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End Zone: Upheaval isn't a bad thing

Rockies did more than just fire Clint Hurdle as manager

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Almost anybody inside baseball could see the end coming for Clint Hurdle as manager of the Colorado Rockies. He simply couldn't build upon, or maintain, what his 2007 team accomplished in winning the National League pennant. Once you've taken a young team to the World Series, the level of expectations has to rise accordingly — and contending for the playoffs should be the minimum.

Playing well at home would have to be vital, and the Rockies weren't doing that.So when the end came on May 29, there was no detectable sympathy for Hurdle. He didn't have enemies, because he's still basically a good guy. But he had used up everyone's patience, and his players didn't believe in him anymore.

The best news about the organizational upheaval actually wasn't Colorado's front office finally pulling the trigger. That was inevitable. The surprise was what happened next, with Colorado Springs manager Tom Runnells moving up to become the Rockies' bench coach alongside manager Jim Tracy.

As much sense as that decision might make, it still was a surprise to the Mile High City. In reality, though, it's the best move Tracy and the Rockies could have made.

After all, Tracy only joined the Colorado staff this year, so he really hasn't had time to learn much background and detail about the minor-league players trying to make it to the Rockies. Runnells, meanwhile, was in his fourth season with the Sky Sox, meaning he's had lots of direct contact with every prospect, every homegrown player and every recycled veteran on the upper end of Colorado's operation throughout that time.

That makes Runnells the right guy to help Tracy on players' histories while bringing a fresh perspective to the big-league staff. Not only that, but Runnells was two months into a superb season with the Sky Sox, who are leading their Pacific Coast League division despite an abundance of roster turnover created by major-league maneuverings.

Now, at a time when the Rockies clearly have to re-evaluate much of their roster, Runnells can make the cases as needed for Colorado Springs players who have earned their chance. You'd have to figure he'll push for outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, who has made the most of his time with the Sky Sox after a disappointing spring. Though it would be a major loss for Colorado Springs, Gonzalez has to be on the verge of getting his opportunity to move up and become the Rockies' everyday left fielder.

Also, as the year moves along, Runnells will be able to speak on behalf of others such as second baseman Eric Young Jr., when injuries and other developments lead to more call-ups.

Meanwhile, Colorado Springs can't complain. Runnells' replacement, Stu Cole, was a popular player here for several seasons in the 1990s. Also, for the same amount of time Runnells was here, Cole was running the Double-A club at Tulsa, managing nearly all of the same players who eventually have come to the Sky Sox.

So the attitude for the Rockies' minor-league hopefuls has to be better than ever now. They don't see players stuck in one place and ignored by the big-league staff. They see former teammates, and even managers, being promoted during the season.

Of course, it's also true that Tracy isn't guaranteed anything in regard to job security as the Rockies' manager. He could be gone after finishing the season, especially if he can't put together a strong second half, which probably would mean the end for general manager Dan O'Dowd as well. In other words, Tracy's success (or lack of it) will make it or break it for O'Dowd. Before that, if Colorado's starters and relievers don't jell, pitching coach Bob Apodaca could get the pink slip by the All-Star break.

It all adds up to uncertainty, but the time has come for that.

Jim Tracy simply has to worry about the team. And if he truly is better than Hurdle at handling pitchers and underachieving players, let's see it.

routon@csindy.com

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