GET READY FOR THE DERBY AL – MIGHTY TULO IS AT BAT
What are the keys to winning a game in the National League? Solid starting pitching, good defense, great bullpen, timely hitting – lather, rinse, repeat. The Rockies are not quite there yet, but the pieces the past two days have started to fall into place. Yes, it was the Padres, but the past month, the Padres would have swept this team, so you play the team in front of you and beat them.
Today looked like a day for a good old fashioned Coors Field shoot-out. Eric Stults, the lefty starter for the Padres had nearly a 5 ERA coming and nearly a 5 ERA at Coors Field. The Rockies countered with Jair Jurrjens, who had shortness of breath after his short outing last time out against the Dodgers. In that game he gave up 3 runs in the first, settled in, and then ran out of gas in the 5th, surrendering 5 runs before being lifted with only 2 outs in the 5th. Jair has a similar story to Franklin Morales, a one-time super prospect (ranked 3rd in 2008), had some serious success (2011 All-Star, 13 game winner, 2.96 ERA), but now his days as a starter in a quality rotation are over. Jurrjens has battled a lot of injuries since 2011 as well as ineffectiveness, and was serving as a minor-league starter and long-man (also in the majors) with Baltimore. The once 91-92 mph fastball is down closer to his change-up, but he still flashes brilliance. But he had to know today he was pitching for his major league meal money. Chances of tacos from both teams…high.
After a solid top of the first from Jair, the Rockies came to bat and Charlie Blackmon started things off right with another homer to right – http://m.mlb.com/col/video/v34432263/sdcol-blackmon-opens-the-scoring-with-a-solo-blast/?tcid=mm_col_vid&c_id=col
After Stubbs was called out on strikes, Tulo stepped to the plate, and knowing that he is the captain of the National League Home Run Derby team, launched a rocked into the concrete alleyway in left. http://m.mlb.com/col/video/v34432281/sdcol-troy-swats-a-solo-homer-down-leftfield-line/?tcid=mm_col_vid&c_id=col
But in a sign of things to come, Rosario struck-out on a foul-tip and Arenado grounded out to short. What looked like the beginning of a slugfest from that point turned into a pretty good pitching outing from Eric Stults. But, of course, he is a soft-tossing lefty which for some reason causes the Rockies to run and hide their bats. They got another homer from Rosario in bottom of the 4th to get the Rox back their 2-run lead (more on that shortly),
but Stults would allow only 5 hits total (and no walks) and his replacement for the 6th and 7th, Blaine Boyer, kept his 2014 stat sheet clean with two scoreless, hitless (with 3Ks and 0 walks) innings.
On the other side of the diamond Jair Jurrjens pitched very effectively for 4 innings. He surrendered a long-single to Yasmani Grandal in the top of 4th that looked to be a double but a good throw from Stubbs and a “keep the tag” on play by DJ turned it into an out when Grandal slid (horribly) over the base. That out would be key because the next batter, Jake Goebbert on a 1-0 count crushed a homer to right-center. He finished the inning with a K, an infield throwing error by Jair for a runner at first, and then a line-out to Tulo.
With Rosario making 3-1 heading the 5th the smart money, in light of Jair’s problems at attitude, his limited pitch counts this season, and his gigantic fail in the 5th against the Dodgers, and the issues in the 4th, would have at least had the bullpen ready to go in the 5th. Instead, Jurrjens went out without a net. Now, I have been a defender of Walt Weiss all season. I have said that I think he will become a very good manager. But in a season where you have had to rely on re-treds and never-beens to pitch, playing at Coors, and with experience regarding players, how can you not have the bullpen up and going. This is not the first time we have seen this…in fact it has been an issue all season long. If Jair had struck out the side after the homer in the 4th, okay, maybe you trust the guy, but he was shaky in the 4th. There is no excuse for sending him out in the 5th (or Frankie in the 6th last night), unless you have the pen ready to go.
And, as you might guess, things went bad fairly quickly. Seth Smith on a 2-0 count (beginning in the 4th he was constantly pitching behind in the count), launched a homer to right center to make it 3-2. Denorfia followed with a single. Finally Tommy Kahnle was gotten up. Next Chase Headly hit a sharp single to right allowing Denorfia to go to 3rd. So now its 1-3 with no outs and Grandal coming up – who had hammered what should have been a double the inning before. The first pitch was hit a mile and called foul. Everyone at Coors held their breath as the call was reviewed and fortunately upheld as foul (the game wasn’t on TV, so we didn’t get to see it but looking on the video highlights the ball landed foul but where it went past the foul-pole I have no idea). Now, it took a while to do the video review, giving Kahnle more time. I suggested on the chat that Weiss should have gotten Jurrjens out of the game right then. But, Weiss was right on this one, striking out Grandal to make it 1 out and 1st and 3rd.
Surely Weiss as going to get Kahnle in there now, right? Nope, and facing Goebbert again, with two strikes on hitter, Jurrjens , who was clearly laboring – the radio guys said you could tell he was literally doing all he could to throw each pitch – uncorked a 58 footer, as Headly took of for 2nd. Rosario was unable to track the ball down in time (earlier in the game on a similarly wild pitch the ball bounced back directly to Rosario who threw to third to get the runner who tried to move up on the wild pitch), and Denorfia scored from 3rd. The point became mute when Goebbert hit one to deep center, which would have scored the runner anyways. Finally Weiss came out and brought in Kahnle. I could be wrong, but I think he was trying to reward Jurrjens with a win for his effort, but honestly, who cares about wins on the individual stats, especially when you are trying to fight your way back into the Wild Card race. I get that he was trying to be good to a guy who did a good job for 4 innings, but he was spent in the 4th, and should never have faced another hitter after the Smith homer in the 5th. I respect and like Walt a lot. But he has to realize, especially at Coors, pitchers after the 4th and with any reliever – must have a net, the next guy up in the pen has to be ready. Yes, that can burn them up a bit, but they don’t have to be in a lather…just getting ready.
Needless to say Kahnle came in and did what Kahnle has done most of the season: fastball, slider, fastball (at 97), for a foul-tip, 3 pitch strike. The bad news is that it was 3-3 and the Rockies offense aside from homers was pretty dead.
They did get get DJ to 2nd with 1-out in the bottom of the 5th against Stults, but as we have seen a lot lately, with RISP, the Rockies stunk – Blackmon Kd and Stubbs grounded out.
Kahnle pitched the 6th as well, giving up a single and a stolen base so that with 2 outs he had to face Seth Smith. Fans had to wonder if Weiss would bring in the lefty to face Smith, who is hitting over .400 against the Rockies as an opponent, and when Kahnle fell behind 3-0 you had to think it was a walk to face the righty Denorfia. But Kahnle showed why he is the MVP of the pitching staff this year getting Smith to roll over to Kyle Parker playing first.
The 7th began with Denorfia, the only righty in the line-up today, and I wondered if Weiss would leave Kahnle in to face one more batter – they have an off-day on Thursday, but he went to Rex Brothers to start the inning. In the chat Pooter asked if Brothers had gone through a clean inning all year (he remembered the bright shining 9 pitch 3K inning a month ago, I had forgot), but the words Rex Brothers and colon twisting simply go together this year. Rex gave up a single to Denorfia (I know relievers like to start innings, but why not give the righty Kahnle who didn’t sit long in the bottom of the 6th a go vs. the righty – he has pitched 2+ inning plenty this year). Rex then bore down, and Kd Headley on 3 straight pitches (a 94mph fastball to finish it). Then he walked Grandal. So now, 2nd and 1st, and Goebbert, who already homered, coming up. The reason we love Rex – again, 3 straight pitches, K, finishing him off with a nasty 86mph slider (he threw three straight sliders, 84,85, and then the 86). Ah, but there was still only 2 outs. The Pads went to one of their only righties, catcher Rene Rivera, who had the Pads homer yesterday. Rex fell behind 2-0 and 3-1, and if the game had been televised I would have turned the channel, but Rex did his thing, getting Rivera to bounce out, Tulo to DJ.
With Jurrjens starting the game the Pads had stacked their lineup with lefties, so Boone Logan got the call in the 8th. I have mentioned they should think about flipping Boone potentially this off-season (or at the trading deadline), with 2 years still on his contract he would be a nice piece for a contender as he seemed to have struggled this year. But I am beginning to think it was the sore elbow. He mowed them down in the 8th – fly out to center, soft grounder, and a K to finish it off.
The bullpen, even with the Brothers high flying act, had been great but the game remained tied, and we all know how many “bullpen” games this team has lost this year (actually, I gladly lost count when it was 4-16). They needed runs, and like seemingly every NL West team, the Pads have a great pen. In the 8th they brought in stud reliever, and former closer, Joaquin Benoit, who came into the game 3-0, 1.23 ERA, unscored upon in 19 straight appearances. He brings with him a 41-7 K/BB ratio and has allowed only 1 homer all year. Oh well, maybe they can score off Street in the 9th, right?
From Opening Day through May, this team showed a tenacity, a never-give-up attitude that belied their record in closer games. They fought, and it didn’t matter who the opponent was. A lot of that went on the DL with the starting pitchers, relievers and 3 starting position players. Heck, Blackmon had been very average since mid-May and Tulo was stuck on 18 homers since mid-June. But…as this team is slowly getting its pieces back – Nolan last week, CarGo Friday, Brett Anderson on Sunday…I really think that tenaciousness is coming back to.
I think Benoit thinks so after the bottom of the 8th. He Kd Josh Rutledge on 5 pitches with his nasty changeup (going from 95 on the fastball to 85 on the change is just wrong). But Blackmon lined a single to centr off Benoit on a first pitch changeup (remember the Blake Doyle school from earlier this year – swing early before you get stuck in their count). Up came Drew Stubbs, who always say shouldn’t hit against righties….except he keeps seeming to come up big against righty relievers when the game is on the line. He took the first pitch, at 95, for a ball and that sat dead-red for the next pitch:
Another big blast to right field off a righty reliever. Drew Stubbs is starting to play himself into the hearts of Rox fans and maybe a contract for 2015 (and no, he cannot play every day against righties, we know).
Up stepped Tulo, who I think wants to make it clear he isn’t getting traded, he loves Colorado, and if you give him a team instead of a hospital registry, can carry them to victories. After taking a slider for a strike (you can tell Benoit was shook up by the Stubbs homer when he starts Tulo with a slider). The next pitch, also a slider, became a wonderful back-to-back shot:
This one was a nice sailing shot into the fairly empty left-field stats – #20 on the year – and in the course of 3 pitches, the Rox had double the number of homers that Benoit had allowed all season.
The 9th was Hawks for a 2nd day in a row (last time he had back-to-back saves was the sweep in San Francisco a million years ago). Yes, he walked Smith, but he got a fielder’s choice and two fly outs for a 16 pitch save.
And the Rockies had won a series, the first one since the 5 game winning streak in mid-June. This was a game they were losing back even in early May. It was a game they had no chance of winning just a few weeks ago. But it really feels like something is changing. Maybe it is too late, being down 11.5 in the Wild Card race. But if you listen to Weiss, Doyle, and the players, they don’t think they are out of it. They see the reinforcements coming. They know their schedule is far easier in July, August and September than it has been up to now. They know this is baseball and anything can happen.
It all starts with starting pitching. Jair Jurrjens cost them a AA first baseman who was a low-level prospect. He flamed out against the Dodger but he gave them enough pitching to get them to the bullpen. So keys to victory in baseball…
1) Starting pitching – eh, good enough. Jair is already back in Colorado Springs, sent down for CarGo to come up starting Friday.
2) Great bullpen – yep, 4.1 innings of shutout baseball.
3) Timely hitting – well, not yet. In 3 games every run came on a homer. Wow! They need to do better with RISP, but as Nolan gets his timing, CarGo comes back (they announced he will play right field for the rest of the season, leaving Dickerson to play his more comfortable left) and a newly on fire Tulo, this team will start getting 2 out runs again.
4) Solid defense – er, the infield played well, Stubbs got his throw back quickly to allow DJ to get an out at 2nd, but Rosario’s play at catcher is becoming a bigger and bigger problem, especially at key times, making pitchers more and more reluctant to throw in the dirt curves and sliders. But other than that, good defense.
So, it wasn’t a masterpiece. But a day when you get 5 homers and 6 run and win a series – hey, it is okay to accentuate the positive and cheer over the negatives.
The Rockies have a winning streak – 2 games – and are well on their way to finishing the 1st half with another 5 game winning streak. The Minnesota series features DLR, Matzek, and Anderson, with only the 3rd game having the match-up in the Twins favor as they throw Phil Hughes, who I am going to bet had issues with Coors Field.
LETS GO ROCKIES!!!!