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Rockies staying calm for now 

Should they panic or not? That was the question looming over the Colorado Rockies one week into the new season.

Colorado scored just 10 runs in its first six games, stumbling to a 1-5 start that looked very unbecoming for a franchise that played in the World Series last October. But should that awful start be cause for immediate, major concern?

Certainly, the Rockies looked coyote-ugly in every respect, but especially hitting and pitching. They had been sporadic at best during their spring exhibitions, but not this bad, being outscored 31-8 in those five consecutive losses.

The schedule-maker didn't help, bringing Arizona to Denver for the home-opening series. There was every motivation for the Diamondbacks, still not emotionally recovered from being swept by Colorado in the last National League Championship Series, to take out their frustration on the Rockies. Adding to that was having the big NL title trophy on the field, not to mention all the other trappings that go with celebrating a league pennant.

But some teams are able to brush all that aside, take the field again and prove their legitimacy to begin the new season. Colorado didn't do that, either at St. Louis to open the 2008 schedule or at home against Arizona.

Bouncing back with two tense, one-run wins against Atlanta, then a 12-6 blowout Wednesday night, helped settle some nerves but not all.

If there was one area that provided cause for immediate alarm, it would have to be the bullpen.

First, free-agent signee Luis Vizcaino crashed and burned in his awful debut, winding up on the disabled list with a strained throwing shoulder. Then, on Sunday, Manny Corpas blew a chance for a series-salvaging save by giving up a two-run, ninth-inning homer. After the Rox bounced back to make it 2-2 and force extra innings, Micah Bowie and Ryan Speier gave up three more runs and Arizona left town with the sweep.

After that rotten weekend, the Rockies knew they couldn't afford to dig themselves deeper, especially facing an arduous stretch starting Friday of 15 road games and only four at home through the end of April. They go to Arizona for three games this weekend, then three more at San Diego and another three at Houston. After a quick return to play the Phillies (April 21-22) and Cubs (April 23-24), the Rockies leave again for a West Coast swing against Los Angeles and San Francisco.

They stopped the bleeding Monday night against Atlanta, but just barely. Aaron Cook came through with an excellent pitching effort, but the offense still was comatose until a single eighth-inning swing by Matt Holliday produced a two-run homer and a 2-1 victory, with Corpas getting the save. Tuesday's 4-3 win was a little more encouraging, thanks to a few clutch hits.

Perhaps being away from Coors Field will help. Perhaps some of those poor-starting hitters like Holliday, Troy Tulowitzki, Willy Taveras and Jayson Nix can wake up at the plate. On the mound, perhaps Jeff Francis and Cook can string together some solid starts. And Brian Fuentes is a bright spot, the team's best reliever in the early going.

It's obvious that manager Clint Hurdle isn't jumpy. He remembers the 18-27 start of a year ago, and though he has talked this spring about not repeating that, his players haven't yet shown they have learned the lesson.

Also, the National League West appears noticeably improved, with the Diamondbacks, Padres and Dodgers looking to be playoff-caliber and only the Giants struggling so far.

Hurdle maintained an even keel last year, and it worked, so don't expect any overreacting even if the Rockies don't rebound quickly. As he told mlb.com the other day, "We had three team meetings last year. I don't think it's necessary. I do it when it's appropriate. When you want to sit them down, you want to have their ear. When I sit them down, I have their ear. Right now, they're more than aware of where we've come up short, collectively, individually and all that."

Still, the manager has been concerned enough to give veteran Scott Podsednik some at-bats instead of Taveras, with Clint Barmes getting some time in place of Nix at second base.

Those sorts of changes usually are meant to provide a jump start. But what the Rockies really need is some quality starts and better clutch hitting (after going 5-for-50 with runners in scoring position through those first six games).

Funny, but if all this had been happening last year, the patience level would have been much different. In 2007, Colorado started 5-5 with 41 runs in those first 10 games, struggled a while and lost eight straight in late June before awakening for the second half (52-31).

But there's a big difference between 11 years of not making the playoffs and trying to repeat as National League champions. After what happened last fall, these Rockies still believe in themselves.

Bits and pieces: Air Force wraps up spring football with an 11 a.m. scrimmage Saturday at Falcon Stadium, open to the public. It won't be a Blue-Silver intrasquad game, but it should still be a good opportunity for those AFA underclassmen aiming to replace the graduating seniors from that 9-4 team of 2007. And now we know the Falcons' schedule, with a potentially useful open date on the last week of September after a stretch of games including trips to Wyoming (Sept. 6) and Houston (Sept. 13), followed by Utah here on Sept. 20.

With the AFA football agenda set, we also know that the 2008 United States Australian Football League (aka U.S. Footy) will play its national tournament Oct. 11-12 at the academy, with all 50 games on the Cadet Athletic Fields and open free to the public. That weekend, the football Falcons will be at San Diego State.

By the way, last weekend at the U.S. Paralympic Trials, swimmer Lantz Lamback, a Colorado Springs resident athlete with cerebral palsy who was pictured in our "City of Champions" Annual Manual, set an American record in the men's 100-meter freestyle with a time of 1 minute, 3.58 seconds.

routon@csindy.com


SPORTS SHOT

Lack of exposure Denver Broncos aren't included on the 2008 preseason schedule for national telecasts, despite August home games against Dallas and Green Bay.
See the headline? Rick Neuheisel's debut as UCLA head football coach now will be Labor Day, Sept. 1, at home against Tennessee.
Don't forget Sky Sox open their home schedule at 6:05 p.m., Friday against Tacoma at Security Service Field, followed by 1:05 p.m. games Saturday and Sunday.
It's a gamble You could get rich in Vegas, betting against Tiger Woods in the Masters. He's at 7-5 odds, followed by Phil Mickelson at 8-1, Ernie Els at 15-1 and Vijay Singh at 18-1; everyone else is 20-1 or higher. Or just take the field (but not Woods) at 9-2.

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