Notes: Baker banks on versatility
Can spell corner outfielders and corner infielders alike
TUCSON, Ariz. -- If Jeff Baker listened to the buzz coming from his manager's office, he might feel the urge to loosen the cork in the bottle of bubbly he's been saving for the day he learns he's made the Opening Day roster.
But Baker doesn't notice. He's focused on learning a new position (first base) reacquainting himself with an old one (third base), and continuing to focus on keeping his game healthy and his power on tap.
If he were listening to the buzz, though, he'd hear manager Clint Hurdle talk of him as someone already penciled onto the roster, a swing man who can spell corner outfielders and corner infielders alike and, better yet, a young slugger coming into his own who knows his way around the plate.
"You're not giving up a whole lot of ground when he's in the lineup, from an offensive standpoint," Hurdle said. "He can swing the bat, and he can change the direction of a ballgame."
He did just that on Thursday, doubling the Rockies' score and giving them a commanding, 6-2 lead when he drove a pitch over the 392-foot mark in dead center field for his first round-tripper of the spring.
"Power is definitely a part of my game," Baker said. "I swing hard and try to stay under control. That first [homer] is always the hardest one to get. Even though it is Spring Training, it's good to get on the board and be able to build off today and keep going."
Baker allayed any concerns about his swing by launching 20 homers and 108 RBIs while hitting .305 for Triple-A Colorado Springs last season, then coming up to the big leagues for 18 games, hitting .368 with five homers and 21 RBIs.
In the field, however, he remains a work in progress. In the seventh inning on Thursday, he was charged with an error on a Tadahito Iguchi fly ball down the right-field line.
"It was close to being a foul ball right there on the fence," he recalled. "I reached out for it, and [it] hit off the end of my glove. If I had another two steps, I probably would have caught it, but I didn't have that."
Drafted in 2002 as a third baseman, Baker was asked to move to right field in 2006 once Garrett Atkins made it clear that there wasn't room for any other contenders roaming the hot corner for Colorado. Baker feels most comfortable in right, and the Rockies aren't concerned about him costing them with the glove.
"He's making progress," said Hurdle. "He's still got work to do."
As someone who played outfield, first, third and catcher in his playing career, Hurdle understands the adjustments that need to be made in order to stay sharp when switching between the intensity of the infield to the often laconic pace of the outfield.
"He's got to find a way to keep himself involved and in tune with what's going on," Hurdle stressed. "You can do that by watching the game, obviously, and also by communication with the fielder next to you. Keep talking to one another, keep moving, playing counts -- that sharpens their focus and their awareness."
As for adding backup responsibilities at the corner infield positions to his repertoire, Baker is eager for the opportunity.
"It's a challenge, but it's one of those things you look forward to," he said. "I pride myself on being athletic and being versatile -- being able to jump out into the outfield, jump back into the infield, play first to third, left to right. The more reps I can get out there bouncing around, the more comfortable I'm going to feel."
Healing Helton: Speaking of comfort, Todd Helton worked out with a sizable contingent of Rockies not taking the two-hour trip to Peoria, Ariz., to play the Mariners on Friday. Having missed a scheduled appearance on Thursday because of inflammation in his right knee, Helton downplayed any concerns that the ailment would amount to anything.
"It's good," Helton said of the knee, although he didn't have any news to share about when he'd get back in a game. "They don't let me make plans."
If all is well, it would be reasonable to expect to see him playing at home on Saturday against the White Sox.
Hurdle has not shown concern about the situation, but with Helton now missing two games he was scheduled to start in the past week, the manager is taking advantage of the opportunity to look at the candidates to backup Helton at first base during the season.
Hurdle has said since the end of last season that he expects to give Helton more rest than the veteran is accustomed to, but Helton is a hard one to get out of the lineup.
"It's not the way his hardware or software works," Hurdle explained. "If there's a game, he's going to be in the middle of it. I think as we all get older we all strive to become smarter. It's not about not wanting to. It's doing what's best to maximize the abilities and skills that he has."
The Ice Man coacheth: First-base coach Glenallen Hill was hit in the left arm by a line drive off the bat of Alexis Gomez in the top of the fourth inning of Friday's game. Hill left the game and spent the next four innings icing his elbow in the dugout before returning to the coaching box in the top of the eighth.
On deck: It's a split-squad Saturday for the Rockies, with a home game against the White Sox and an away game against the Padres. Rodrigo Lopez will take the bus to Peori to make his second Cactus League start, facing San Diego's Chris Young, while Jason Hirsh gets his first official start at home, taking on Chicago's Mark Buehrle. Both games are at 1:05 p.m. MT.
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.