Notes: Towers ready to compete
Hill addresses media; home opener tickets sold out
TUCSON, Ariz. -- New Rockies right-hander Josh Towers repeatedly fitted a softball between the middle and index fingers of his right hand before Saturday afternoon's initial workout for pitchers and catchers at Hi Corbett Field.
That was his way of developing flexibility for the split-finger pitch he's adding to his repertoire. The exercise was not easy.
"I figured if I can stretch my hand a little every day, it'll give me some sort of advantage throwing the ball," Towers said. "But it's kind of embarrassing when I do it in front of my son, who's 4 1/2. And he's like, 'Daddy, look at me,' and he does it all the way through and shows me up. So now I wait until I get to the field, so he can't see me try to do it."
Even without a grip that, evidently, even a child of 4 1/2 can perfect, Towers has shown enough for the Rockies to attempt to trade for him on occasion. He said he was aware that the Rockies claimed him off waivers from the Blue Jays last season but could not work a trade. He said he also talked to the Rockies before he signed a two-year deal with the Jays in 2006.
This offseason, the Rockies signed Towers to a one-year deal that would pay him $1.8 million in the Majors or $400,000 in the Minors, with an additional $1.35 million in performance bonuses based on starts and innings pitched, and a mutual $3 million option for 2009.
But this is different from a situation like last season, when the Rockies were looking at Towers because they had holes in their starting rotation. This time, Towers, right-hander Kip Wells and left-hander Mark Redman have experience as they compete with talented, but inexperienced, lefty Franklin Morales for the fifth spot.
"It's always nice to go to a place where you're wanted, even though it's a completely different league," Towers said. "And I look forward to competing for what I get. That's the great thing about this game. You get to compete against the best in the world when you're playing, and you get to compete against the best in the world just to make a team.
"Another thing that's great about this team is how good we are. It's nice to see a team come back. They're all young and, I would imagine, hungrier than they were last year because of the taste of the World Series."
Towers is 45-55 with a 4.96 ERA in his career with the Orioles and Jays. Although his fastball velocity is average, it's an effective pitch because it comes in different forms. He throws a two-seamer (his fingers along the two sets of stitches on the ball at their narrowest point) that sinks and a four-seamer (the tops and bottoms of the index and middle fingers cross seams) that moves to the location he wants.
His strategy is based on getting the batter to swing early and letting fielders make plays behind him. He hopes to throw the new split-finger pitch as a variation to his fastball, not as an offspeed pitch.
Hill speaks: Rockies first-base coach Glenallen Hill personally addressed the media on Saturday about his involvement with steroids and performance-enhancing substances during his playing career. But "because of the personal nature," Hill addressed several questions by referring to the statement he released through the club on Wednesday.
Hill said he is "very embarrassed," and feels "disappointed in some of my decisions." In his statement, Hill apologized for his actions and also for not being totally forthcoming during the Mitchell Report investigation.
"I feel very cleansed," Hill said. "It's been very difficult on my family.
"This is one of the toughest [things in his life]. This is probably in the top three."
Gone: The April 4 home opener against the Diamondbacks became a sellout on Saturday morning. All those tickets went within 30 minutes of the beginning of single-game sales. Tickets are still available for the rest of that opening homestand, as well as the rest of the season.
Needles of spring: Many of the position players are already in town, even though the first full-squad workout is not until Saturday. Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, coming off a strong rookie season and having just signed for $31 million over six years, arrived with less bulk than last season.
Part of the reason is he is expected to hit second in the order. Although he lacks the speed of Kazuo Matsui, who batted second last season but has signed with the Astros, Tulowitzki believes he can add quickness and use his baseball instinct to be more of a threat than last season.
But he also took a playful shot at third baseman Garrett Atkins, who has improved as a defender but is known mainly for his hitting.
"Atkins doesn't do much over there," Tulowitzki said. "He kind of just stands there and watches balls.
"In all reality, he's worked hard this offseason, and I look for big things from him defensively. He's going to really help our defense. He's in the best shape he's ever been."
Of course, only the first part of the statement was relayed to Atkins, who recently signed a one-year, $4.3875 million deal to avoid arbitration. Atkins dug back by comparing the relative weight of their contracts.
"They're paying him $31 million," Atkins said. "He should have to cover some extra ground. When they pay me that much, maybe I'll start playing a little bit of shortstop."
On the Rox: The name of free-agent right-hander Josh Fogg, who went 21-18 for the Rockies in 2006 and 2007, has come up in some internal discussions, but it's unlikely the club would seek to sign him unless there were injuries in camp. Fogg is one of a few free agents who have not hooked up with a club even though workouts are starting. ... Right-hander Greg Reynolds, the club's No. 1 pick out of Stanford in 2006, had to rehab from shoulder surgery this winter, meaning he couldn't fulfill one of his dreams -- completing an economics degree from his top-notch university. He'll have to wait until next offseason for his next chance. The five classes he must complete have to be taken on campus, rather than online. ... Visa issues kept right-handed reliever Luis Vizcaino from making it in time for Saturday's workout. General manager Dan O'Dowd said he was expected in Tucson on Saturday night. Left-handed pitcher Brian Fuentes, who was in Florida this week arguing his arbitration case, was not at Saturday's workout, but manager Clint Hurdle said he has talked to Fuentes and he'll see him Sunday.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.