SAN FRANCISCO -- After seeing Nolan Arenado make play after dazzling play during his early time in the Majors with the Rockies, it's hard to believe that many thought he'd never play third base in the Majors.
When Arenado was drafted in 2009, he had a bulky upper body and thick legs. More than a few experts thought he would develop into a catcher. There's nothing wrong with that. However, there was nothing wrong with the way he played third.
Current Rockies catching instructor Jerry Weinstein was Arenado's manager at Class A Modesto in 2011. Weinstein knew catching and third-base play well enough to understand what Arenado truly was.
"There were a lot of people who said, 'He has a thick lower half, not a lot of first-step quickness,' blah blah blah," Weinstein said. "But he's got a nose for the ball. In football you have these free safeties that have a nose for the ball, but doesn't profile in the combine. You put a glove on Nolan Arenado or you put a hitter up there, his range is uncanny.
"For a guy with not a lot of fast-twitch, he gets to as many balls as anybody. He's going to be the standard for this game defensively. He can do everything -- tremendous arm, tremendous release, he's accurate, catches every ball."
Arenado's play at third is rooted in self-expression. He can see himself making the barehand play, like on a Marco Scutaro bunt in Friday night's 5-0 victory over the Giants, and craves the opportunity. His internal timing tells him when he needs his full arm strength and when he can save it.
"I like the plays that are just reaction -- reaching, turning around, making the quick throw -- where you don't know if you'll make the play," Arenado said.
Arenado said Weinstein helped him become more efficient by offering specific footwork drills. Possibly more important was the fact Weinstein understood perpetual focus is impossible, but he could help Arenado develop an understanding of when he needed to relax and when it was time to sharpen. He put the preparation to work in the games.
"I'd call in my game reports and say, 'Well, another SportsCenter play by Arenado, and he made it look easy,'" Weinstein said. "None of those plays look difficult, unless you've played a lot of games or seen a lot of games and know. It's like Joe DiMaggio made every catch in the outfield look easy."
Hitting was the key reason Arenado was considered one of baseball's best prospects, but there always was more to him. Arenado has been on and off at the plate. Going into Saturday afternoon's game against the Giants, he was hitting .247 with four home runs and 11 RBIs.
"If you don't play defense, you don't have a position and you're not going to help your team win," Arenado said. "We can't give up outs. I've worked hard on that, and hopefully hitting and fielding would both be there at some point."
So Arenado changed his body to make it leaner. All it did was make him look the way he played.
Oswalt fights mechanics in first Minors start
SAN FRANCISCO -- Veteran right-handed pitcher Roy Oswalt had a predictably up-and-down effort Friday night for Double-A Tulsa -- his first start of four or five before the Rockies discuss when to add him to the starting rotation.
Pitching against Midland, Oswalt, a three-time All-Star, went five innings and gave up three runs on four hits, including two home runs, with three strikeouts and three walks. Reports said his fastball hit 94 mph.
"I want to work on my fastball command," he told a reporter after the game. "The biggest thing was my mechanics were off. I felt good in the bullpen, but I tried to create too much once I got out there. The three walks that I gave up bother me more than the home runs because when you can't pitch with your fastball, your other stuff won't be that good."
Oswalt signed with the Rockies on May 3 and before joining Tulsa was at extended spring training in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Bill Geivett, the Rockies' executive vice president of Major League operations, came to a similar conclusion after watching the performance online.
"He wasn't quite as good as the video I saw from extended spring training," Geivett said. "That's the progression of moving from not having any competition to extended spring. His first game wasn't quite as good as the other two."
Young looks to shake hitting woes in pinch role
SAN FRANCISCO -- Rockies outfielder Eric Young Jr. celebrated his 28th birthday Saturday with the hope that adding a candle would mark the beginning of losing a slump.
In his last 16 games, Young has hit .140 (6-for-43) and seen his batting average drop from .310 to .252. He started many of those games.
Now, with Michael Cuddyer back from a neck injury and the defensively strong Charlie Blackmon on the roster as an outfield backup, Young might have to find his groove in a pinch-hitting role. Young struck out as a pinch-hitter Friday and is 0-for-11 with seven strikeouts in the role this season, after hitting .245 in 53 pinch-hit at-bats last season.
Young said he is still confident.
"Sometimes you don't get the results you want but the process is right. You're hitting the ball on the barrel but you're not hitting the ball in the holes or finding the gap," Young said. "Just continue what you're doing and work your way through it. Everybody's going to go through down times, but either you're totally off or hitting it at people."
If pinch-hitting is going to be his role for the time being, Young said he will have an appropriate approach.
"Maybe you just try to focus on being aggressive, getting a fastball to hit and just trying to square it up," Young said.
Manager Walt Weiss said, "He's still a weapon. We'll try to keep him involved, like everybody else."
• Rockies closer Rafael Betancourt, who hasn't pitched since being removed from a game Tuesday night with right groin tightness, warmed up briefly, but not quite at full intensity, during Friday's 5-0 victory over the Giants. Had the Giants climbed back into the game, Weiss said he would have gone to Betancourt.
• First baseman Todd Helton has three Rawlings Gold Glove Awards and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki has two. Arenado is considered a future award-winning third baseman. And DJ LeMahieu's work at second base since being called up from Triple-A Colorado Springs adds to an infield the Rockies believe is competitive with anyone's.
Teammates joke that LeMahieu is boring because he simply makes plays rather than highlights, good or bad.
"Boring is good in the big leagues -- it's another way of saying you're reliable," Weiss said.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.