SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies manager Bud Black illuminated a decision about the makeup of the Rockies roster Monday, confirming that the Rockies will go with 13 pitchers on their Opening Day roster, giving them a four-man bench.
"Five starters, eight relievers," Black said. "I was trying last year to get it to 12, but we stayed with 13."
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The bullpen has been the key ingredient in every successful Rockies season, and the need for a fortified pitching staff puts the onus on the club to come up with versatility on a limited bench.
"That's critical," Black said of the need for position players who can handle multiple roles. "That's where [Pat] Valaika, that's where [Alexi] Amarista came in handy last year, infield, outfield. Valaika infield, a backup outfielder, a backup catcher, then another."
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With Valaika penciled in as a utility infielder who can play the outfield and Tony Wolters penciled in as a backup catcher who can play infield in an emergency, the Rockies are looking for a fourth outfielder -- with David Dahl and Raimel Tapia the prime contenders -- and a final position player whose role is to be determined.
"We'll figure it out, but versatility is big if we can have those type of players," Black said.
The big three at the back of the Rockies bullpen all threw simulated innings on a back field at Salt River Fields on Monday. Closer Wade Davis and setup men Bryan Shaw and Jake McGee took the final step before entering into the fray of Cactus League play.
"They're just starting their Spring Training clock a little later," Black said. "That's based on our conversations with them about what they need to get ready for the season as we move into the early part of spring here."
Righties Davis and Shaw were a huge one-two punch in free-agent pickups, coming from successful stints with the Cubs and Indians, respectively. The remaining core of the 'pen includes McGee, a left-hander who came over in a 2016 trade with Tampa Bay and was re-signed as a free agent this offseason; last year's acquisition of southpaw Mike Dunn; right-hander Adam Ottavino, whom Colorado claimed off waivers from the Cardinals in 2012; and righty Chris Rusin, who was claimed off waivers from the Cubs in 2014.
"All those guys, Dunn, Ottavino, Davis, Shaw, McGee and Rusin, those six guys are really going to be a great team just because they understand what makes a good bullpen," Black said. "Each night that we take the field, we're not going to have all six of those guys ready to pitch. There'll be some guys down, so they all have to pull their weight."
Though they've settled into different roles in their careers, the core six each have Major League saves under their belts and can bring a versatile approach to middle and late innings that is a critical component on any Colorado club.
"What makes a good bullpen is the unselfishness and the 'whatever I can do' mentality to help the team win, regardless of the inning, the score, the role," Black said. "It's important to get guys mentally ready for certain types of games, certain innings. But they also know that you can skew from that at times. Those guys understand, because of where they come from, their experience, their service time, teams with success, they get it."
Start me up
Kyle Freeland and Charlie Blackmon made their spring debuts Monday. Freeland pitched two innings and allowed two runs on three hits, while Blackmon went 1-for-2 with a double to the right-center gap, scoring on Nolan Arenado's second spring homer as the Rockies fell, 7-4, to the split-squad D-backs.
"Location was good, but there were a couple that leaked back over the plate for hits," Freeland said of his command, which got better when he adjusted his pitch height. "One really positive thing for me was no walks. I want to fill up the zone with strikes."
Funeral for a friend
Black missed Sunday's game against the Rangers as he attended and spoke at the memorial service in San Diego celebrating the life of former Padres and D-backs general manager Kevin Towers. Black served as manager for the Padres from 2007 through mid-season 2015.
"I was honored to speak when I was asked," Black said. "You could tell from the storytelling that took place how revered Kevin was by so many people. His passion for life, his passion for baseball, his passion for people was a theme throughout the service. It was a really, really good day."