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Kragthorpe: Bud Black, Colorado Rockies mark their territory in SLC

First Published      Last Updated Jan 27 2017 11:38 am

Bud Black is forever thankful to Salt Lake City.

The Colorado Rockies' new manager came to town Thursday during the team's annual Winter Caravan, hitting selected areas of the team's television market. The Rockies view Utah as an important part of their territory. In Black's case, the state contributed to a big chunk of his baseball history.

Black was the Los Angeles Angels' pitching coach in 2002, when his team beat San Francisco 4-1 in Game 7 of the World Series with a remarkable pitching performance. And the bulk of the work — eight innings' worth — came from John Lackey, Brendan Donnelly and Francisco Rodriguez after each spent a significant portion of the season with the team then called the Salt Lake Stingers.



"That's what I love about Salt Lake," Black said. "Three rookie pitchers in Game 7 … great memories. Three of my favorite pitchers of all-time."

Black hopes the likes of Jon Gray and Tyler Anderson pitch their way onto that list, now that he's managing the Rockies. So do a couple dozen fans who stopped by The Green Pig Pub to meet Black, Gray, outfielder David Dahl, catcher Tom Murphy and team mascot Dinger, after the Rockies' crew visited Central Park Community Center in South Salt Lake for a clinic and autograph session with about 50 children.

The team made a similar appearance two years ago. Rotating groups of Rockies also have appeared this week in Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico, where the Albuquerque Isotopes play as their Triple-A affiliate.

After nine seasons as the San Diego Padres' manager, Black spent the 2016 season as a special assistant to Angels general manager Billy Eppler. His work included visiting the organization's farm clubs (although he missed the Orem Owlz). Black rediscovered the roots of pro baseball in places such as Burlington, Iowa. He got to do some teaching and "have the kids, like, really listen," he said. "It was great."

Black, 59, also realized how much he missed managing at the major league level and eagerly took the Rockies' job after Walt Weiss was fired. He's catching the team on a slight upswing, with a 75-87 record serving as Colorado's best mark since 2010. And there's genuine excitement about what the Rockies can do in the franchise's 25th season.

"I've got a good feeling because I know what we have already … so much talent," Gray said.

Gray, 25, is the leader of a young starting rotation that Black hopes to maximize. The Rockies have a solid group of position players, so if the pitching staff progresses — amid questions about the bullpen — the team may contend with the Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West.

Rather than downplaying the challenges of pitching in the high altitude of Denver, Black is confronting the Coors Field reputation. That was a prime subject of his job interview, and Black and his bosses agree: Talented, tough-minded pitchers can succeed there, or anywhere.

"I don't think you have to be a sinkerball pitcher; you don't have to be any certain type of pitcher," he said. "What you have to be is a good pitcher … with the mental makeup and mental character of toughness. The other [team's] pitcher is pitching in the same environment on a given night. We just have to outpitch the other team."

Black also understands there will be some "chaotic" games on the mound at Coors and statistics will be skewed. Gray welcomes having a manager with a pitching background who "knows exactly what I'm going to go through," he said.

Gray showed what he's capable of doing in September when he pitched a four-hit shutout with 16 strikeouts at San Diego. "That's what I envision every time," he said. "It lets me know if I can do that in my rookie season, what else can I do?"

The trick is consistently coming close to that level of performance in Colorado. Gray believes the Rockies can do "incredible things" in 2017, after their brief stop in Salt Lake City.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt

 

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