In roster battle, Wolters also fighting illness

Catcher has had limited chances to perfect his revamped swing

March 12th, 2019

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies catcher ’ bid for an Opening Day roster spot is being hampered by illness.

Monday marked the fifth straight day Wolters, whose 13th-inning single gave the Rockies a 2-1 victory over the Cubs in last year’s National League Wild Card Game, has not been able to play defensively. First it was a stomach flu that has hit so many Rockies. Then Saturday, during the team’s split-squad trip to Monterrey, Mexico, an upper-respiratory virus forced Wolters out of the lineup. On Sunday, he crawled out of sick bay to go 0-for-3 as the designated hitter in the 5-2 loss to the D-backs.

Tom Murphy, who is out of Minor League options and trying to prove he can join Chris Iannetta in a catching tandem, was preparing to start Monday against the Athletics. Meanwhile, Wolters, glassy-eyed and with his usually buoyant voice registering flat, was headed to the batting cage, trying to keep fresh with the offensive adjustments he made during the offseason.

“I’m still trying to fight my sickness,” said Wolters, who can be sent to the Minors without being exposed to waivers because he still has an option. “I got some at-bats [Sunday], and I’m seeing the ball really well. My energy is not quite where I want it to be. I’m trying to hydrate a lot, drink a lot of Emergen-C. I’ve got some prescriptions that will help me get over the hump.

“It’s tough. I feel like I’ve been sick for over a week now. My body’s just really tired.”

The winner against the Cubs in last year’s National League Wild Card Game was the biggest highlight of Wolters’ otherwise difficult offensive season. After finishing with a .170 batting average, Wolters worked with Rockies hitting coaches and rebuilt his swing from his feet-up.

Mainly on Wolters’ penchant for daring and often game-changing plays defensively, the Rockies put enough trust in him to sign him for $960,000 to avoid arbitration. Still, more is needed offensively from Wolters and the other catchers, since Rockies catchers finished 14th in batting average (.206), 13th in slugging (.307) and 12th in OPS (.657) last year in the 15-team NL.

But this spring, Wolters is 2-for-17 with one double -- and not feeling well enough to put his cleaned-up mechanics into action.

“I’m disappointed, but everything happens for a reason,” Wolters said. “Once I start feeling better, start getting the at-bats I need, I’m going to be where I need to be. I’m very bought-in to the work I did, and I’m excited to be able to bring it onto the field.”

Manager Bud Black acknowledged that when Wolters is well, the message will be to have a consistent approach.

“We’ve got to keep Tony directed in one path of an approach and not change,” Black said. “He can change often. That’s sort of his nature. We’ve got to try to keep it in a simple manner with Tony to trust what he’s doing now. Once he gets healthy, back on the field, we’ll try to catch him up.”

Drafted by the Indians in 2010 as an infielder and converted to catcher in their system, Wolters is dynamic with throws and fielding plays, while still learning as a receiver.

“I need to keep in constant communication with the pitchers, and I feel my body is in good position and I’m reading the hitters pretty well,” Wolters said. “I’m continuing to grow as a player.

“I need to get healthy.”