Fogg, Kim trying to earn spots with Rox
Righties not assured of starting roles this time around
TUCSON -- Rockies right-handed pitchers Josh Fogg and Byung-Hyun Kim had several sparkling performances and some inconsistencies in 2006. It was good enough for them to stay in the rotation -- Fogg for the full season and Kim from his April 30 return from a hamstring injury -- for 58 combined starts.
They aren't assured of any for the club in 2007.
Their uncertain statuses aren't as much an indictment of Fogg (11-9, 5.49 ERA in 2006) and Kim (8-12, 5.57) as much as an indication of the uncommon depth of the Rockies' pitching roster. Veteran Brian Lawrence says he is healthy enough a year after shoulder surgery to be ready when the regular season starts. Taylor Buchholz is coming off a year of education as a rookie with the Astros. And Jason Hirsh, also obtained from the Astros, is one of baseball's top prospects.
And unlike in past years when the club could barely find five starters and those who couldn't make the Rockies' rotation were doomed for the Minors or the waiver wire, the righties could be useful to the club in trades even if they are surpassed. But both returnees hope to hold their ground and become more solid.
Fogg, 30, who joined the Rockies last season, has posted double-figure win totals four of the past five years. Kim, 28, was a habitual postseason performer with the Diamondbacks and Red Sox before being traded to the Rockies at the beginning of 2005. Yet they aren't miffed that their pasts don't guarantee their jobs.
"That's the way it's been every year of my career, and that's the way I assume baseball is," said Fogg, who avoided arbitration this offseason by signing a one-year, $3.625 million contract. "The best five starters are going to leave here with the jobs. That's the way it should be. We're all here to help the Rockies win, get to the playoffs and get to the World Series."
The identities and credentials of those trying to take his job are not of concern to Kim.
"First, I'm competing with myself," said Kim, whose $2.5 million option for 2007 was picked up by the club during the winter. "That's more important than competing with other players. And then the decision is not my decision. It's others -- the manager, the GM. It's not my job."
Every now and then Fogg will pitch a game as well as anyone. Last June 30, Fogg held the Mariners to two hits and faced the minimum 27 batters in the Rockies' 2-0 road victory. He had occasions of similar effectiveness with the Pirates before joining the Rockies.
But there also have been too many times like July 27-Sept. 16 last season, when he posted a 9.20 ERA while going 2-4, as manager Clint Hurdle criticized him for not throwing to both sides of the plate. Fogg left a good taste in the Rockies' mouths by snapping back into form to win his last two starts.
No one is expecting Fogg to turn out more gems, but the question is whether he can minimize the down periods.
"That's one of those things that the elite pitchers in this game are the ones that go out there and do that four out of five times," he said. Those are the guys that have the $130 million contracts. Those are the guys that have earned that over their careers.
"I haven't quite figured out a way to do that four out of five times. But if I do it one out of five times, and three other times I keep the team in the game, that's four out of five chances to win the game."
Rather than wait for the stars to align, and keep their fingers crossed that the short outings in which Fogg would give up a huge early lead would simply go away, Rockies pitching coach Bob Apodaca gave Fogg specific instructions to keep a downhill plan and work both sides.
"He's taken that into his first [Spring Training] session out there yesterday," Apodaca said. "He was very well aware of it. I reminded him of it, too, just in case he did forget, but he didn't. It's just putting things in the rightful order. He's a pro -- he hasn't been a huge winner, but he's a winner."
Kim achieved a career-high nine strikeouts in each of his first two starts and achieved that number two other times, and he reached or exceeded seven innings eight times. But he also never went more than four starts without being tagged for at least six runs in a game.
The blueprint for successful pitching is there -- mix the two-seam sinking fastball, slider and changeup with the four-seam fastball. They also want to see him pitch inside against right-handed hitters -- a spot that created poor swings when he did it last year, even though those pitches were by what Apodaca called "happy accident" rather than by design.
"We want him to use his whole arsenal in different locations," Apodaca said.
"In the regular season, last year, my changeup and two-seamer, I was not comfortable -- sometimes good, sometimes I wasn't comfortable," Kim said. "But during Spring Training, I want to get more comfortable and perfect my pitches."
With Kim and Fogg, the Rockies will be watching their adjustments closely.
"There is some competition with ability, and it makes it interesting and makes it difficult," Apodaca said of the evaluation process. "But I write things in pencil. Their performance will write it in ink."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.