The Rockies are at this point the most resilient team in baseball. But they sure are hard to figure out sometimes.
The game had a weird feel. Largely because of how well Josh Beckett just rolled through the lineup. Question: Do the Rockies believe in taking pitches?
If you watch a Yankees or Red Sox game, you know you are going to see a lot of 7 or 8 pitch ABs, pitchers barely making the 6th, pushing the pens of their opponents.
The Rockies are not that team. We saw on Tuesday night the Giants get an 8 inning complete game out of Baumi. And then on Wednesday, even as balls were flying out, Matt Cain was still fresh as the later innings rolled around, allowing them to have their better arms available vs. the #25 man on the roster. Pitch-counts are over-rated, especially the way arms are so protected, but it matters. It’s not just that guys get pulled at 100, they are no longer programmed to pitch 120, so at 80-100 we see guys start to loose it. But we just aren’t seeing that happen for the Rockies, and over the course of a season seeing great starting pitching rather than 6th inning arms is going to kill you. But even with that, this team seems to have a plan.
The Rockies got on Josh Beckett in the 2nd, hitting two balls into the stands, a crushed ball by Tulo (looked a lot like we have seen on the last homestand) and then a laser shot showing some big-time power by Corey Dickerson (wrote about it the other day…he needs more ABs) that just cleared the left-center stands (trust me, it showed so real strength by Dickerson). But aside from that not much. CarGo hits some hard balls. There were a few nice defensive plays. But this team showed very little life in the middle inning, not just in terms of outcomes but pressure.
It was the 8th inning before they had another pressure situation. Two-outs, DJ on 2nd after a steal on a strike-out on pitch-hitter Josh Ruttledge (killer curve on a 3-2). Facing Charlie Blackmon Beckett had only 96 pitches. This is a pitcher who before tonight’s game was a 6-inning pitcher at most. The Josh Beckett who came up with the Florida Marlins no longer exists after too many inning and too many injuries. I like Josh, really love his competitiveness. But at his injuries and age, this guy should not be still be pitching to your team in the 8th. If he is, you have not done your job in putting pressure on their pitching. Needless to say…even with those 96 pitches, Beckett still had something left, talking the great Don Mattingly (as a player) into leaving him into face the lefty Blackmon, and he managed using his curve and fastball to induce a slow grounded. When you let Josh Beckett go 8 on you is there a problem with your hitting strategy?
But the big news for the first 7 innings was how much the Rockies continue to get from the Dexter Fowler trade. While Brandon Barnes has had a few struggles in the outfield at Coors, he is a good defensive player in general and has provided decent offense so far (and more on him in a second). But Jordan Lyles is proving that the Rox did their homework before the “dumped” Dex. For much of the off-season and Spring Training the Dex trade was talked about in terms of how it enabled them to get Justin Morneau. But once again, Jordan Lyles proved the best part of the Dexter trade is the guy on the bump. Considering all the problems Houston is having getting quality starts this year, how much would they like to have Lyles back?As I have written several times now, two years ago the Astros laugh at anyone trying to get Lyles, who had the appearance of a good #2 or at least solid #3. After two years of struggling playing for a team with no defense, no offense, bad ballpark, bad food, bad air…well, you get the picture. Getting out of Houston to head to Coors might have sounded like a bad deal. But not for Lyles.
As Lyles was moving through the Dodgers lineup tonight I was reminded, Lyles was slated for Colorado Springs. But, fortunately, Tyler Chatwood decided he was Dee Gordon and ended up on the DL. Lyles has done what you want to see especially young but really any player do when there is an opening. Just like Franklin Morales, Jordon Lyles has grabbed the opportunity. The first few starts he seemed to hit the wall in the 5th at about 70 pitches, but the last two starts that has changed. It may have been his conditioning and arm strength just needed some additional time to develop. Lyles last 4 starts: 6.2,5.0,7.0,7.0. His ERA is now under 3 at 2.93, and it has not been cheap. Tonight he was even better.
He gave up a 1st inning bomb to Puig when he missed badly with what looked like a slider that just laid flat. After that he was great until the 6th. Ah, but you say the Dodgers scored in the 3rd. Here is what happened. On a slow roller to the right-side of the infield DJ LeMahieu, in an attempt to pick-it and get the very speedy (I want to see a race between Billy Hamilton and him) Dee Gordon missed it, and ended up moving so far away from the ball that Gordon got to 2nd. It should have been scored a single and an error – DJ has to stop the ball first and foremost and he didn’t. But scored a double and then Puig, the only guy who really seemed to hit Lyles well, lined a single and the game was tied. In the 6th, even as the ROOT announcers were saying how Lyles gets into trouble at this point, Lyles gave up a weird double to Hanley Ramirez (CarGo seemed to lose it in the wind and Corey Dickerson was late getting over). I was half-expecting to see Walt at this point (since the pen is fresh after day-off).
Instead, we got to see Lyles pitch the best we have seen yet. He Kd the Adrian Gonzalez using his curve and 2 seamer inside. He got Kemp to pop up to DJ, then Crawford to roll over to Tulo. Great pitching. And you are thinking, 6 innings, not bad. But he comes back in the 7th. He gives up a lead-off single to Uribe and we think…oops, left out one too many hitters again. But with their struggling catcher up Tim Federowicz (Ellis their starter in on the DL) trying to bunt, he jammed him for a short bunt in front of the plate. At this point, we see what might have been the best play ever by Wilin Rosario. He jumped out, grabbed the ball, threw a dart to Tulo at 2nd, over to 1st ,double play. That was great baseball folks!!! Lyles didn’t loose focus after the great play. He kept pounding the plate and got Beckett to fly out to Charlie B in the RF. Great job, maybe his best start for the Rockies tonight from Lyles who deserved to go home with a 2-1 lead if DJ hadn’t allowed Dee Gordon to get to 2nd. While he was long-gone when it was decided, Lyles was the player of the game.
But this one was far from over….The game then became what we have seen a lot of lately – the battle of the bullpens. At the start of the season I rated the Dodgers as having the best bullpen, slightly ahead of the Giants and Rockies. With bullpen arms its easy to get “name” focused. But “on paper” the Dodgers have the best pen in the NL West. All those closers is a blessing (ask teams like the White Sox), as you need guys who can get key outs whether it’s the 7th, 8th, 9th or 11th (cough, Bettis, cough). Being able to throw guys like Perez, League, Howell, Jensen, Wilson – that is big. And don’t forget the other arms like Jamey Wright (yes…that Jamey Wright, still pitching and still a tough out for 1 inning). Just like the Giants and their pen. But with 7 from Lyles and the off-day, the pen was set-up for the Rox as well.
At this point the usually sunny LA basin became cold and rainy…something the announcers say they have never seen in all their years coming to L.A. It would rain the rest of the game, leaving about 300 fans (or a Marlins sell-out, however you want to call it) to see the end.
Adam Ontavino came in and may have messed up a few swings for a while, throwing one slider to Puig that is the best I have seen all year from anyone. He wasn’t sharp, but the extra wildness made the slider even better. In the 9th Boone Logan came in, got two quick Ks including Matt Kemp who hits lefties well on a gift strikeout (Kemp promptly decided he was needed elsewhere and was tossed). Logan got Uribe to roll-over to 2nd (with a nice flip with the glove by DJ there). On to extra innings for the second game in a row.
A word about Jamey Wright who pitched the 10th. He still allows a lot of hits (league is hitting over .300) but his 3 ERA reminds us of why baseball is hard. Getting hits is not the goal or the purpose. Scoring runs is – and when you can give up hits but not runs, you are a good pitcher. Jamey had a typical 10th, putting the pressure back on the Rox in the bottom of the 10th.
Which brought another typical Rex Brothers inning. He is still missing with key pitches. He walked the lefty Ethier who moved to 2nd on a bunt by Dee Gordon that required a very good play by DJ and Morneau, but got out of it without any runs. Now the pressure moved back to the Dodgers.
With several lefties coming up later, Mattingly choose to stick with Wright at the start of the 11th. He got DJ for the first out which brought up the pitcher’s spot. And here…things changed.
With the righty on the mound Walt Weiss went with Brandon Barnes instead of Drew Stubbs (whose power could have gotten them the lead in one swing). The choice worked – the Rockies got a 1-out double into the thick rainy air from Brandon Barnes. Barnes, from the LA area, was playing for the first time ever at Dodgers Stadium. Now with their lefties coming up the Dodgers called in their lefty specialist, J.P. Howell, who is sort of their version of Boone Logan, and yet another former closer. On the first few pitches, he made Charlie Blackmon look bad (especially the curve up in the zone). But you have to finish hitters and with a 2-2 count against CB(who had not looked good all evening), Charlie just took it back-up the middle and…the Rockies had their first lead since the 2nd, 3-2. Charlie then stole 2nd with ease and had 3rd stolen but Nolan Arenado topped it foul. But Nolan, his hitting streak on the line, bounced one to left to make it 3rd and 1st (Charlie had to stop to let the ball go through) with 1 out and CarGo coming up.
CarGo is a streaky hitter, and right now…not in a good streak. He hit some hard balls, but he looks nearly as out-of-sync as he did that series in Arizona last year. CarGo quickly got himself into an 0-2 count, right when they could not afford an empty out. He fouled off a nasty next pitch next. Then another key play was ready to happen: CarGo takes one to the right side and instead of getting the easy out at first, AGone decides to come home with it, but there wasn’t even a play at the plate – runner safe, boos from the few remaining faithful.
Now, 2nd and 1st with only 1 out. All this against J.P. Howell, the left specialist and former closer, using up more pitches on his arm, possibly putting him out for the rest of the series.
It should be pointed, he had not thrown bad pitches, but the Rockies had good ABs. Mattingly with his pen already stretched, brought in Brandon League, former Seattle closer. The Dodgers pen, as good as it is and will be, has been used as much if not more than the Rockies – as Mattingly tends to stick with the same guys. Mattingly is old-fashioned in his use of the pen, so it will be something to watch through the season. League walked Tulo and then gave up a single to Justin Morneau, making it 5-2. On Thursday night the Dodgers had played a very similar game, where a tie-game got away from them in the 9th when Brian Wilson could not close the door. While the Rockies were able to enjoy Thursday in L.A., The Dodgers didn’t have the off-day, and it showed-up tonight with their pen. Sadly, the rally stopped there when Rosario grounded into a double-play (Morneau tried to keep from being tagged to save a run but Rosario couldn’t get up the line fast enough).
A number of folks at Row Walk Off have commented on this team’s resiliency. On Sunday when they coughed up a sweep to the Phils, they still had the tying run on 3rdup of that game, I asked if the nature of that loss would stick with the Rox. t linger on that game one bit, but came out on Monday and crushed the Giants.
On Wednesday after the grand slam in the top of the 11th, Morneau crushed a 2-run homer and they had the tying run on when they grounded into the double-play. This team doesn’t just roll-over (and over 162 games this will be an asset). This team is feisty. And with a 5-2 lead, they were ready for their first road-trip opening win.
LaTroy Hawkins came in to pitch the 11th, giving up a lead-off double to Hanley Ramirez and then Adrian Gonzalez just ripped a Hawkins curve deep into the night, 5-4. Everyone gives up hits, everyone gives up homers. Nice when it happens when you have a cushion, and Hawkins may have challenged both hitters with the cushion.
Hawkins just seemed to ignore what happened. He got Scott Van Slyke (who came into the spot where Kemp was after he was tossed) to pop out to DJ along the foul line. First out. On a 2-2 count Hawkins got Carl Crawford to pop out and on the next pitch Juan Uribe flied out to right and Brandon Barnes. Game over, Rockies win. Rockies win!
A great win. Great pitching. Great late-inning hitting. The Rockies had a great Coors Field home stand. Tonight they showed they know how to win baseball games anywhere.
Summary of a great night:
Nolan Arenado extends hitting streak
Jordan Lyles goes 7 for second straight outing.
Pen gives up 2 runs on Hawkins homer but controlled LA.
We are in 2nd place, .5 behind the Giants!!!!