SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies corner infielder Ryan Wheeler is embracing the opportunity to provide left-handed power off the bench, although it isn't clear if he'll grasp a spot on the Opening Day 25-man roster.
Manager Walt Weiss has been testing Wheeler in late-inning roles, and he is responding. Wheeler doubled in the bottom of the ninth Wednesday night to spark a comeback that concluded with Charlie Blackmon's home run, which gave the Rockies a 9-6 victory over the Cubs. In 16 games, Wheeler is hitting .350 (14-for-40) with seven extra-base hits -- six doubles and a home run -- and six RBIs.
"Last year, I had some good at-bats, and I knew the spot I'd have the best chance at would be a backup job, backing up first and third," said Wheeler, who hit .220 in 41 at-bats over three callups with the Rockies last season. "I get more excited now when I'm 1-for-1 with a nice line drive somewhere than going 2-for-3 starting, because I know they're watching me to see if I can handle that off-the-bench role."
The very existence of the role could be fluid.
Rockies senior vice president of Major League operations Bill Geivett intends to keep seven relief pitchers to start the year, although at times they could keep eight.
Seven relievers would leave room for two infielders. Candidates Josh Rutledge, Charlie Culberson and non-roster invitee Paul Janish play the middle positions as well as third, which could give them an advantage. Right fielder Michael Cuddyer can move to first base to back up Justin Morneau.
What's working for Wheeler is his ability to change the game with a swing from the left side. The Rockies have had that over the years with Jason Giambi, Mark Sweeney, John Vander Wal, Lenny Harris and switch-hitting Greg Norton.
"That's Ryan's ticket -- he's always hit," said Weiss, aware of Wheeler's offensive accomplishments with the D-backs, who traded him to the Rockies before last season, and the Rockies. "He's just a good hitter, regardless of how you use him. He's going to give you a professional at-bat. He can hit the ball from line to line and he's showing more power this spring."
Wheeler has developed an aggressive mentality on the field and a relaxed one off it, even though forecasting the roster can be stressful.
"The Rockies had to have brought in the best second team in the entire Spring Training," Wheeler said. "They're bringing in a lineup that could start for some organizations. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't challenging. But you get out there, start joking around and crushing some baseballs, you can take your mind off it."
Rule 5 pick Kahnle still impressing
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Right-hander Tommy Kahnle added evidence Thursday that the Rockies made an astute choice in the Rule 5 Draft in December -- if there's room.
Rockies manager Walt Weiss replaced starter Juan Nicasio with Kahnle, 24, with a runner on third and the score tied in the eventual 4-3 loss to the Brewers. Even more, it was a right-on-left matchup with the Brewers' Lyle Overbay. Kahnle worked ahead with his fastball, and froze Overbay with a changeup for a third strike.
"He's had a good spring," Weiss said. "He's shown a very good changeup. I believe that's what he got him out with. Guys have to gear up for that fastball, and he's been able to get swings and misses with that changeup."
Kahnle, a Yankees fifth-round pick out of Lynn University, had not pitched above Double-A. He had high strikeout totals but also a tendency to walk hitters. Last year at Trenton he struck out 74 and walked 45 in 60 innings. But in Rockies camp, Kahnle has six strikeouts against two walks and has held opposing hitters to a .091 batting average (2-for-22) and posted a 1.35 ERA in 6 2/3 innings.
"I'm having a great time with this," said Kahnle, who has put away the razor since leaving the Yankees and is one of many bearded players in the Colorado camp. "At first it was a nervous time, but now it's the same old baseball. I haven't heard anything. I'm just going out there and pretty much pitching.
"Hopefully, I'm actually what they want."
Kahnle said he has always had the changeup but "it gets kind of overlooked because people expect me to be a power slider guy. Usually, I'm fastball/changeup and I mix in a slider."
Under Rule 5, Kahnle must stay on the Rockies' 25-man Major League roster for the entire season or else the Rockies have to offer him back to the Yankees for half of the $50,000 they paid to make the pick.
The issue is too many right-handers for too few spots. Rockies senior vice president of Major League operations Bill Geivett said in a chat with fans Wednesday that the Rockies wanted to start the year with seven relievers. Right-handers LaTroy Hawkins, Adam Ottavino, Wilton Lopez and Matt Belisle, and left-handers Rex Brothers and Boone Logan are expected to have six spots.
Kahnle has been stellar. However, righty Chad Bettis, another power righty, has been scoreless in six innings with a .167 (3-for-18) opponents' batting average. Bettis can be optioned to the Minors, and could even work as a closer there.
Then there's the situation with lefty Franklin Morales, who could end up in the bullpen if he doesn't win the final starter spot competition with righty Jordan Lyles.
Geivett said in the chat that at times the club could go with eight relievers, but going with eight in the beginning would cost a bench player.
Spring debut a big step for Logan
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies left-hander Boone Logan's debut was by no means stellar, but that wasn't important to Rockies manager Walt Weiss.
Logan gave up three hits plus a four-pitch, bases-loaded walk to Carlos Gomez that forced in the deciding run in a 4-3 loss to the Brewers. Logan did not complete his inning, the seventh. But with the bases still loaded, Logan struck out Rickie Weeks before leaving the game.
"It was a matter of him getting out there, getting his work in, facing opposing hitters and get the adrenaline pumping a little bit," Weiss said. "It was a good step for Boone."
McKenry will compete with Pacheco for backup job
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Catcher Michael McKenry's comeback from a left knee injury has gone well enough to persuade the Rockies to add him to their 40-man Major League roster. The club made the move Thursday, after allowing outfielder Kent Matthes to be claimed off waivers by the Athletics.
McKenry, 29, was with the Pirates last season, but suffered a tear in the lateral meniscus in his left knee on July 27 and underwent surgery three days later. After being non-tendered by the Pirates, McKenry signed a Minor League deal with the Rockies on Jan. 16. McKenry has demonstrated an increase in his mobility that has come with the breaking of scar tissue in the knee.
"With Mac, we considered him a guy that has been a Major League player," said Bill Geivett, the Rockies' senior vice president of Major League operations. "It was a little bit more his injury than anything else that he wasn't on the roster."
Being on the 40-man roster means McKenry can be put on the 25-man Major League roster, but it doesn't guarantee that it will happen on Opening Day. McKenry has a Minor League option, meaning he can be sent down to Triple-A Colorado Springs without being exposed to waivers.
However, Jordan Pacheco, who is competing with McKenry to back up regular catcher Wilin Rosario, does not have an option, meaning the only way he can be sent down is if he clears waivers.
Matthes, 27, a fourth-round pick in 2009, split last season between Double-A Tulsa and Triple-A Colorado Springs, and hit .281 with 20 home runs and 63 RBIs.
LeMahieu becoming a sneaky basestealing threat
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- If you're going to steal, it helps to be quiet and sneaky. Rockies second baseman DJ LeMahieu has an abundance of both qualities.
In the fifth inning of Wednesday night's 9-6 victory over the Cubs, with right-hander Jose Veras pitching, LeMahieu stole second and third bases. He beat the throw easily at second and deftly slid past a tag at third. LeMahieu had all but blended into the background before taking off both times. Finally, a rattled Veras balked LeMahieu home.
LeMahieu's numbers don't yet scream that he's a stolen-base threat, but they're gradually speaking louder. In just 109 games last season, LeMahieu stole 18 bases in 25 attempts. His total was third on the team to Carlos Gonzalez's 21 and Dexter Fowler's 19. It was a high total for a player who never stole more than 15 in a Minor League season.
Projecting LeMahieu's total over 162 games -- assuming he played in all of them -- it would be around 27. Last year, the Pirates' Andrew McCutchen's 27 steals were good for sixth in the National League.
"I'm not one of those basestealers that are going to steal when they know I'm going," LeMahieu said. "But if I can pick my certain times here and there, I can be successful at that."
LeMahieu gave a preview of his ability on the bases in 33 games at Triple-A Colorado Springs at the start of last season, when he succeeded on 8-of-10 attempts. The jump to the Majors didn't lessen his abilities to read pitchers or his willingness to use his slightly above-average speed.
LeMahieu likely will divide his time hitting eighth and first in the Rockies' order. When he's first in the order he'll have to make sure his running doesn't take away from Michael Cuddyer, a gap/power hitter who will bat second. But he will always be looking to use his mind, which is a more important tool than his feet.
"I have a sense during the game," LeMahieu said. "I watch a little video and get the times [that the pitcher usually takes from the start of his motion to get the ball to the plate, and from the start of the pitcher's delivery to the arrival of the catcher's throw at second],but it's mostly instinct. By always looking for it, opportunities come up every once in a while."
• The results of Nicasio's 5 2/3-inning start against the Brewers were mixed -- three hits, three walks, three strikeouts. But Weiss saw a split-finger pitch that could take him deep into ballgames when the games are for real.
"He's moving forward," Weiss said. "The thing I liked today was he threw some real good splits. That's the most confidence I've seen him have in that split-finger. I think that's the pitch that's really going to take him to the next level.
"If that's a pitch he can develop a lot of confidence in, it makes him a different guy."
• Rockies right-handed pitcher Jhoulys Chacin's comeback from a right shoulder strain took a step forward Thursday, when he threw off the mound. The next step for him will be a bullpen session. Rockies senior vice president of Major League operations Bill Geivett said Chacin won't be back until sometime in May, but Chacin said if rehab goes well there's a possibility he'll return in April.