SALT LAKE CITY -- When asked what one area the Colorado Rockies need to improve upon to have more success in 2013, star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki responded "I think what you're looking for is the pitching."
Tulo is right.
Unfortunately, big-name pitchers at the top of their game don't jump at the opportunity to work their craft at a mile above sea level, so the Rockies have to get creative. If you can't bring in new pitchers, what's the next best thing?
A catcher who knows how to handle a pitching staff at altitude.
Enter Yorvit Torrealba, a man responsible for many pleasant memories -- and an epic argument that tore apart an entire community of fans -- from his last tenure with the Rockies. He was on a good team that he undeniably made better, and a big reason for that was his ability to understand the unique situation hurlers face while pitching half of their games at Coors Field.
During Torrealba's time in Denver, the Rockies fielded two of their three best pitching staffs, by WAR, in club history. While having guys such as Ubaldo Jimenez and Aaron Cook in their prime helped, Torrealba also brought his own strengths into the mix -- particularly, leadership and game-calling. While those things are, at times, overstated, they have their place in the game just as much as advanced metrics do.
Last year, with the young, powerful and immensely talented Wilin Rosario behind the plate while Ramon Hernandez was shelved with an injury, the Rockies' pitching staff struggled more than it had in any other season in the humidor era, leading to a franchise-worst 64-98 record. While the staff was decimated with injuries, Rosario's inexperience also contributed to the problem. Torrealba knows part of his job description is to help the young star develop.
"I really believe he's a special player," Torrealba said prior to the Rockies' 4-3 loss to the Seattle Mariners on Saturday. "He has some talent offensively as he showed last year. He's still getting better everyday behind the plate -- calling the game, blocking balls, throwing -- he has an outstanding arm. I'm just going to try to make sure he feels comfortable back there and will try to help as much as I can."
"I'll give him some tips about the way he should call the game, even though everybody's different, but if I can help I will."
Though he knows his role for the upcoming season, Torrealba didn't just come back to be a de facto coach. The 34-year-old veteran had 10 hits in 21 at-bats during the spring, alleviating concerns throughout the preseason that he wouldn't make the roster before he was eventually chosen over Hernandez, who was designated for assignment earlier in the week.
"It definitely was hard through all of Spring Training waiting to see what was going to happen and seeing Ramon, who is a good friend of mine, go through of the rumors that he might get traded," said Torrealba. "I still worried about it everyday even though I was having a good spring and was feeling really good behind the plate and offensively"
"But, now it's finally time to relax and I'm just looking forward to starting the season and doing my job."
In addition to hitting, which he did very well -- particularly at Coors Field, where he has posted a career .275/.330/.427 line -- during his initial tenure with the Rockies, Torrealba's job while on the field in 2013 also includes handling the Rockies' not-too-vaunted rotation. Yorvit knows the staff struggled last year, but has an idea on how to help it going forward.
"The most important thing, to me, is that they need to feel comfortable," said Torrealba. "Last year, from what I heard from the guys here, they were panicking and putting too much pressure on themselves. They started overthrowing and trying to impress people instead of just worrying about going out there and having fun and executing pitches."
The Rockies' four-man rotation and accompanying pitch count limits had a lot to do with that, but Torrealba insists there is a simpler approach to fixing the problem, whether it's at Coors Field or otherwise.
"My thing this year is to keep everybody loose and making sure they go out there and have fun and execute pitch-by-pitch instead of saying 'What's going to happen with me? Why am I not doing this or that? Why am I not throwing hard?,' or whatever."
Times are different now than when than when Torrealba was last with the Rockies. They went from one of the best teams in the league to one of the worst. However, better times could be on the horizon if the club is able to get at least some luck with health and the development of a pitching staff that has some promise.
"I just want to get those guys to feel confident on the mound," Torrealba says. "Because they have a lot of talent."
Tulowitzki, the face of the franchise, agrees: "We have some young guys who, if they take some steps in the right direction, I think we'll be alright."