton's 15th straight Opening Day start -- the longest active streak for starting an Opening Day for the same team -- and he was hoping to extend his season-opening hit streak to 13 games."He's a Hall of Famer, for me," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said. "One of the brightest moments of my Major League career has been the opportunity and the pleasure to manage this guy. With all the special things that he has done for 15 years, he walks into this clubhouse each and every day like it's his first or second year. He can't wait to get here and play." Rockies left-hander Drew Pomeranz, who was optioned to the Minors late in camp because the Rockies don't need him to start a game until April 15 at home against the D-backs, threw 94 pitches Thursday against players in the Rockies' extended spring program in Scottsdale, Ariz. Pomeranz will start a Minor League game on Tuesday. The Rockies will pick the team he'll pitch for based on weather. They don't want him pitching in bad conditions or losing the start because of a weather postponement. The Rockies wore new gray uniforms, designed much like the road uniforms the team wore from its expansion year of 1993-99. The pinstripes have been removed. Added is a key-like design around the collars and framing around the buttons. The Rockies also have designated Mondays as "Purple Mondays." The club will wear purple jerseys on that day, including in the home opener against the Giants at Coors Field. The story of 49-year-old Jamie Moyer, who will start on Saturday, has given the Rockies a front-burner presence among the media, but general manager Dan O'Dowd said Moyer is more than a good tale. "The story means zero to me -- that's his story, but not our story," O'Dowd said. "He made the club for his performance. In addition, he provides a set of intangibles that really benefit our club the days he doesn't pitch. "The days he does pitch, we're looking for him to give us quality innings. It's going to be different quality innings. And the other days, it's to really get some younger guys and even some guys who have a few years in to recognize how they can get 22 years of service. He loves to share that kind of information."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.