Belisle excited to compete for role in deeper bullpen
Durable reliever arrives at camp eager to help Rockies make push for October
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- On a quiet Sunday, with Rockies pitchers and catchers taking physicals at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, right-hander Matt Belisle was in the mood to help his team make some noise in 2014.
"You've been bullied a little too much and you get sick of it," Belisle said. "I'm flat-out sick of having potential and knowing our season's done at the last game of the year."
Pitchers and catchers begin workouts Monday, starting the process of putting back-to-back last-place finishes in the National League West in the past. Belisle, 33, wants to overcome a rough 2013. He finished 5-7 with a 4.32 ERA -- easily his highest since 2009, when he went from a struggling starter to a bullpen mainstay.
The Rockies demonstrated their confidence in a pitcher they've used in 302 games the past four years. Only one other Major League pitcher, Nationals right-hander Tyler Clippard, has appeared in more than 70 games in each of the past four seasons. In part a reward for durability and in part an expectation that he'll bounce back, the Rockies picked up his $4.25 million option for 2014. The decision to pick up the option, rather than let him go or try to sign him at a lower salary, was backed by manager Walt Weiss' repeated assertions last year that he never lost confidence in Belisle.
"I could talk a lot about that, but out of respect for him and the situation of how baseball is, yes, I'm humbled by that," Belisle said. "I take it as a high expression of respect. But it's impetus for me to take care of my own.
"But I'm extremely fortunate to have a manager that expresses and shows and acts out supreme confidence in me. I don't take that for granted. It excites me to be on point for it."
As he said late last season, Belisle sees many of his struggles coming from predictable patterns, especially against familiar hitters. Using his changeup more often, he believes, will help.
Where Belisle fits in the reformed bullpen will be one of many issues that could be determined this spring. The Rockies increased the depth by adding righty LaTroy Hawkins to work in tandem with lefty Rex Brothers in the closer role and adding lefties Boone Logan and Franklin Morales (if Morales doesn't claim a rotation spot). From the right side, the Rockies will see where Belisle fits in a crew that also includes Wilton Lopez, another heavy-use reliever who had his struggles last season, and Adam Ottavino, who had encouraging performances when used in later innings as the season progressed.
Belisle, who conversed with Hawkins last season (when Hawkins was with the Mets) about ways to stay sharp but fight fatigue, said how his role shakes out is secondary to his feeling that the bullpen is deeper and better than a year ago.
"That's a great bullpen, and I'm excited to be a part of it. I'm excited to start playing. Come on. I always love to pitch in a big situation of a big game -- that'll never change," Belisle said. "I really feed on and love that. Walt and my teammates know that. But the most important thing is we have a fabulous bullpen and there are no egos. We're ready to go. Over and over, I'm so sick of not winning -- whatever we've got to do to fit it together, as long as somehow we win."
Weiss expects Belisle to rebound.
"Matty's 100 percent healthy, and he assured me last year that was the case throughout the season," Weiss said. "I asked a lot of Matty last year, put him in a variety of roles. He always goes to the post. He's a horse, a great leader on our team. I feel really good about having him back."