Rockies trim roster; decisions remain in 'pen, rotation

Rockies trim roster; decisions remain in 'pen, rotation

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The race is on for possible jobs in the Rockies' bullpen and starting rotation.

With the roster moves the Rockies announced Saturday morning, the bullpen is down to three pitchers -- non-roster veteran Rafael Betancourt, 2014 revelation Brooks Brown and prospect Scott Oberg -- seeking either one or two spots, depending on whether the Rockies go with five starting pitchers or four in the early regular-season days.

The picture became clearer when the Rockies optioned righty Jairo Diaz to the Minors and reassigned lefty Ken Roberts to Minor League camp, but didn't send out any starting-pitching hopefuls. The Rockies sent out a total of six Saturday by also optioning infielder Cristhian Adames and outfielder-first baseman Kyle Parker, and reassigning catchers Ryan Casteel and Dustin Garneau.

Six relievers appear set -- righties LaTroy Hawkins, John Axford and Adam Ottavino, and lefties Rex Brothers, Boone Logan and Christian Friedrich.

Betancourt, the team's closer until he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2013, has regained fastball velocity and shown an effective changeup in his comeback. Brown, arguably the team's best righty reliever at the end of last season, has followed up with a 1.08 spring ERA. Oberg would be considered an outsider; he hasn't pitched above Double-A, and underwent a shoulder cleanup surgery at the end of last season.

But it's not clear there is a job for more than one of them.

The structure of the season-opening roster will be determined by manager Walt Weiss and general manager Jeff Bridich, with input from coaches. The key question is whether the Rockies will carry five starters or four, since the schedule could allow them to do without a fifth starter until April 14.

The way the pitching schedule lines up, top Rockies prospect Jon Gray, a righty who allowed seven runs (six eaerned) over two-thirds of an inning Saturday against the Cubs, could fall into the regular-season rotation on April 7 at Milwaukee, after Opening Day starter Kyle Kendrick and before Jordan Lyles. Lefty Tyler Matzek, who pitched well at the end of last season as a rookie, is expected to be in the rotation.

That leaves a pair of righties -- Rockies No. 2 prospect Eddie Butler and Christian Bergman, who made 10 Major League starts last year -- as competitors among the pitchers still in Major League camp. However, righty Chad Bettis' strong outing Thursday against the Rangers has put him in the competition even though he was sent to Minor League camp last Sunday. Veteran lefty John Lannan, who also is in Minor League camp, has an outside shot to be tabbed for starts in the season-opening rotation.

"We feel like we know what we have; we've been with these guys for a while now, but it always helps your cause when you go out and perform well, no doubt about it," Weiss said.

Utility infielders Rafael Ynoa and Charlie Culberson are still in camp, although it's unclear if the team would just go with one utility infielder, Daniel Descalso. The Rockies plan on keeping three catchers -- Nick Hundley, Michael McKenry and Wilin Rosario, with Rosario also playing first base -- which could affect the bench.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, and like his Facebook page, Thomas Harding and Friends at www.Rockies.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.