SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Early days of Spring Training 2018 are louder than in years past.With the current Collective Bargaining Agreement calling for an earlier start to the regular season, Rockies players have just four practice days between Monday's first full-squad workout and Friday's Cactus League opener against the D-backs at
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Early days of Spring Training 2018 are louder than in years past.
With the current Collective Bargaining Agreement calling for an earlier start to the regular season, Rockies players have just four practice days between Monday's first full-squad workout and Friday's Cactus League opener against the D-backs at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.
Where once upon a time players spent the first few live batting-practice sessions tracking pitches -- staying away from the inside pitch on the hands and thinking about dodging the pitch that gets away -- folks were swinging from the first sessions on Monday.
"I feel like we've got a game, and we've gotta get ready to play -- that's what's going on," center fielder Charlie Blackmon said. "I also feel like guys are closer to game-ready when they show up to camp."
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Salt River Fields is a year-round, high-quality center, and players either live in Scottsdale or arrive a month early. But Rockies front-office assistant Vinny Castilla had his springs in a different time and place. Spring Training was at Hi Corbett Field in Tucson -- considered primitive, even in its time. Try getting off the plane then and facing a pitcher who was less than sharp.
"The first two days, I just tracked the ball -- I didn't want to swing, especially with a young kid pitching and he'd come inside," Castilla said. "I got hit a couple times. I wasn't a big fan of live BP. I was scared. When they'd come inside, I was like, 'Oh man.'"
Even now, a batter isn't totally safe, as third baseman Nolan Arenado learned when facing righty Adam Ottavino last spring.
"First time I faced him, he drilled me in the butt, so I don't want to see that again," Arenado said.
Arenado said he needs to cut loose, regardless of the result.
"The only way I can find out where I'm at is if I swing, and that's what I've been doing," Arenado said. "I've been getting jammed. I hit some balls off the end. It's a work in progress right now."
Manager Bud Black said pitchers are on the same schedule as last year, but some veteran position players could be held out of the first few games.
Arenado and Blackmon said they don't face live pitching before Spring Training. But shortstop Trevor Story takes full-speed swings before arriving at camp, thanks to Brandon Sherard, a former pitcher who is his hitting instructor.
"We make it challenging," Story said. "He's throwing hard, throwing sliders. He's nasty. He gets me sometimes, but if you ask him, he'll tell you I get the best of him a lot."
Righty Chad Bettis was bandaged from just below his chest to his waist Wednesday morning, which had at least one reporter's injury radar beeping. But it had more to do with the mercury being at 36 degrees -- balmy for Denver, which had below-zero overnight temps and had a 73-degree temperature drop over a two-day period. At any rate, the good news is Bettis is well.
"I'm just warming up -- it's a heating pad because I'm just a little cold this morning," Bettis said, laughing.
Hoffman gets opening nod
Right-hander Jeff Hoffman, in competition for a starting rotation spot, will start Friday afternoon's Cactus League opener against the D-backs.
Here's the story of a cleanup man?
In 10 games in the cleanup spot last season, the right-handed-hitting Story posted a .989 OPS. The sample size is small, but intriguing. Black used Story fourth in his order on some occasions late last season, especially against left-handed starters. The manager said using Story at cleanup more extensively is an option this year, depending on roster and lineup construction. While left-handed-hitting Gerardo Parra is an option against a difficult right-handed pitcher, Story could earn those opportunities if he improves at making contact.
"Avoiding the strikeout, putting the ball in play, self-admitted he wasn't good at that early in the year," Black said of the young shortstop. "So he's got to get to that point. The guys who do knock in runs, the guys who do get it done in situations, those guys put the ball in play. That's where the challenge is for him and the improvement we're talking about."
Pat Valaika, who became known as "Patty Barrels" last year because of his pinch-hit power, has increased his practice repetitions at first base. In the best-case scenario, left-handed-hitting Ryan McMahon nails down the regular job, and Valaika starts against difficult lefties such as the Giants' Madison Bumgarner and the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw.
Valaika has been more of a traditional infield utility player, but he began working at first last year and appeared in five games, with one start.
"I had all last year to work on it, and this offseason I knew it was going to be part of the job, so I made it a priority," Valaika said.
Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter and like his Facebook page.