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Notes: Leadoff man returns

Notes: Leadoff man returns

PHOENIX -- Does a team that has won 17 of its last 18 games need anything more? The Rockies and center fielder Willy Taveras believe so.

The Rockies announced that Taveras, who hasn't played since Sept. 8 because of strained right quadriceps, will return to the lineup as leadoff hitter for Thursday night's Game 1 of the National League Championship Series against the Diamondbacks.

Taveras hit .320 with a .367 on-base percentage and led the Majors with 37 bunt hits and 54 infield singles even though he missed about a third of the games with various injuries, his most recent being the worst. It forced him to the disabled list from Aug. 16-31 and derailed his season again in September.

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After a few days in instructional ball in Tucson, Taveras said he is comfortable using his considerable speed. When he bunted to the pitcher on Tuesday and made it to first base in 3.65 seconds, he felt in shape to play his full game. He stole 33 bases during the regular season.

"I feel real fast," said Taveras, who batted .286 this season and has hit .315 career against the Diamondbacks. "I stole three bags down there. If I get on, I'm going. If I get a chance to run, I'll run."

Right-handed-hitting Ryan Spilborghs and left-handed-hitting Cory Sullivan have started in center field in Taveras' absence. By adding Taveras and removing left-handed pitcher Mark Redman, the Rockies strengthen their bench without losing any other position player.

Rockies head trainer Keith Dugger and first-base coach Glenallen Hill put Taveras through drills at Chase Field on Wednesday to make sure he was healthy.

Taveras' addition forces some lineup moves. The Rockies will be back to the batting order they used much of the season but away from the lineup that forged the streak. Second baseman Kazuo Matsui will drop to No. 2 in the order. Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki will move from second to seventh in Game 1 against D-backs starter Brandon Webb.

"A lot of good things have been going on," said Rockies manager Clint Hurdle, who said reports were Taveras satisfied the Rockies with his plate discipline in Tucson. "I've tried not to change the dynamic too much, but at the same time, I'm trying to put the best team that we feel we can put out there to win the first game. And then we'll go from there."

No bad blood: Some Rockies raised their eyebrows after learning that Taveras was hit twice in Tuesday's instructional game by pitches from D-backs right-hander Micah Owings, who will start Game 4 against the Rockies.

But Owings said Wednesday that he working on pitching inside and wasn't aware the guy he was hitting was Taveras. Owings approached Taveras on Wednesday.

"He apologized today; I don't think he was trying to do it," said Taveras, who said one of the times he was hit was harder than the other.

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Besides, Taveras said he was hit four times by Minor League pitchers during instructional ball and felt the novice pitchers were a greater threat to his health because of their understandably poorer command.

On the Rox: Hurdle missed Monday's workout with flu-like symptoms and attended Tuesday's but did not address the media. He declared himself "good to go" on Wednesday. ... Plate discipline is a key to success, the Rockies and D-backs proved. The Rockies tied the Phillies for the most pitches seen per plate appearance in the NL at 3.87, according to STATS Inc. Next were the Diamondbacks at 3.80. Where the Rockies differ from many teams which emphasize seeing pitches is they were ninth in baseball at swinging at the first pitch with a rate 29.8 percent. What that means is they're selective, but aggressive. The Cubs, at No. 10, were the only other playoff team in the upper half of the Majors. The Devils Rays led baseball by swinging at the first pitch 34.3 percent of their at-bats. The Blue Jays were at the bottom with a rate of 23.3, but the next three teams least likely to offer at the first pitch were the Red Sox (23.8), the Yankees (23.9) and the Phillies (24.2). The D-backs were 18th with a rate of 26.6.

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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