DENVER -- Eric Young Jr. started Sunday's series finale for the Rockies, leading off, playing left, and wearing No. 42. He could consider himself thrice-blessed.
April 15 was a red-letter day for the Rockies. The Rockies' planned before Spring Training broke to start Drew Pomeranz in the Minors, then recall him to start on the mound against the D-backs Sunday, the first day the schedule would force the Rockies to use a fifth starter in their rotation. Young was a possible casualty of the recall, along with Jonathan Herrera and Jordan Pacheco, three bench players who won two spots when Pomeranz started the season in the Minors.
Not only did Young Jr. keep his place on the roster, but he took the field at the same time as his father, who is a first base coach for the D-backs. And to make it even sweeter, both wore No. 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson.
"It's going to be a great honor for both of us," Young Jr. said before the game. "That's why my dad originally wore No. 21, just trying to be half the man that Jackie was. For us to both wear the jersey and be on the field at the same time is something special for our family."
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Sunday marks the 65th anniversary of Robinson breaking baseball's color barrier at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. Robinson was in the lineup as a first baseman that day, but he is widely remembered as a second baseman, the position Young Sr. first played for the inaugural Rockies of 1993, sealing his place in club history by hitting the first pitch of the first home game over the left field wall at Mile High Stadium.
"I wouldn't have the opportunity I have today without Jackie Robinson," Young Jr. said. "He made it possible for us to play on all these Major League fields. I wouldn't be here without him. I understand what he means to the game."
Young Jr. shows something of Robinson in his approach to the game, and when he's on the base paths, he can be every bit the dynamic threat that Robinson was. But it's the characteristics of the man that mean the most to Young Jr., who grew up in a baseball family and is well aware of his roots.
"Just like life, you're not going to get everything you want, and it's not going to be an easy task," Young Jr. said, reflecting on what Robinson's example taught him.
"Sometimes there's going to be times when you want to fight back and times when you need to be smart. Knowing the ultimate goal of not having the game segregated and not fighting back, it takes a strong man to do that.
"Looking back and seeing how he played -- he was a fearless guy, speed guy, and those two attributes right there are a plus. You can't really be scared when you're out here playing. You just got to go for it."
Young is in his fourth big league season, but he has never been on the roster this early in the season and has never been able to participate on the field in a Jackie Robinson Day celebration.
"This will be my first one, so I'm excited to wear the uniform, and also to have my dad wearing the same one across the way," Young Jr. said "It's going to be an honor."
The Rockies celebrated with a special commemoration before the game started, playing an inspiring video that highlighted the characteristics Robinson embodied both on and off the field.
"When you think about this man... the doors that he opened up for how many different people, and what he went through in order to open those doors for people -- that's enough said," manager Jim Tracy said. "You see the bios on TV and the letters, the hate mail that he received. I was given a pretty good education about all of it over the [seven years] that I was in the [Dodgers] organization. It's a special man that absorbs all that and still goes out and does what he did."
Pacheco sent down to get more reps at third
DENVER -- For weeks, it had been clear for Colorado that one of the 14 position players on the club's Opening Day roster would not be in the dugout come April 15 when the Rockies wrapped a three-game series with the D-backs.
Sunday's starting pitcher, Drew Pomeranz, opened the season in the Minors so he could keep pitching on a five-day rotation during a stretch when the Rockies didn't need a fifth man. As expected, the Rockies recalled Pomeranz Sunday, and optioned catcher Jordan Pacheco to Triple-A Colorado Springs to make room on the roster.
"We have a specific plan in mind and [we had] a fairly lengthy conversation about the specifics of what we want him to do while he's there," manager Jim Tracy said. "What it boils down to is the bulk of his work will be at third base. What we've seen thus far strongly suggests that what he needs is repetitions. He needs is to be out there, play after play, and not getting a game every three days and being able to continue to react to the ball off the bat, and as a result of reacting to the ball off the bat, mentally recognizing what it was that took place beforehand."
Pacheco came to his first Rockies Spring Training camp in 2011 as a catcher, but he opened eyes with his bat, starting the season in Triple-A and earning a September callup. He began getting starts at third base in Triple-A the week prior to coming up, and of his 21 big league appearances last year, two were behind the plate, 13 at first, two at second, and seven at third. He spent more time in the infield this spring, and despite hopes of winning the backup catching job, he ended up winning a role as an infielder, in large part on the strength of his .339 (20-for-59) Cactus League clip, and was slated to share third base duties with Chris Nelson.
"There's just a little bit of indecisiveness in some of the situations," Tracy said. "It's completely understandable, because there needs to be additional reps in order to have that become completely instinctual behavior."
In the Rockies' long range plans, Pacheco remains a key cog on the 25-man roster, but by sending him down to Triple-A now, the club gets both Pacheco and Nelson more experience at third base than either could get by sharing the job together. The move is very much an investment of faith in Pacheco's future with the club.
"We serve two purposes here," Tracy said. "Pacheco gets regular reps at third base, Nelson gets some regular reps here at third base, and we give Pacheco an opportunity in an environment that's not quite as stressful. He doesn't have to feel like the weight of the world is on his shoulders if he makes a mistake in Colorado Springs."
Pacheco was 2-for-10 with a triple through the first eight games of the season. He played three games at third and one game at first, starting once at each position. He made one error in five chances at third base, but Tracy wants him to develop instincts for the position.
"I don't see any problem with the kid fielding the ball -- none, zero," Tracy said. "A couple balls that were hit at him last night were bullets off the surface in front of him. [This move] has nothing to do with the capability of his hands and his hands working and fielding the ball. It's the quick decision. It's recognizing what's taking place before the pitch gets thrown and then saying to yourself, 'OK, if this happens, how do I react,' so it just becomes instinctive.
"Sorting out all that different information happens instantaneously at that position. That's what he needs work at, and that's where he needs the reps. Give the kid an opportunity to go do it for a while."
Helton on fire, but gets a day off Sunday
DENVER -- The roll he's on reminds people of the vintage Todd Helton, but even a .444 average in the D-backs' series with a double, a homer, and five RBI wasn't enough to keep Helton in manager Jim Tracy's lineup for Sunday's finale.
"He looks really, really good right now," Tracy said. "He looks even better than he looked like last year when [he hit .302] at this stage in his career. I hadn't seen his lower half look as strong as I had seen it during the course of Spring Training this year. But I think there is hopefully a much greater understanding as to how beneficial it is to not push the envelope."
Helton has game-winning RBIs in the Rockies' last at-bats in the last two games, and nearly had a third in Thursday's series finale against the Giants, making it a challenge to get him of the field. But Tracy has learned that when he does take his first baseman out of the lineup, it pays dividends in the long run.
"Whether it's Todd or anybody else, if you wait until the individual's gassed, and then say, 'Hey, I think he needs a day off,' to a certain extent for me that can be completely counter-productive. But as they're getting to the point where you know it's probably coming or it's getting close and you're proactive that way and you jump on it, all of a sudden they get 24 or 48 hours, it will do wonders, believe me."
No point being stranded on "empty," especially when the reserve tank is filled by Jason Giambi.
"It's real easy for me to [rest Helton], knowing that we've got another guy going out there today to play that needs some playing time," Tracy said. "I can't ask a guy to take the kind of at-bats that Jason Giambi takes and have him only see 55-60 mile an hour [batting practice] pitches in between each and every pinch-hit at-bat that he gets. That's unfair. You're compromising the player.
"You have got to find a game here and there for him to be involved in and allow him to see live pitching, allow him to see the ball coming at him 92-94 miles an hour, just from a reflex standpoint. Then you don't feel so bad when you tell him to go up there and take an at-bat against Brian Wilson or J.J. Putz, some of the more predominant closers in the league."
Left fielder Carlos Gonzalez was also out of Sunday's lineup, still suffering from a case of strep throat.
"It's basically the same as yesterday," Tracy said of Gonzalez. "He was sent home [Saturday] because of what he's dealing with and the fact that it is a contagious thing. So to get him out of the clubhouse, rather than allow the entire club to get infected by it, we sent him home. I don't know exactly where he's at this morning."
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.