Notes: Rox' Lawrence sharp thus far

Notes: Lawrence sharp thus far in spring

TUCSON, Ariz. -- The more competitive that Spring Training has become, the better right-hander Brian Lawrence has looked as he climbs back from the shoulder surgery that cost him all of last season.

Lawrence is coming back from a surgery that repaired a torn labrum and cleaned out his rotator cuff. Upon arriving in Tucson, the action on his pitches in early bullpen sessions was mediocre, but Lawrence said it had less to do with coming back from injury than the fact he wasn't concerned with that.

Facing Rockies hitters in practices the last several days, Lawrence has been increasingly sharp. Even though the hitter is told what pitch is coming, the intensity is higher than the bullpen sessions and "the extra effort that really helps out." Pitching coach Bob Apodaca agreed, noting that having two days off between sessions instead of just the one he had been having also is helping.

If intensity is the secret, Lawrence will get an added boost Monday morning, when the Rockies and White Sox play a "B' game at the Tucson Electric Park complex at 9:30 a.m.

"I get to face some hitters that don't know what's coming," Lawrence said. "I think it's the same as a real game. You're still facing a hitter and he's still trying to get a hit off you, whether it's a B game or a 1 o'clock game in the stadium. It's a little better atmosphere in the stadium, that's all."

The Rockies demonstrated how important Lawrence is to the pitching plans by signing him to a one-year, $750,000 Major League contract this winter despite his injury.

The club has made it clear it is more concerned with Lawrence being healthy when he takes the mound than it is with him being ready for Opening Day. But Lawrence, who pitched for the Padres from 2001-05 and was with the Nationals last year when his shoulder failed him, hopes to be available from the start.

"With someone trying to hit me right now, I'm going to see how I'm doing with hitters seeing me and trying to pick up the ball," Lawrence said.

Apodaca said when Lawrence is available depends not just on his games this month but "the all-important days that follow those games," because those days will show how he bounces back from throwing.

Fuentes sits: Closer Brian Fuentes was scheduled to pitch on Sunday night, but the two-time All-Star did not because he was suffering from mild lower back spasms. He is considered day-to-day.

Fuentes has been on the disabled list just once in his career. He missed 62 games with a strained back muscle in 2004. He also was unavailable for several games last April because of a sore back.

So many pitchers ... Apodaca said the toughest part of Spring Training is making sure the candidates for bullpen jobs get proper opportunity to compete. This is especially the case in the Rockies' search for a right-handed setup man to complement LaTroy Hawkins.

The Rockies' plan is to sample veterans they have in camp. Matt Herges did himself some favors on Saturday by buzzing through a six-pitch inning against the Angels, but it's too early to give anyone an edge.

Dave Veres, who had a strong inning in an intrasquad game on Friday and throws in Monday morning's B game, is coming off hip replacement surgery, and may be best assessed later than earlier. Danny Graves has yet to pitch in a game because of a strained oblique muscle, but he said Sunday he will throw a bullpen session Monday and is schedule to pitch in a game on Thursday.

Add to all this the fact that, Apodaca noted, the Rockies aren't necessarily wed to the idea of having a veteran in a late-game role, and the decisions become even tougher.

"It would be nice if you could get a veteran for that spot, but it's somebody who can do that job," Apodaca said. "It's about someone who knows his ability and can execute."

No wonder Herges is nervous despite his 444 appearances over eight seasons.

"The reality is I don't have a job right now," Herges said. "So I will take six-pitch innings every time out right now, even at the risk of not being able to throw two innings once the season starts, just because I need to make this team."

Herges made the Marlins as a non-roster invitee last year and went 2-3 with a 4.31 ERA in 66 appearances.

Tune in Monday: First baseman Todd Helton is expected to return to the lineup for the Rockies' game against the Rangers at Hi Corbett Field at 1:05 p.m. MT. Helton was scratched from Saturday's game because of right knee inflammation, and he was not in the lineup Sunday.

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