Top of Rox lineup is taste of future

Top of Rox lineup is taste of future

PHILADELPHIA -- The Rockies announced an aggressive offensive strategy for the National League Division Series against the Phillies simply by filling out their lineup card with Dexter Fowler and Carlos Gonzalez in the top two positions.

Fowler led the Rockies with 27 stolen bases during the regular season. Gonzalez, called up in early June from Triple-A Colorado Springs, succeeded on 16 of his 20 attempts.

Both are 23. Fowler is a rookie, Gonzalez barely beyond that. Neither, of course, was a part of the Rockies team that swept the Phillies in the 2007 NLDS in upset fashion. Are they ready to lead the Rockies to yet another shocker?

"I'm not sure," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said. "I think that's one of the things that's going to be very, very interesting as this series unfolds, is how are they going to respond at this earliest stage in their career."

The Rockies have allowed both to grow this year.

The Rockies planned on the switch-hitting Fowler beginning the year at Colorado Springs, but he performed so well in Spring Training that he could not be kept off the roster. Fowler went through some understandable rookie slumps, and late in the year he missed 14 games after he fouled a pitch off his right shin. But in the end, Fowler finished with a .266 batting average, and was fifth on the team with 115 hits and 73 runs scored.

Fowler has impressed the Rockies by handling all the new experiences in stride. He admitted there will be a few special feelings Wednesday.

"I've played in some big games before, and this is one of the biggest I've ever played beside the Olympics," Fowler said. "But I'll go out, relax and have fun."

Gonzalez hit .339 at Colorado Springs and was leading the Minors with 59 RBIs when the Rockies summoned him on June 5. When Gonzalez limped into the All-Star break with a .202 average, one home run and five RBIs through 27 games, Tracy had to withstand calls to send him back to the Minors.

But Gonzalez has hit .320 with 12 homers since the break, while batting in the No. 1 and No. 2 positions. He has improved to .276 against left-handed pitching -- a development that led Tracy to have the confidence to start him against Phillies left-hander Cliff Lee.

When the Rockies dropped two of three against the Phils at Citizens Bank Park from Aug. 4-6, Gonzalez did not start any of the games. Since then, he has earned Tracy's confidence to start against top-level lefties.

"I'm excited," Gonzalez said. "I don't care who's going to pitch. I just want to be in there. I'm still young, still learning how to play the game. But I made more contact against left-handers, and that's helped me."

Tracy doesn't have any qualms about putting heavy responsibility on his two young outfielders.

"You know there's going to be some lull periods, but you have to patiently deal with that, and know when it becomes a finished product it has a chance to be something very special," Tracy said. "And both of these guys have exactly that."

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