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Rockies can turn it around in 2013 with health, pitching

PHOENIX -- Despite the worst record in their 20 seasons of existence in 2012, Rockies players believe they could go places in 2013 with a healthier lineup and improved pitching. Realistically, a turnaround will involve more, given the mistakes of inexperience, the team's traditional road struggles and the need to improve a poor defense. Nonetheless, there is optimism.

However, a big step toward the Rockies being able to go anywhere in 2013 is determining how they plan to get where they're going. The next few days, as well as the offseason, will go a long way toward setting a course.

The Rockies landed last in the National League West, their first finish alone in the basement since 2005 (they tied 2006). But there were some unusual turns on their route to the bottom.

By June, they had instituted an avant-garde four-starter rotation with strict pitch limits, and starter-types designated to pick up multiple innings. Not long after they rolled out that plan, longtime pitching coach Bob Apodaca left the post because of fatigue and the Rockies announced a dual pitching coach role, with Bo McLaughlin working with the starters and Jim Wright overseeing relievers.

The changes went beyond pitching in early August, when general manager Dan O'Dowd handed the day-to-day responsibility for the Major League club to assistant GM Bill Geivett, who spent the rest of the year embedded with the club and worked alongside manager Jim Tracy and the coaches. Geivett maintained an office near the clubhouse and made all of the road trips.

Simple issues such as who is in charge of what and how the team is being run, on gameday and in the big picture, were changed and at times seemed muddled.

The process of clearing matters up will begin Friday, when Geivett and Tracy -- who had worked together in the past with the Expos and the Dodgers -- have a meeting. They're expected to discuss the coaching staff as well as how the Rockies will function. Tracy is under a contract that guarantees him through the 2013 season and has language that prevents him from managing a season in the last year of a contract, but that doesn't make a parting of ways impossible.

Geivett said he isn't looking in that direction.

"Trace is under contract, so at this point we haven't even discussed it," Geivett said during the team's final road trip. "It's not even a topic of discussion right now. Trace and I are going to sit down after the season and talk after the season about everything."

Tracy declined to discuss the upcoming meeting, saying he didn't want to speak out of turn. Tracy has spent the better part of three months singing the praises of the young players and hope for the injured players and the pitching staff.

But he said the best way for the Rockies to help the players move forward is to solidify how they operate.

"It's important for peace of mind," Tracy said. "A group of players performs at ease and you get the best and the most out of them when they know exactly what the landscape looks like. I don't think it's good for players involving themselves mentally with guesswork or wondering what's going on. It's important to be very clear with them, 'Here's exactly what's going on.' Absolutely."

In many ways, the Rockies' crowning achievement was that players didn't engage in open dissension or less-than-diligent preparation. The changes were dizzying, but little energy was wasted rebelling.

For example, overwhelmingly, players were happy to see the four-man experiment end and welcomed the announcement that the Rockies will be more (but not totally) traditional in their pitching plan. But players also commended the Rockies for trying to be innovative. After all, it was based on a study of stats over 20 years.

"They wanted to find a way to win, to put the pieces together," said All-Star outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, who often felt alone in a lineup that lost veterans Troy Tulowitzki, Michael Cuddyer, Todd Helton and Ramon Hernandez to season-ending injury.

Reliever Matt Belisle, who along with closer Rafael Betancourt has emerged as a mentor for younger bullpen personnel, agreed that direction is needed, but emphasized that the changes were an effort to stem the losing. Win, and such innovation is unnecessary.

"Winning takes care of everything and covers up more," Belisle said. "Players as a group, especially a close group like ours, we have our talks and discussions but we know that just because we're losing, this stuff arises.

"In the end, I believe that we all look for simplicity. The game can complicate itself enough. But in the business that is baseball, people are going to try to dig for changes because nobody wants to be losing."

Youth might have helped morale. Catcher Wilin Rosario and multi-position player Jordan Pacheco were lineup mainstays, and by season's end fellow rookies Josh Rutledge at shortstop and DJ LeMahieu at second base were everyday players.

"You've got to be proud of the guys," said center fielder Dexter Fowler, who had his most consistent seasons since debuting in 2009. "We're playing hard every game like we're still in the race. You see other teams that have really given up."

Cuddyer, who missed the final seven weeks with an oblique strain, said, "Nobody's content and happy, obviously, but at the same time nobody is griping and pointing fingers at anybody else. Guys are being accountable. You can't fault our team at all for lack of effort and lack of work. I've been on a team that lost 99 games [the Twins in 2011] where that didn't particularly happen.

"I think a direction definitely needs to be established. You talk about experimentation. But once that direction is established, then I think the mentality is going to be there."

The calls for simplicity do not mean the Rockies will repudiate all that occurred in 2012.

Josh Roenicke, Adam Ottavino, Carlos Torres and Guillermo Moscoso had enough stretches of success to make Geivett believe the hybrid role -- in which the reliever pitches on a schedule like a starter -- has a future. One size fits all pitch limits were problematic, but some pitchers with tighter reins than others made sense to the Rockies.

Geivett saw benefit in being embedded with the club and reporting to O'Dowd, who remains the final authority on player acquisitions. That leads to the likelihood that the Rockies will operate under a philosophy championed by owner and CEO Dick Monfort, with increased collaboration rather than asset boundaries between jobs.

Tracy said the Rockies can make an immediate turnaround, but they have to move to the business of realistically assessing areas to improve.

"Have the shortcomings from the mound this year from a starting pitching standpoint hampered us?" Tracy said. "There's no question about it. But to say that's the only reason, that's not fair, not accurate. There's more to it than that."

Geivett agreed.

"We have a lot of things to prove," he said, "not only to ourselves but everybody else out there."

Colorado Rockies, Michael Cuddyer, Guillermo Moscoso, Adam Ottavino, Josh Roenicke, Carlos Torres