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Gazette Premium Content KLEE: In projecting Rockies, don't overlook improved health

By Paul Klee Updated: February 27, 2013 at 12:00 am

PEORIA, Ariz. — On another sun-blasted afternoon in the Cactus League on Wednesday, another Rockie went down with another injury.

Stop me if you have heard this sad story before.

Wait, there's a new, happy ending: First baseman Jordan Pacheco popped right back up.

Will the Rockies?

That scenario led me to wonder: Could it be last year’s 98-loss shipwreck was almost entirely a result of mass injuries and there is an unexpected Rockies revival on the way?

"I don’t see how people can overlook what it means to be a healthy team,” center fielder Dexter Fowler said in the Rockies spring training clubhouse.

“It was the bulk of our lineup and the bulk of our pitching staff that was hurt. To see everybody healthy, or getting close to healthy, that changes everything.”

When Sports Illustrated and Baseball Prospectus and other experts roll out their preseason predictions, the Rockies will be hidden between last and definitely last in the NL West.

Maybe that is an accurate portrayal of Walt Weiss’ first team as a manager.

Maybe it is not. Maybe the venom from the injury bug debilitated our perception of a lineup that is "dynamic from top to bottom," as hitting coach Dante Bichette told me.

"This lineup has a chance to be special," he said.

Maybe all the Rockies needed was a Band-Aid and two Advil to make it better.

Let’s not forget the injury numbers that made Coors Field look like the E.R. on Halloween.

Troy Tulowitzki and Michael Cuddyer didn’t play a full season — combined. The duo played in 148 games. Todd Helton played in 69. The pitching staff was a broken, bruised, battered mess.

And that says nothing of the headache endured by former manager Jim Tracy.

Remove Matt Holliday, David Freese and Carlos Beltran from the Cardinals lineup and see how they finish. Here's a safe bet the playoffs are not in their plans.

Baffling to me is why the Rockies, with a roster littered with valuable assets, did not add another arm to a starting rotation that generously can be described as a work in progress.

But this is the rotation Weiss was handed, and it is improved in one key area: health. It was their most significant offseason acquisition.

“If we all stay healthy, we’re going to win some games and we’re going to be able to help our pitchers,” perennial MVP candidate Carlos Gonzalez said. “Not only offensively, but defensively, too.”

In the field is where the manager sees one of the bigger changes.

"I think last year there were some guys thrown into some tough situations defensively,” Weiss said from inside his office. "I think (the poor defense) was an aberration.”

I spent the past five days in and around Salt River Fields, their spring training home. Oh, to have a 50-cent piece each time a player rambled on about the effect of a healthy roster.

I might have one-twenty-fifth of Tulo’s weekly paycheck.

Not saying the Rockies are correct in their belief. Just saying that is their belief.

“We didn’t get a lot of new guys in the offseason. That’s why a lot of people probably don’t believe in the Rockies,” Gonzalez said. “They think we have the same team. Of course, we do have the same team.

“But part of the team was on the DL the whole year. We had a lot of very important players on the DL — Tulowitzki, Cuddyer, Helton, (Jorge) De La Rosa. If we all stay healthy, we will compete. We all know we can get things done and win.”

Shaking his wrist, Pacheco popped right back up and stayed in Wednesday’s exhibition game. Will drastically improved health keep the Rockies in the NL West game?

Sound bodies could lead to sound minds at Coors Field.

Paul Klee is the Denver sports columnist for The Gazette. Reach him via email (paul.klee@gazette.com) or on Twitter (@Klee_Gazette).

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