SAN DIEGO -- The Majors on Tuesday celebrated Jackie Robinson Day, which meant it was a time to remember Robinson breaking the color barrier in 1947. But it was also an opportunity to reflect on the dwindling number of African-American players in the Majors and the game in general.
Rockies manager Walt Weiss said it's "above my pay grade" to specifically address some of the cost-related issues -- especially the private instruction and club/travel-ball system -- that is narrowing the pool of players in the U.S., at a time when underprivileged Latin American countries are producing Major Leaguers like never before. But Weiss sees a lot of good happening.
Although the Rockies have just one African-American player, veteran pitcher LaTroy Hawkins, Weiss sees a diverse team. He also believes the game is strong enough to find answers.
"You look in our clubhouse, it is a melting pot," Weiss said. "I think baseball will always be that way. We have Jackie Robinson to be thankful for that in a lot of ways. I don't know if I have the answer to how do you do that at the youth level and all those things. But I do know you look at every clubhouse in baseball and it's a melting pot."
Barnes relied on faith during trying time
SAN DIEGO -- Tuesday was another start -- in center field, batting leadoff against the Padres -- and one more day in a job Rockies outfielder Brandon Barnes never thought he'd land. He nearly walked away when he was oh-so close.
Barnes didn't make it to the Majors until his eighth pro season, 2012. He nearly left the game a year earlier.
"To be honest, in 2011, I was in Triple-A for the first time, struggled big time," said Barnes, who batted a .197 with 69 strikeouts in 71 games for Oklahoma City. "I sat up one night, 4 o'clock in the morning in Texas. I was frustrated. I almost quit. I wanted to be done.
"I actually called my pastor, and I told him, 'I think I'm done here.' And I called my wife. They both said the same thing: God put you here for a reason. Go out there, have fun, play until someone takes your jersey off your back. I took that with a grain of salt, then said, 'You know, that's right.'"
Barnes, of course, would pull it together in 2012 and earn a late-season promotion to the Astros, and he spent all of last season with the team. Traded to the Rockies last winter, Barnes made the team with a standout Spring Training by showing he could execute offensively and play all three defensive positions.
From a baseball perspective, Barnes figured himself out offensively.
"I've always been fine defensively," said Barnes, who entered Tuesday hitting .261. "It's been something that's come natural to me. But I started to figure things out -- how to hit the ball the other way, how to have a two-strike approach, to be able to manage at-bats."
But Barnes, 27, knew nothing he did with the bat was more important than what came out of those two phone calls.
"Being in the big leagues wasn't for me now," Barnes said. "It was to glorify God and do other things with the platform that we're given up here. Once I took that approach and stopped worrying about my stats and worrying about if I'm ever going to get to the big leagues, I went out and had fun, played for my faith, always played for the team and, lastly, played for me, things turned around. I just had fun. It was like being a 12-year-old in Little League again.
"If we all came to an agreement that there was something else I could be doing to glorify God in a better way or support my family in a better way, we would have made that decision at that time. But I think we came to an agreement that my life and my dream and what God wanted for me was to use this platform that we are given and share."
Rockies eager to flip script in one-run games
SAN DIEGO -- The Rockies' highlights for the season should include the defense relaying the ball to the plate in time to prevent the Giants' Gregor Blanco from tallying an inside-the-park homer on Sunday. The infield work Monday against the Padres was worthy of an instructional video. But if the Rockies can't find a way to win games late, all the highlights in the world are meaningless.
Of the Rockies' eight losses going into Tuesday night's game against the Padres, they've lost leads or lost with the game tied in the fifth inning or later five times. Just two of the six wins qualified as tough ones. They scored six runs in the bottom of the eighth to break a tie while beating the White Sox, 10-4, last Wednesday, and made a 1-0, third-inning lead stand the rest of the way Saturday.
Sometimes a stretch of close losses and blown leads can destroy a season, especially if a team lacks ability and confidence. The last two losses were attributable to the slump of lefty reliever Rex Brothers, who gave up a homer Sunday and threw a damaging wild pitch Monday night. But an inability to keep scoring after early outbursts has hurt, as well.
However, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki said he doesn't see the Rockies spiraling into a pattern of inventing ways to lose.
"I think we're real close," Tulowitzki said. "We've hung in there in about every game and had some leads slip away. It wasn't because of defense. It's just one of those things, kind of bad luck right now. Hopefully, we can stick with this process and become the team I know we can be.
"We don't feel like we're at that bad a point at all. Last night was a tough game to lose, but I still think we have confidence. We've talked about it. This isn't going to be easy. There are going to be some battles."
The key will be winning close games on the road. All six of their one-run games have come away from Coors Field, and they're 2-4.
The Rockies believe they're playing fundamentally well enough. Tulowitzki and third baseman Nolan Arenado have played like the Rawlings Gold Glove Award winners they are, and DJ LeMahieu is bringing to life the numbers-crunching that earned him last year's Rockies Wilson Defensive Player of the Year Award. Justin Morneau has been nearly flawless handling throws.
The slump of Jorge De La Rosa and injuries to Jhoulys Chacin and Brett Anderson affect the starting staff, but the Rockies have managed to stay in games. The inability to have big innings on the road is concerning, but Charlie Blackmon (.478), Michael Cuddyer (.347) and Tulowitzki (.333) are above .300 entering Tuesday, and there is production and power from Carlos Gonzalez.
At some point, it has to translate into comeback wins. They haven't won at all when trailing after six innings to go along with the struggles holding leads or breaking through late in tie games.
"We like what we're doing, but obviously we've got to close it out," Cuddyer said. "That's what it boils down to. In order to win and be a championship level team, you've got to finish games."
Weiss admitted Monday night was difficult to swallow, not only because Brothers wild-pitched in the tying run and the winning run scored when catcher Wilin Rosario threw wildly to Brothers covering the plate. The inability to make the most of early opportunities also bothered him. But he sees such games making the Rockies stronger. The bullpen performance in some of the wins gives him hope.
"I feel like our bullpen is going to be a strength, and you've seen that at times already," Weiss said. "Because of that, we're going to be able to put a lot of games away on the road when we play some of the one-run games. We'll be in better position to win a lot of those, even if we've lost a couple of those already."
Cuddyer starts at first base night after injury
SAN DIEGO -- Despite leaving Monday night's 5-4 loss to the Padres with a contusion and severe swelling in his right elbow after trying to make a play against the right-field fence, Michael Cuddyer was back in the Rockies' lineup Tuesday.
Manager Walt Weiss played Cuddyer at first base, and Justin Morneau rested against Padres lefty Robbie Erlin. Brandon Barnes took Cuddyer's usual place in right field. Additionally, Drew Stubbs started in center field instead of Charlie Blackmon in a lineup with left fielder Carlos Gonzalez as the only left-handed hitter.
"I figured he'd be down for a day or two, but true to form, 'Cuddy' came in and tried to talk his way into the lineup," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "Cuddy came out, took five swings and put three of them in the seats. I said, 'You're hired.'"
Weiss plans to give Brothers a breather
SAN DIEGO -- Rockies manager Walt Weiss said before Tuesday's game he will try not to use lefty reliever Rex Brothers, who gave up the game-ending home run in Sunday's loss to the Giants and had three walks and a wild pitch to lose Monday night's game against the Padres.
Brothers has issued seven walks to three strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings, and it looks as if he's trying to guide the ball instead of pitching freely.
"It's always a challenge for any player in this league when you struggle a little bit," Weiss said. "It starts to maybe get into your head. I think, when in doubt, you let it fly and be aggressive and all those things will come back. Rex will be fine. He's one of the best left-handers in baseball."