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Notes: Burden-free Francis ready to go

Notes: Burden-free Francis ready to go

TUCSON -- The most important part of Rockies left-hander Jeff Francis' preparation for 2007 might have come with an activity that doesn't burn many calories -- sitting down to sign his four-year, $13.25 million contract.

Francis, 26, is competing with right-handers Aaron Cook and Rodrigo Lopez for the Opening Day start, but he says that isn't a source of stress. He also said having salary issues out of the way through his first year of free-agent eligibility has relaxed him as well.

"I don't think so much on the field -- I think I still go about playing the same way I always do with the same intensity," Francis said. "I think, in the clubhouse, it makes me feel a little bit more a part of the team. They want me here. I want to be here. I think that can not only inspire, but it helps you get to know your teammates a little bit better."

Francis has displayed the consistency that the Rockies are looking for more of from most of their pitchers. Francis, who has led the Rockies in wins the last two seasons, went 13-11 with a 4.16 ERA last season, and the Rockies were 20-12 in his starts.

It could have been better, but Francis missed out on six potential wins when the opponent came back against a reliever. Francis' figure was tied with the Dodgers' Derek Lowe, the Devil Rays' Casey Fossum and the Royals' Luke Hudson for most in baseball, according to ACTA Sports.

Getting in order: Manager Clint Hurdle will spend the spring experimenting with different batting orders. All he knows at this point is center fielder Willy Taveras and the second-base tandem of Jamey Carroll and Kazuo Matsui will share the No. 1 and No. 2 spots.

Hurdle said the key is figuring out where Taveras falls. Carroll tied for the National League lead with a .372 on-base percentage from the leadoff spot, but he has a history of hitting effective throughout the order. Matsui had a .392 on-base percentage after joining the Rockies (he had begun the year with the Mets) and batting mostly at the top of the order.

"They're kind of interchangeable," Hurdle said. "We'll see how it plays. I'm not saying they're going to be interchangeable during the season."

On the Rox: Veteran right-hander Danny Graves gave an uneventful camp its first event, not that he wanted to. Graves suffered a slight strain to his left oblique muscle and didn't throw his bullpen session on Thursday. Graves said he didn't want to risk injury by taking full swings during batting practice but tweaked the muscle working on a slug-bunt on Wednesday. He is planning to throw his next bullpen session on Saturday. ... The Rockies have signed right-handed reliever Mike DeJean to a Minor League contract. DeJean began last season with the Rockies but had to undergo rotator cuff surgery after two appearances. He is still rehabbing, but he'll do it at the Rockies' complex. ... Nearly all of the position players have reported, even though the first full-squad workout is not until Saturday. "It's become a trend here in the last five seasons," Hurdle said. "Guys get an itch. Just like you get an itch for baseball and I get an itch for baseball. You want to get comfortable in your own surroundings."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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