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Inconsistency marks starter candidates

Inconsistency marks starter candidates

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SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Finding a pair of pitchers to fill the back end of the Colorado rotation is not getting any easier. It's no longer early in Spring Training, and candidates are running out of room to show they've got the stuff and the makeup to help bring the Rockies back to October.

"We're going to get to a point in time where we're going to have to set the rotation," manager Clint Hurdle said after inconsistent Saturday outings by candidates Mark Redman and Josh Towers. "We've got the first three in place. I'd like to think we could do it sometime in the last week, not at the last post or wire."

Redman and Towers were just the latest of the four finalists Hurdle identified to struggle in their most recent appearances. Redman started Saturday, allowing seven runs on 11 hits and one walk in 4 2/3 innings, while Towers pitched three innings of relief, yielding three runs on a walk and three hits, two of which were homers.

On Friday in Peoria, Ariz., Franklin Morales gave up five earned runs in 2 2/3 innings, and Kip Wells was touched for four runs in five innings his last time on the mound. While spring results are easily cast aside as misleading -- if not irrelevant -- positive outings are much harder to throw out.

To that end, both Morales and Redman have a positive history with the Rockies, having been major contributors in the stretch run after the rotation suffered the loss of Rodrigo Lopez, Aaron Cook and Jason Hirsh last August.

Redman acknowledged kicking himself a bit for not seizing the opportunity to take one of these starting slots for the Rockies, but the 34-year-old veteran of nine big league seasons was not about to push the panic button.

Redman joined the Rockies in September 2007, making five appearances (three starts) and posting a 2-0 record and a 3.20 ERA as the club battled its way into the postseason. The Rockies have some familiarity with the sinkerballer, and they recognize that command of his fastball and consistent location isn't necessarily an expectation from a "touch-and-feel" pitcher like him at this stage of the spring.

"It's real frustrating for me personally as a pitcher that I'm not taking charge and grabbing [the job]," Redman said. "But I'm a location pitcher. I'm not going to come out there and consistently throw hard and get out of jams doing that. It has to be with all my pitches, and one leads to another."

His struggles began with falling behind in the count too often Saturday. It forced Redman to come back with strikes that saw too much of the plate and to show too many pitches to the hitters, ultimately allowing the Rangers to tee him up for nearly a dozen hits.

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"If you're pounding the strike zone, being consistent in a consistent rhythm, you're going to be ahead in the count and you won't be up in the zone," Redman said. "That sinker and the changeup, I was falling behind, and it got me in some trouble. Those two innings, when they were getting all those hits, they were swinging early. I made some good pitches, some jam shots. A guy that pitches with sink and relies on command, it doesn't just turn on. You've got to get your work on and get after it.

Redman watched his Cactus League ERA rise from 6.75 to 9.24 over the course of the game, and Towers' mark climbed to 7.20. Morales and Wells clocked in at 5.40 and 5.14, respectively, after the rough week.

"When everything ends up in the middle, we have decisions to make," Hurdle said of the fact that a front-runner isn't leaving the pack. "Sometimes it's easier for decisions to be made when everything's in black and white. I think everyone of our starters since [Jeff] Francis' outing has had a big inning put on the board against them. We just have to figure it out the best we can. It's a very difficult read sometimes, but that's the read we've got to make."

One pitcher conspicuously missing from the mix is Hirsh, who made 19 starts for the Rockies last season but missed nearly three months with two separate injuries. Hirsh pitched two scoreless innings in one Cactus League game on March 1, but he has been shut down with right shoulder soreness since then, and the clock probably has run out on his hopes of making the rotation in time to start the season.

"I would think so," Hurdle said when asked if it was too late for Hirsh to be ready by Opening Day. "I don't want to put words in the trainer's mouth, but from a tactical standpoint, he hasn't done anything with his arm for a period of time, as far as velocity or any type of throwing. He'd be in a very tough position to pull it off."

The Rockies can buy an extra 10 days for a fifth starter, since an April 1 off-day gives them the opportunity to go to April 9 before needing one. But the fourth spot needs to be filled first, and the time is nigh for one of these Rockies hopefuls to step up to the rubber and stake a claim.

Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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