For Stewart and Rox, diagnosis is good


Ian Stewart, as a hitter, has been like the guy in Algebra class who knew the answers without working through the equations. Stewart got to where he needed to get to, and became one of the top power-hitting prospects in baseball.

But what Stewart has found in recent seasons is that when there's been a problem -- when he's been in a slump -- he hasn't known how to dig himself out. He didn't have the understanding of the mechanical equation so it was always hard to know why and how he had gone wrong. "I didn't know myself as a hitter," Stewart said.

He has gone to great lengths in recent months to fill in that information gap, and this should help him make adjustments pitch to pitch, at-bat to at-bat, game to game. "You kind of become a hitting coach yourself," Stewart said. "If you can kind of self-diagnose throughout the game, you can adjust."

Spring training is just an imperfect snapshot, but they are the first results that Stewart has since he started with his new approach to hitting, and so far, so good: Stewart is hitting .347, with a .385 on-base percentage, this spring. But the most interesting barometer on Stewart right now might be his strikeout total: he's got just five in 49 at-bats, a greatly improved ratio over last season, when the third baseman had 138 strikeouts in 425 at-bats.

During the offseason, Stewart's agent, Larry Reynolds, arranged for a get-together between Stewart and Rockies hitting coach Don Baylor, and the hitter and coach talked about Stewart's understanding of his own swing. In the past, when Stewart struggled, his instinct was to try harder, to swing harder -- and the effect was actually to slow down Stewart's swing, make it longer, and make him more vulnerable.

So Stewart has shortened his swing this spring -- and he also has developed a keener feel of the mechanics involved. The other day, Stewart, a left-handed hitter, got a meaty fastball to hit on a two balls, no strikes count, and he popped a ball up to left field and knew immediately what had happened. His front shoulder in his swing -- his right shoulder -- had opened too quickly, and his bat had dragged through the zone. And in his next at-bat, Stewart was able to restore his short, compact swing again.

"I feel like I know myself as a hitter," Stewart said. "I've been ready for the season to start."

All the Rockies are, amid their own great expectations that stem from their four strong months of play last year. "We've kind of talked about how we have some momentum," Stewart said. "We were playing well at the end of last year."

Stewart is part of the Rockies' organizational roster depth that has greatly impressed the scouts and executives who have seen them this year. Here's a snapshot:

Infielders: Troy Tulowitzki, Todd Helton, Stewart, Clint Barmes, Melvin Mora, Jason Giambi, Eric Young Jr.

Outfielders: Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler, Brad Hawpe, Seth Smith, Ryan Spilborghs

"They've got the deepest team in the National League," said one GM. "The question is going to be their bullpen."

The Rockies do have uncertainty at the back end of their bullpen: Huston Street's status is unclear, writes Troy Renck; he has stopped throwing because of lingering stiffness in his shoulder.

Elsewhere, here are some concerns about the Rockies, from Renck.

• The Athletics' obstacles to moving to San Jose are myths, writes Mark Purdy.

Denard Span hit his mom with a foul ball, but she's OK.

Dings and dents

1. Brandon Webb met with the Diamondbacks' team doctor.

2. Cliff Lee threw with no pain, writes Steve Kelley. Without Lee, the Mariners' season-opening rotation will be Felix Hernandez, Ian Snell, Ryan Rowland-Smith, Doug Fister and Jason Vargas, Larry LaRue reports.

3. A Blue Jays starter is going to miss the next six weeks, writes Bob Elliott.

4. The Cardinals' catchers are banged up, meaning that Matt Pagnozzi might be with the team on Opening Day.

5. Jeff Suppan has neck pain.

6. The availability of Bobby Jenks is no longer a concern for the White Sox, writes Joe Cowley. There is concern about the effectiveness of Scott Linebrink.

7. Brad Lidge got a cortisone shot, David Murphy writes.

8. Joe Blanton strained a muscle.

9. Josh Johnson says he's healthy and ready to go.

10. Daniel Murphy is going to miss the opener, and this means Mike Jacobs will open the season as the Mets' first baseman.

11. It's official: Lance Berkman will start the year on the disabled list, writes Bernardo Fallas.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Heard this: One GM said that this spring has seen easily the least amount of trade activity ever seen. "You aren't even hearing from the teams that have contracts to dump," said the GM.

2. Wrote recently that Target Field has the second-least amount of foul territory in the majors. A Twins executive noted that the team's new ballpark actually has the sixth-least amount of foul territory. It is expected to be a park that leans toward hitters (except on those April days when the fingers of the batters are numb).

3. Found it very interesting -- but not surprising -- that Jason Heyward was lined up in the No. 2 spot in the Braves' lineup on Wednesday. It's a natural place for him, and Yunel Escobar is a pretty good No. 6 hitter, because he usually puts the ball in play; if Chipper Jones and Troy Glaus play 130 games each, Escobar might drive in 90-95 runs hitting sixth in this lineup.

4. Jerry Manuel is under more pressure than Omar Minaya as the season starts, writes John Harper.

5. Have heard this: The Giants' players feel like they have an outstanding clubhouse mix.

6. Heard this: There is surprise among some rival talent evaluators that the Tigers chose to keep Dontrelle Willis over Nate Robertson, as they made their choice to eat money. Skepticism about whether Willis can throw strikes consistently lingers among rival scouts.

7. Within this piece, there is word of what it would take for the Twins to land Heath Bell in a trade with the Padres.

8. Jason Repko was waived.

9. Hank Blalock says he won't accept a minor league assignment.

The battle for jobs

1. Corey Hart has looked terrible this spring, and might open the season on the bench, Tom Haudricourt writes.

2. The Dodgers are overdue to name Blake DeWitt as the starting second baseman.

3. Tyler Colvin could push the Cubs into the future, writes David Haugh. The guy can hit left-handed, which the Cubs desperately need, and if he hits, you can bet that Lou Piniella will find a place for him to play.

4. Mike Leake could learn today whether he has made the Reds' rotation, writes John Fay.

5. Greg Smith will be part of the Rockies' bullpen.

6. Eric Chavez played a couple of innings at shortstop.

7. The Mariners sent Luke French to the minors.

8. Wilson Ramos was sent to the minors, Joe Christensen writes.

9. Kyle Davies is going to be part of the Royals' rotation, writes Bob Dutton.

10. The Indians kept one Vanderbilt guy (Jensen Lewis), and sent another (Jeremy Sowers) to the minors.

11. The Orioles have only one roster issue lingering, writes Dan Connolly.

12. Chris Tillman was sent to the minors.

13. Jered Weaver is lined up to pitch on Opening Day, writes Mike DiGiovanna.

14. The Padres lined up their rotation.

15. Gaby Sanchez won the Marlins' first-base job.

16. Joba Chamberlain is not guaranteed to be the Yankees' set-up guy, writes Joel Sherman.

Wednesday's games

1. Tim Lincecum was The Man for the Giants.

2. Rich Harden had an ugly outing.

3. The Rays say their strong spring training performance will launch them. Have heard this over and over and over from scouts and executives: The Rays and Braves have looked like the best teams in Florida.

4. Mike Sweeney is awaiting official word that he has made the Mariners' roster. What the inclusion of Sweeney would mean, of course, is that the Mariners would basically be committed to playing Milton Bradley in left field on most days.

5. Zack Greinke got knocked around.

6. Laynce Nix had a good day at a time when decisions about his future are being made.

7. The Jays hit Roy Halladay hard.

8. Troy Glaus is killing the ball.

Other stuff

• There are reasons for hope and cynicism around the D-Backs, writes Nick Piecoro.

• Jon Weber's .483 batting average is not quite good enough.

• The Tigers' farm system has become a winner, writes Lynn Henning.

Carlos Zambrano is ready to go, writes Paul Sullivan.

Josh Willingham is providing a steady presence for the Nationals, writes Adam Kilgore.

Zach Duke says the potential is there for the Pirates, Dejan Kovacevic writes.

Jeff Clement has made the transition to first base, writes Rob Biertempfel.

Kendry Morales's star is on the rise, writes Mike DiGiovanna.

• There is no swagger for Alfonso Soriano, writes Gordon Wittenmyer.

• Now comes the payoff for Joel Zumaya and Justin Verlander.

• The most important guy in the Jays organization is their CEO, writes Dave Perkins.

• The Angels' offense is shifting again, writes Bill Plunkett.

• The Twins and Cardinals are a lot alike, writes Charley Walters.

Victor Martinez has settled in behind the plate, writes Michael Silverman.

• Bernie Carbo is a cleaned up hitter, writes Stan Grossfeld.

• Jim Palmer gushed over Jon Lester, Scott Lauber writes.

• Offense won't be a problem for the Mariners, says the Mariners' hitting coach.

Amelia Lincoln, my sister, has essentially finished Round 2 of her treatment, and is home and preparing for Round 3 in another month or two. Thanks for the many notes and thoughts.

And today will be better than yesterday.