When the season started Walt Weiss said that for the Rockies to compete for the division title and/or the playoffs, they had to make Coors Field a place where they played dominate baseball. Given how bad this team has historically played on the road, Walt might very well have been thinking of playing around .660 baseball at home. Well, we are now 14 games into their home schedule and…mission accomplished. Their first two home sets each finished 4-2, with the first stand ruined by two soft-tossing lefties (Miley and Quintana) and the last home stand ruined by blown leads (Phillies and Giants). Coming off one of the best road trips in years (4-2), but also one of the most frustrating (with a real chance to go 5-1 until the bullpen exploded to give up 4 runs in the final 2+ innings), this team could have come home flat. It didn’t. Thursday night they punished the Mets 7-4, knocking out a Mets starter for the first time all season before the end of the 5th inning. Game 2 featured one of the hardest throwers in baseball, Zach Wheeler (whom the Mets stole from the SF Giants in 2011 for a rental of Carlos Beltran) against opening-day starter and arguably the biggest disappointment of any player this season for the Rockies (granted there have been few disappointments), Jorge De La Rosa.
DLR had started to right the ship on the last home stand, giving the team 5IP of 1 run ball against the Giants. He followed this up with 7IP of 4H, 1R baseball last Sunday against the Dodgers (though that was helped by a great play by Nolan Arenado that saved at least 2 runs…but that is true seemingly every night these days, other than Wednesday when Arenado’s non-error gave the DBacks their first run and likely ended Jordan Lyles night an inning earlier than desired). The Rockies were 3-3 in DLR’s starts coming into tonight, not what you want from the guy who is, until Chacin comes back, your #1 starter. DLR has been a beast at Coors, with a 36-12 record at Coors heading into tonight’s match-up.
The game didn’t start off very good for Jorge, as the first three batters went double-single-wild pitch for a run-single. Fortunately a caught stealing helped out and then DLR was able to get two line outs (on well hit balls) to escape the first only down 1-0 and on only 15 pitches (last year Jorge was able to go longer in games by trusting his fielders, cutting down on high pitch counts, and only going for the strike-out when needed, and using walks to get by tough hitters – all of which has been missing much of this year). But given the way this team has been hitting at home and on the road, you cannot imagine that DLR was too worried.
Sure enough, the Rockies half of the first went: Charlie Blackmon single, Nolan Arenado walk, Tulo single – Blackmon scores, Justin Morneau double – Arenado scores, Willin Rosario 44 foot swinging bunt single – Tulo scores, Corey Dickerson sac-fly, Morneau scores, Rosario out at 2nd, Brandon Barnes line out to CF. From down 1-0 to up 4-1, just like that.
In Jorge’s last start he got a lot of groundball outs, which is what this team wants, but tonight it was a lot of fly-ball outs, and that continued in the 2nd as he 2 FO while surrendering a walk (a 9 pitch walk as Ruben Tejada wasted some good pitches) and then getting Wheeler to K to end the inning. 18 pitches but no runs.
The Rockies kept their foot on the accelerator in the 2nd ,scoring two more runs thanks to a DJ ground-out, DRL singling on a dribbler to the pitcher, Blackmon line-drive single (men and 2nd and 1st), Nolan a sharply hit ball where the only play was at first, then a Tulo single past short to plate DLR and Blackmon before Tulo was nailed off of first thinking (smartly he didn’t try and get in a run-down and get hurt). Score 6-1, and the Mets were clearly in trouble.
DLR’s third was much like his other innings, fly-out to RF, groundout to 2nd, single to David Wright on a ball to Tulo, soft single to RF, and a big K of Curtis Granderson (the K coming on a 94mph 4 seam fastball…this will matter later in the game). 17 more pitches, but DLR looked set to go 6 if he could keep the pace. Not the 7 they want, but 6 at least.
The third inning was the only inning that Zach Wheeler got the Rox in order and kept them off the board, bringing up the top of the 4th, which was DLR’s best inning. He got a K on another 94mph 4 seamer, a groundout to DJ, and a quick third out on a grounder to Tulo. Only 10 pitches and back in the groove.
Just like the night before, this would be the last inning for a Mets starter, as Barnes reached on an error from the SS, DJ walked, DLR put down a nice bunt, Blackmon grounded out sharply to first but Barnes running on contact was safe, and Nolan struck out. It was only 1 run, but with Wheeler due up first the next inning his night was done, having given up 7R, 6ER on 7 hits in just 4 innings. This has to pay dividends for the Rockies this weekend as the Mets bullpen has already had to throw a lot of pitches.
DLR had another good inning in the 5th, allowing just a single up the middle to CF, and getting two more fly-outs and one ground-out while throwing to top of the line-up and using only 13 pitches. That left him at 73 through 5, seemingly setting up well to go the 7 they want from their starters to save the pen. But after another 1-2-3 Rockies bottom of the 5th (including a Rosario K), things went a little south in the 6th.
Having watched Wednesday’s game go from in control 4-0 to a 5-4 loss and Thursday night go from 7-1 to 7-4 and LeTroy Hawkins getting ready in a hurry in the bottom of the 9th, their goal even beyond getting DLR to the 7th was to not let things get out of control. Sadly, that is exactly what happened. DLR had been humming along for the most part the prior 3 innings. But he started with a walk to Chris Young, and as we all know, walks at Coors find a way to score, usually quickly. Curtis Granderson up next, and DLR got ahead with a foul-ball on his 4-seamer at 92 (a quick drop in velocity at that point). Two bad balls put him in the whole 2-1, but you want to challenge hitters up 7-1, not start walking the bases loaded. The next pitch was another 92 4-seamer, remembering he struck out Granderson on a 94 4-seamer earlier in the game. This time that lesser velocity and more inside position allowed Granderson to yank it down the right field line and just over the seats for a two-run homer. The first homer allowed to a lefty by DLR since 2010 if what ROOT said is accurate. On a cooler night it was probably a double, but tonight it jumped over the wall and a game safely in hand was now 7-3. Still, they want to get DLR through 6, save the pen and build his confidence. Unfortunately, the next batter walked, precipitating a visit from Jim Wright and getting Chris Martin to start throwing in the pen. On the next pitch DLR got an 89mph cutter right in on the hands of Mets catcher Travis d’Arnaud, which could easily have led to a double-play, but instead looped into center-field, making it not only 7-3, but men on 2nd and 1st and still no outs. As they say on MLB network, this next set-up is “Who Kept Their Cool”
We know that Jorge can get volatile; especially it seems with men on base. A similar scenario with Rosario behind the plate in Miami led to a grand unraveling in a close 1-0 game. Facing Tejada, a fast runner with only 1 grounded-into-double-play, DLR threw two sharp cutters that Tejada fouled off his shin in succession. Tejada worked the count to 2-2 but on the a 92mph 4-seamer away, Tejada hit it hard right to Tulo, to DJ, to Morneau, double-play by 3 strides (maybe the pained shins slowed him up some). Still, a man at 3rd and DLR now closing in on 100 pitches. The Mets sent up the ageless lefty Bobby Abreu and Jorge reached back, going 4-seamer at 93, splitter 87 (Jorge using the splitter as his changeup tonight), splitter 84, 4-seamer at 94 (fouled), 4-seamer at 94 (ball), 4-seamer away at 94 – big K! It might not have been Jorge’s best outing of the year, but it was a great flourish to finish his 6 innings, as with that big strike-out on a great pitch that Abreu had nothing to do with but watch, he finished a quality start with 100 pitches, going 6IP, 8H, 3ER, 3BB, 4K and the 1 homer to Granderson. Again, not his best and maybe not a step in the right direction, but not in the wrong and he would end the night 37-12 at Coors, the all-time Coors Field leader in wins.
Having watched the game get close at 7-3, the offense exploded for 3 more runs in the bottom of the 7th , after wasting a 1-out double by Barnes in the 6th. The 7th started with a Blackmon golf shot into the Rockies pen for his 6th homer of the year. Then with the hitting streak on the line, Nolan Arenado followed with a liner up the middle for a single. Tulo followed with a similar single back up the box, to put runners on 2nd and 1st. Morneau added another single to bring in Nolan and move Tulo to 3rd. Rosario ended the scoring with a sac-fly to center-field to give the Rockies a 10-3 lead.
The bull-pen was solid to excellent tonight. Chris Martin got the call in the 7th, starting off by getting a grounder to 2nd on a curve that was set-up by two cutters at 94 and 91. Next batter was a first pitch grounder to 2nd on a cutter. He then closed out his night on a 5 pitch K of David Wright throwing 4 straight 4-seamers at 94, 93, 93, 94 and a nasty curve at 83. We didn’t see the 97 recorded in his first outing or even the 96 (which may have been just being amped up first pro outing and all), but if he can throw 93-94, show that good cutter and still throw the curve for strikes, he can be a very nice addition as the last man (or shared with Tommy Kahnle) in the pen. It was another great and nasty outing for the rookie (look on line for the question at roxwalkoff.com regarding whether, as of at this point in the season the trade with the Astros or Red Sox has been the better steal by the Rockies).
The 8th inning went to Matt Belisle. I have been raving for days how good Matt was in the Wednesday night loss to the DBacks, when after a 4 pitch walk he was throwing 94 again and again along with 79 on the curve, all on the black, and all moving. It was the best outing from Matt since at least 2012 and maybe even 2011. The 8th wasn’t quite that good, but pretty good none the less. He got Chris Young to ground-out on a 93mph 4-seamer after throwing a good mix in the AB. Granderson got a single when he jumped on the 2nd pitch of the AB and grounded an 89 mph 4-seamer back up the middle (this was the worst pitch of his outing and with so much less velocity it made me wonder if his grip was bad or something). His next AB was incredibly frustrating because he made great pitches, according to the “Ford Strike Zone” there were 4 strikes in the AB. Problem was the umpire called 2 great pitches balls, resulting in a walk. But again, a great mix with 87mph sliders, and a 95!!!mph 4-seamer. Should have been a K, but called a walk, but Belisle didn’t let it phase him a bit. He got a “too-soft” grounder to 2nd for the 2nd out (unable to turn two because of the slow roller) on an 84 mph slider after a 94mph 4-seamer, and then a line-out to RF on another 93 mph 4-seamer mixed around a 92 cutter. What made Matt’s inning so great was that he was throwing everything for strikes – cutter, 4-seamer, slider, curve – that he was getting it up consistently at 93 and up to 95 and he was again painting the black. On the ROOT call they pointed out that Matt likely won’t go 2 days in a row…and if these are the results, I say keep him at every-other-day. Again, along with Martin a rejuvenated Matt Belisle makes this pen that much nastier.
Closing out the 9th in this 10-3 game was Tommy Kahnle, and after getting in the hole 3-0 against former Rockie Omar Quintanilla, he worked all the way back and got him to line-out to Barnes (in the 7 pitches TK went from 95 to 97!). He then went 96-88-88-88 to K the next batter, with only the 3rd pitch a slider, throwing the same motion but simply not throwing as hard. Felt sorry for the hitter. TK ended it on a soft grounder to himself that he ran it over after going 96,89,95,95,94, only the one sub-90 being a slider. Just nasty. He might have gotten his first loss on Wednesday to the DBacks on the long homer to Montero, but it didn’t seem to impact him at all, except that his pitches had more velocity and more deception than I had seen this year (maybe not, but how I saw it). Like Martin and Belisle before him, he was just simply nasty. Even when big league relievers are nasty they will give up hits – again these are professional hitters. But when these guys are throwing like this, individual hits stay just that…and rallies never get the chance to even get going.
Rockies 10 Mets 3. Because of the Giants league- leading 8th 1-run lead the Rockies remain a game behind in the standings but they have the 5th best record in the NL. If you look back at the team’s performance going back to the loss to Cashner in San Diego, they have played 15 games and they have had a lead going into the 6th in everyone but the Saturday loss to L.A. Their pitching is better at Coors than on the road, despite having played in all pitchers parks on the road so far aside from Arizona. They have tossed a total of 15 quality starts after tonight’s game. Their starter ERA (not including tonight) is 4.11, 18th overall but right about league average. Their reliever ERA (not including tonight) is 4.30, 22nd overall right about league average, but surprisingly they are only 6th in reliever innings ahead of the Dodgers and Tampa. The pitching has been amazing. They have had 7 games with 2 or less runs allowed at home so far, although the homers in the 9th and 6th kept that from being added to as this series starts.
Pitching at Coors is hard. But tonight Jorge De La Rosa showed how to do it – get lucky yes. But battle against every hitter, keep hitters guessing what is coming, and look for the double-play ball when needed. The reliever core followed up what DLR did by seemingly never throwing the same pitch twice in a row, or at least not without significant variation.
And the hitter did what they must at Coors – they kept adding on runs. When they failed to do that on Friday night they had to go extra innings to win it. When they stopped at 4 on Wednesday ngith they lost. When they didn’t add runs they got into a sweaty-palms scenario Thursday night. No such worries tonight. And they played great defense. You must watch the re-play of Arenado robbing the Mets CF of a hit on a hard grounder down the 3rd base line throwing the fast runner out by a good three steps (http://m.mlb.com/video/topic/51231442/v32553429/nymcol-arenado-makes-an-offbalanced-throw-at-third/?c_id=col). It was either really amazing or entirely boring and standard, or both. But good defense wins games…and it sure helped tonight.
So, the summary highlights:
Jorge De La Rosa, now 3-3 (team 4-3), 5. 11 ERA.
Rockies 13/33 (.393 BA), 5-10 RISP, Used 2 SF to score runs, 1 good sac bunt to advance runners
Ryan Wheeler had hit in pinch-hit opportunity in first action with Rockies this year after being called up to replace Josh Ruttledge suffering from viral infection.
Chacin officially announced as starter for Sunday finale vs. Mets.
Lastly, heading into Saturday nights’s matchup of Franklin Morales (3-1, 4.40) vs. Jenrry Mejia (3-0, 3.49ERA – Right handed starter), the Mets have had to use their men quite a bit, while the Rockies have used Bettis for 2, Martin 1, Belisle 1, and Kahnle 1, or arguably all the bottom people in the bullpen pecking order).
Also give your input on two new questions: So far, which trade has been the bigger steal – the one with Houston or Boston. Also, are we living in the greatest era of baseball, surpassing the 1950s? Chime in and give your voices.