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Notes: Acevedo could pitch in Classic

Opening Day starter decision soon; holding runners a priority

Jason Jennings will start Opening Day, followed by Aaron Cook. (John Miller/AP)

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TUCSON, Ariz. -- Right-hander Jose Acevedo has enough confidence in his ability that he accepted being taken off the Rockies' Major League roster this winter, making it logistically harder for him to make the squad this spring.

That same confidence, combined with a love for his home country, could soon take Acevedo away from camp. On the strength of his strong playoff performance this winter in the Dominican Republic, the country could add him as early as Monday to its starting staff for the World Baseball Classic. Pool D play is March 7-10 in Orlando, Fla. Injuries to Bartolo Colon and Pedro Martinez mean the Dominicans could need his services.

Acevedo, 27, represented the Dominicans in the 2003 Caribbean World Series. An outing during which he threw seven innings of one-hit ball and fanned 13 helped the Dominicans stave off elimination against Puerto Rico. The Dominicans won the title and provided Acevedo with a thrill that he'd like to repeat. He also believes that leaving the Rockies for the tournament won't hurt him if he gets innings and pitches well.

"[Colorado general manager] Dan O'Dowd told me he doesn't want me to go over there and not get to pitch," Acevedo said. "He didn't want me to go and just hang around. If I go, I'm going to be a starter. That's a good point."

The Rockies acquired Acevedo from Cincinnati last April. He had moments when it appeared he'd be part of Colorado's pitching future as a long reliever and spot starter, but an inability to correct mechanical flaws that reared during games led to a 2-4 finish with a 6.47 ERA. The Rockies did not tender Acevedo a contract offer, so he didn't stay on the winter roster, but Acevedo agreed to return. His Major League rate is based on a $550,000 salary for the season, with incentives based on games pitched.

Going 1-0 and holding opponents to one earned run in 13 2/3 innings for Aguilas this winter helped Acevedo prepare. He said he understands not having a roster spot because of his up-and-down 2005, but there's something else that drives him. Last spring, Cincinnati questioned his physical conditioning because of his weight. He took it as a slam against his work ethic.

"You can see right now, I have the same weight and I'll prove myself, you'll see it," said Acevedo, who is 225 pounds and expects to lose 10 before Opening Day. "Everybody called me the day I was traded because they know how hard I work.

"I feel comfortable, feel strong. I like the way I look."

Answer coming quickly: Manager Clint Hurdle said he'll announce an Opening Day starter quickly, most likely before Spring Training games begin March 1. Barring injury, right-handers Aaron Cook and Jason Jennings will compete for the start April 3 at home against Arizona.

"That's something we're probably going to decide on sooner than later," manager Clint Hurdle said. "I don't want them to think that they're going to pitch their way into the spot and that's all going to be what Spring Training is about. Either one of them is going to be a very solid choice for us."

The last time an Opening Day starter was named before camp was 2003, when Jennings got the call on the strength of his National League Rookie of the Year effort the previous year. In 2004, the decision was delayed until non-roster candidate Shawn Estes, a veteran, earned the job. Last season, amid some hard feelings from Jennings, left-hander Joe Kennedy was named during camp.

Same emphasis, better tools: Last spring, improving the pitchers' ability to hold runners was a spoken goal. A lot of that had to do with the catching, with rookie JD Closser and oft-injured Todd Greene expected to share the job.

But Closser and Greene would throw out just eight of the 87 runners that attempted to steal. How often the pitchers were at fault is conjecture, but the fact was that Danny Ardoin threw out 18 of the 41 that tried to run on him after he was promoted from Triple-A Colorado Springs.

The first couple of days of camp, pitchers worked on pickoff moves and holding runners just as much as they did last year, but having Ardoin and newcomer Yorvit Torrealba makes it less an issue.

"It remains an issue because that's what good pitchers do," Hurdle said. "You won't be the total package on the mound unless you're able to hold runners, throw over when you need to, throw quick when you need to, give your catcher a chance to throw out a runner. We just have more depth behind the plate than we've ever had."

Still waiting: Right-hander Jose Mesa had not arrived in time for Sunday's workout. Righty Nate Field worked out Sunday. He missed Saturday for the birth of his son. Righty Miguel Asencio, who also missed Saturday, arrived in Tucson on Sunday but not in time to work out.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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