Center fielder skips Triple-A stop

Updated: June 18, 2004, 8:05 PM ET
Associated Press

DENVER -- The Colorado Rockies had a surprise in the starting lineup Friday night: center fielder Preston Wilson.

Wilson, out since April because of surgery on his left knee, was activated from the disabled list and back in the cleanup spot against the Baltimore Orioles.

Preston Wilson
Center Field
Colorado Rockies
6 0 3 1 0 .278

Wilson, who led the NL with 141 RBI last season, returned after six games at Double-A Tulsa, skipping the expected stop at Triple-A. Center fielder Choo Freeman was sent down to Triple-A Colorado Springs to make room for Wilson.

"It felt fine and everything that I've done on it so far there hasn't been any bad reaction -- no extra swelling, no additional pain -- so everybody felt like those were good signs and I was ready to go," Wilson said. "It's fun to be back and feel like I have a chance to contribute."

Wilson had the best season of his six-year career in 2003 after coming over from Florida in a trade that included Juan Pierre, Mike Hampton and Charles Johnson.

Wilson batted .282, set an NL record with 91 RBI before the All-Star break and hit a career-high 36 homers. He also was stellar in the outfield and was named to the All-Star team for the first time.

He was ready for another big year this season, but struggled with knee pain through most of spring training. He started the first six games of the season, but started having swelling and later had surgery to repair torn cartilage.

"He doesn't want to be hurt again, and he's fully confident he's ready to go. That in of itself is enough for us to bring him back," Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said. "Obviously, our offensive potential has increased dramatically."

Wilson said he still doesn't have the same explosiveness when he takes off after a ball in the outfield or tries to steal a base, but he said there are no other problems.

"Once I get going, it feels fine. I feel like I can run the bases good and get to that extra gear that I couldn't come close to at the end of the season," said Wilson, who was wearing a bulky brace on his knee. "It's not that far off."

The Rockies are still waiting for the return of right fielder Larry Walker, out all season with a groin strain. The five-time All-Star and 1997 NL MVP has played three games with Tulsa and didn't have any trouble running down two balls in the outfield for the Drillers on Thursday night.

"He's feeling good," Hurdle said. "Today was Walk's scheduled off day, but he was kind of champing at the bit to play again, so we'll see how he's able to lengthen himself out a bit."

Freeman, considered the Rockies' center fielder of the future, was solid in the field and showed good speed on the bases, but still needs to work on hitting at the major league level. He appeared in 12 games after being called up June 4 and hit .179 with one homer -- at Yankee Stadium.

"He's part of our process now," Hurdle said. "We've just got to continue to work on his stroke. He faced some tough right-handed pitching when he was here, but he did fine. He wasn't sent back because he wasn't able to compete. There's just no room right now."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press