Notes: Cook wins Opening Day nod

Notes: Cook named Opening Day starter

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Rockies manager Clint Hurdle informed right-hander Aaron Cook that he will start against the Diamondbacks in the season opener, April 2 at Coors Field. Then Cook pitched as if Opening Day were here already.

Cook threw 5 1/3 shutout innings Saturday, forced 12 ground-ball outs and gave up two hits in the Rockies' 12-2 victory over the Giants at Hi Corbett Field. Afterward, he relished, as much as he'd let himself, the idea of facing the D-backs' Brandon Webb on Opening Day.

"It was right before the game, but I wasn't thinking much about it," said Cook, who went 9-15 with a 4.23 ERA last season, his first full and uninjured year in the Majors. "He told me, 'I'm proud to give you the ball; you deserve it.'

"I don't know if it's really set in yet. I'm kind of hoping it doesn't, because I just want to treat it like every other start -- like I've been telling you guys all year -- like one of hopefully 32 or 34 starts."

Cook, 28, was beginning to establish himself in the Majors in 2004 but suffered blood clots in both lungs during a start that August. The condition led to surgery and a year missed. Now Cook has shown signs of growing into the pitcher the Rockies have wanted since they drafted him in the second round in 1996.

Saturday was a window into Cook's 2007 plan. After relying on his sinker throughout his career, Cook is more dedicated to mixing a four-seam fastball, a curve and a changeup. Hurdle said Cook going with a changeup in a 2-0 count Saturday "never happened before."

Pitching coach Bob Apodaca said Cook's work away from crowds has been equally impressive.

"Every drill that we did out there, he wanted to be the first guy doing it," Apocaca said. "No words said, he just led by example. Every drill he did, he did to the best of his ability. It's that quiet leadership that speaks louder than the oral words."

Hurdle said the Rockies have leaned toward Cook. The uncertainty surrounding left-hander Jeff Francis, who must start the appeals process of a five-game suspension he received Friday from Major League Baseball for throwing behind a batter earlier in the week, helped solidify the decision, Hurdle said.

"He's worked hard, he's done everything we've asked him to do, he's battled some adversity on the field, and he's battled huge adversity off the field," Hurdle said of Cook.

Twinkle toes: Second baseman Kazuo Matsui continued Saturday to work his way back from a left foot strain that has kept him off the field since Monday. The attention to his foot also has brought focus on his unusual hosiery choice.

Matsui insists upon socks that have slots for the toes, the way gloves have them for fingers.

"I wear those so I can feel my foot fingers move," Matsui said in Japanese through his interpreter. "They're not for my injury. I've always worn them."

How unusual is it? Rockies home clubhouse attendant Keith Schultz said a few players requested them when he was visiting clubhouse attendant at Coors Field. As for the Rockies, he recalls one other past player trying them, and another Rockies player tried out a pair of Matsui's.

On the Rox: Right-handed rookie Manny Corpas, who appears to be in a two-man battle with non-roster veteran Matt Herges for a right-handed relief role, struck out two in the seventh inning against the Giants. Neither Corpas (5 IP) nor Herges (5 1/3 IP) has given up a run. Herges has fewer walks, one against Corpas' four. Corpas has four strikeouts to Herges' one. ... Righty non-roster pitcher Danny Graves gave up two runs in two-thirds of an inning Saturday and has given up six earned runs in four innings. ... Center fielder Willy Taveras went 3-for-4 to lift his spring batting average to .375, and his successful steal in the second inning made him 6-for-7 for the spring. Taveras has had the green light all spring and said, "Hopefully, it will carry over to the season."

Brad Hawpe hit a three-run homer and a solo shot. Part of it was strength and timing, but the overcast skies on the hot day also helped. "This is usually a tough place to hit because it's tough to see, because it's usually pretty bright," he said. ... The Rockies reassigned right-handed pitchers Bobby Keppel and Zach McClellan, left-hander Oscar Rivera and catcher Edwin Bellorin to Minor League camp. Keppel, a former Mets No. 1 pick who made his Major League debut with the Royals last season, is seen as a valuable reserve in case of injury to a frontline pitcher.

Up next: Left-hander Jeff Francis will start for the Rockies at Surprise, Ariz., against the Rangers and Bruce Chen on Sunday afternoon.

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