Addition of Parra likely to lighten Blackmon's load

New outfielder won Gold Glove Awards, has experience playing center

Addition of Parra likely to lighten Blackmon's load

SCOTTSDALE -- Rockies manager Walt Weiss said the offseason signing of outfielder Gerardo Parra for three years and $27.5 million could pay off in reduced wear and tear on center fielder Charlie Blackmon.

Blackmon has played in 95 percent (311 of 324) of games the last two seasons. His job as leadoff man means more at-bats than at other spots. He also has to cover a gaping center field at his spacious home park, and during particularly rough pitching performances last season, he was repeatedly running sprints into the wall. Also, Blackmon has grown as a stolen-base threat -- from 28-of-38 in 2014 to 43-of-56 last year -- with sprints and slides that create more bruises and fatigue.

This isn't a position change. Blackmon has described center as "the essence of outfield play," and Weiss isn't going to rip away something a man describes so lovingly. But Parra, who has won Gold Glove Awards in both outfield corners, has the tools to play center. It means he can move there sometimes when Blackmon rests, so Weiss can do it a little more often. Brandon Barnes also can play center field and the corner spots.

Outlook: Parra, OF, COL

"It's not going to look completely different, but I may pick an off-day here or there, or every once in a while run him on the corner," Weiss said. "I don't have anything in stone right now. I do know Parra can play all three and play them well.

"More than anything, I may look for opportunities to lighten Charlie's load. That's a pretty good haul."

Worth noting:

• Last year's success with holding right-hander Chad Bettis out of Spring Training games until he could harness his delivery raises a question: Would the same work with righty Eddie Butler? For now, Weiss said, there is no plan to do so.

"We've been doing that incrementally with Eddie," Weiss said of Butler, who was sent down to Triple-A Albuquerque last August and was not recalled. "It's not an identical situation to Chad's. But we saw how effective it was with Bettis and we think about that with everybody. Is that an option? At this point we don't see that as necessary as with Chad."

Last year called into question Butler's aptitude for adjustments. He almost inexplicably went from what Weiss described as "nearly an elite strike-thrower in the Minors" to one who struggled in the Majors. But Butler had not mastered the Rockies' requirement to be able to work the upper part of the strike zone when the team promoted him from Double-A in 2014. He spent most of that season on the disabled list, and last year there was a spot for him in the season-opening rotation, but he wasn't able to hold it.

"The road to the big leagues is not always ideal," Weiss said. "Sometimes it's based on need at the Major League level."

But Butler believes he found himself after spending part of the offseason with Gary Lavelle, a former big leaguer who had worked with him since his boyhood days in Chesapeake, Va. Butler said he will still try to incorporate an elevated four-seam fastball, but the sinker he used to become a top prospect must be his main pitch.

"There's been some trial and error with some things -- mechanically, pitch mix," Weiss said. "Everybody's on the same page now with Eddie, and he understands a little bit better who he is."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, listen to podcasts and like his Facebook page. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.