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Back healthy, Denorfia battles for roster spot

Outfielder hasn't played in Majors since 2015, dealt with back pain
MLB.com @harding_at_mlb

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Once baseball stopped hurting so much, Rockies outfielder Chris Denorfia rediscovered his love for the game.

Past the back pain that marred his last several seasons with the Padres -- and the subsequent surgery last April -- Denorfia entered Monday's game against the Dodgers batting .286 with three stolen bases in six games this spring. After not playing in the Majors last year, Denorfia, 36, is trying to make the Rockies as a non-roster invitee.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Once baseball stopped hurting so much, Rockies outfielder Chris Denorfia rediscovered his love for the game.

Past the back pain that marred his last several seasons with the Padres -- and the subsequent surgery last April -- Denorfia entered Monday's game against the Dodgers batting .286 with three stolen bases in six games this spring. After not playing in the Majors last year, Denorfia, 36, is trying to make the Rockies as a non-roster invitee.

Denorfia played for manager Bud Black with the Padres from 2010-14. This winter, after a gymnastics-based training program, he convinced Black and the Rockies that he was healthy. Denorfia is a right-handed bat on a team filled with left-handed hitters on the Major League roster. With David Dahl's status uncertain because of a rib injury, Denorfia could earn a spot if he proves he can move around the outfield and provide a spark on the bases.

"I feel really good," Denorfia said. "I thought it was really important for me to show that my legs have come back like I told them they did. So there's really not any hesitation anymore in what I'm doing. It's a lot more fun playing.

"I always played the game with a lot of joy, had a great time doing it. It became a little bit more difficult before my surgery. This is just me."

Denorfia hopes to provide the aggressive baserunning that Black wants.

"He knows that he has to come in, where he is in his career, to prove that he can still play. So, yes, he's pushing it," Black said. "Some of our team expectations that I'm trying to get across, 'Deno' knows."

This is the second straight year Denorfia signed a Minor League contract in hopes of making a team in the spring. Last year's attempt was with the Yankees, but he hit .200 in the Grapefruit League and was released after 11 games that he played through pain.

After surgery and recovery, Denorfia joined the Giants on a Minor League contract. He hit .255 with four home runs and 15 RBIs at Triple-A Sacramento. He was not promoted to the Majors, but his smile returned.

"That was an important month, month and a half, just to see if I had the joy and the desire that is necessary to play every day. It was very refreshing," said Denorfia, who requested his release from San Francisco when there wasn't a big league opening, and then started his preparation for 2017 early.

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, listen to podcasts and like his Facebook page.

Colorado Rockies, Chris Denorfia