TUCSON, Ariz. -- While established Rockies starters like Aaron Cook and Jeff Francis can luxuriate with the freedom to experiment in Spring Training -- changing their approach from game to game on the mound, varying their sequences and even adding pitches -- Rockies newcomer Taylor Buchholz can't escape the feeling he's on the hot seat this spring. "I got to go out there and be on my 'A' game," Buchholz said after a three-inning, two-run start on Thursday. "I still have a little leeway to get out there and work on some stuff, but I'm working as hard as I can to make the team." He recognizes that he has a tendency to try too hard, powering his pitches too much and missing out on the quality pitches that fall from his right-hand when he's relaxed on the mound.
The mantra this spring for all mound matters has been consistency, efficiency and command of the strike zone. Buchholz has chanted that mantra as faithfully as the next guy, and he knows what he needs to show the team as the spring progresses. "Just that I can be consistent," he said. "These first three times out there, I've been a little jumpy. I've been trying to do a little too much with all my pitches. It's all about getting that feeling back again and being relaxed out on the mound." Buchholz had his early share of adversity in last year's rookie season with Houston, an experience that gave him the opportunity to learn from some of the game's masters. "I got in a little funk there in the middle of the season," Buchholz said. "I learned a lot last year, especially playing with Roger [Clemens], Roy Oswalt and Andy Pettitte. I'd just kind of sit back and watch them. I learned how -- when you get in a little jam out there -- how to really slow the game down. Not try to do too much when you get those guys on first and second. Roger was the best I've ever seen. He was able to really slow that game down." Manager Clint Hurdle is on the same page as Buchholz, encouraging him not to push the pace. "He's got plenty of time," Hurdle said. "He just needs to keep pitching, tighten up his command. Everybody's a big fan of quick, efficient innings. We had a lot more from our side today. It changes the whole dynamic of the game." Back fields baseball: The Rockies and White Sox played a "B" game on the back fields at Hi Corbett Field on Wednesday, playing to a 10-inning, 6-6 tie. Cook pitched the first four innings, giving up nine hits and a walk for two runs. LaTroy Hawkins, Franklin Morales, Darren Clarke, Zach McClellan and Josh Newman each added scoreless innings of relief, while Juan Morillo faced five batters and gave up four runs (three earned) without recording an out. Cook described himself as "getting a couple steps closer to where I need to be for the beginning of the season." His main focus was trying to use all his pitches -- his sinker, four-seam fastball, changeup and curve -- in any count or situation. "That way, instead of just going to one pitch in a certain count, I can go to two or three different pitches and the hitter will be a little more off balance," Cook explained. The approach was not lost on Hurdle, who was pleased with the effectiveness of Cook, who was mixing up his approach by throwing uncharacteristic pitches in given counts. "He was challenging some of the left-handers that were in there with more fastballs tight," Hurdle observed. "He was using the changeup, also. He's been real smart about just setting up a program, sticking with it and seeing what it takes." Omar Quintanilla, Sean Barker and Seth Smith each had two hits in the game, and one of Smith's was a home run. Cook faced plenty of likely big leaguers in the "B" game, including Rob Mackowiak (3-for-3 on the day), Jim Thome (2-for-5), Alex Cintron (0-for-3) and Wiki Gonzalez (1-for-3). "They threw a pretty good lineup," Cook said, appreciating the competition. "It felt like a good challenge." Pitcher perfect: Dave Veres took another exhilarating step on Thursday in what could be a remarkable comeback journey. He pitched in his first "A" game of the spring, following an appearance in an intrasquad game and then a "B" game. In each case, the line was the same: three up, three down, one inning at a time. No hits, no walks, no strikeouts, no runs -- nothing but outs. "He's been quick and efficient," said Hurdle after Thursday's test. "That's good to see. We'll take what we get. It's been good to watch the progress Dave's been able to make." Especially good considering Veres has gone three years without pitching in the Major Leagues, and two years without pitching professionally at any level. A veteran of 10 big-league seasons, including a 31-save season in one of two years spent with the Rockies, Veres has not lost his appetite to compete. A year ago, Veres had hip replacement surgery in Colorado, and this spring -- at age 40 -- he is angling for a spot in the Rockies bullpen. On deck: The Rockies take their first trip out of Tucson on Friday, heading to Peoria, Ariz., to play the Mariners at 1:05 p.m. MT. Southpaw Francis takes the hill for the Rockies, with Javier Vazquez toeing the rubber for Seattle.
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.