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Notes: Rox relievers trying to make it

Notes: Rox relievers trying to make it

TUCSON, Ariz. -- When you're in your 30s, it's the prime years of your existence -- love has blossomed, kids are cavorting around the house and job-wise you may have discovered your niche.

Sweet times.

But if you're a ballplayer and creeping into late innings, you're literally on your last legs ... and arms, and no one knows that better than Colorado Rockies non-roster invitees Matt Herges and Danny Graves, hoping to be the veteran bullpen mainstays and keep their careers rolling.

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For the 37-year-old lefty Herges, an eight-year veteran signed only 10 days before camp opened here at Hi Corbett Field, this could be the final stop.

"This winter was tough," said Herges, "because a lot of teams said no. A couple of teams said, 'Well, don't take this the wrong way, but we don't think you have anything left.'"

Ah, nothing like a nice boost to the ego.

Herges took it the right way -- stay positive, look for an opportunity and if nothing happens he begins life as a civilian of sorts, perhaps becoming a coach but never again feeling that adrenaline rush as a competitor.

"I did a lot of soul-searching obviously, but I thought I'm still healthy and still have the burn, the desire to play," said Herges, a pro since 1999 who was 2-3 with a 4.31 ERA over 66 games with the Florida Marlins last season.

"At this stage, you won't make a team on what kind of person you are or what you've done in the past, because nobody is given a job in the Major Leagues," he said. "You've got to earn it."

If Herges makes the club, he'll have worn every National League West uniform during his career, as will recent free-agent acquisition Steve Finley, an outfielder.

And if he's cut?

"I've talked it over with my wife and realize it'll be a big transition if I don't get a job," he said. "But that's OK."

Herges is a smart, upbeat, talkative guy and one of the friendliest people in baseball, is active in church work and will find his calling eventually.

But he doesn't want eventually to come soon.

"I want to impress them, I want to help them," said Herges.

Graves is an 11-season Major Leaguer, but the right-hander is only 33, far from his baseball dotage. Still he's struggled the past three seasons after a troublesome 4-15, 5.33 mark with Cincinnati in 2003.

Graves knows, too, the career clock is ticking, and what's worse is he suffered a strained oblique muscle last week and hasn't thrown since.

"There's a lot of impatience. If I was a guy that was on the team and I still had good years the last couple of years, it would be different," he said. "But I think I have to prove to myself and everybody else that I can still pitch at this level. Now, to not be able to go out there, it's frustrating, very frustrating.

Oblique muscles, near the rib cage, can be slow to heal, and Graves doesn't want to rush back but is determined to show what's left of his game without delay. Evaluations aren't made on how good your uniform fits.

"I feel a lot better," he said Monday, "and hopefully I'll get out there soon. It could turn into something bad if I push it. Luckily it's still early in Spring Training, and hopefully I'll still have time to make the team."

Cook ready for opener: Veteran right-hander Aaron Cook doesn't think it's a big deal, but he's looking forward to start the Cactus League season against the White Sox at Tucson Electric Park on Wednesday at 1:05 p.m. MT.

Cook could also be the Opening Day starter in the regular season -- April 2 vs. Arizona at Coors Field -- and while considering it an honor, there's no real competition for the role.

"We'll all be pulling for each other, and by the end of the season we'll have the same number of starts," said Cook. "I'd love to have it, but what's one start?

"We've all be itching and raring to go this spring, so we'll probably go two innings, maybe 35 pitches, on Wednesday," he said. "It's a good feeling to face hitters from other teams instead of just batting practice."

Pitching rotation: Following Cook on Wednesday will be right-hander Taylor Buchholz, acquired along with righty Jason Hirsh in the December swap involving Jason Jennings and Miguel Ascencio.

On March 1 vs. Chicago at Hi Corbett Field, Jeff Francis will pitch the first two innings, with Rodrigo Lopez starting the March 2 intrasquad contest on the home field. Hirsh also will throw in that contest.

Starting contenders Byung-Hyun Kim and Josh Fogg will be the first two hurlers on March 3 at home vs. the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Cook returns for the March 4 game at TEP against Arizona.

Free-agent pitchers Eric DuBose, a non-roster invitee, and veteran Brian Lawrence will start their battle for jobs on March 5 in a "B" game, while young Ubaldo Jimenez starts the Cactus contest at home against Texas.

Rich Draper 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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