Monday, April 20, 2009

Rockies Pounded By The Dodgers, Changes On Their Way?


Ubaldo Jimenez looked to come into today's game looking to prove that his efforts early last week in Chicago were due to the cold weather, and a complete fluke.

Today the temperature in Los Angeles was in the 90's. The result for Jimenez was the same.

Once again, Jimenez hit the 100 pitch mark before getting through the fifth inning, while struggling to command his fastball and off speed pitches. Overall Jimenez gave up seven earned runs, while surrendering four walks and hitting a batter in 4-1/3 innings in the Rockies 14-2 drubbing at the hands of the Dodgers.

Not only was Jimenez bad, the entire team was horrible. The bullpen gave no relief to Jimenez, as Matt Belisle came in and immediately surrendered a nail-in-the-coffin grand slam to Matt Kemp. It made Belisle the number one candidate to be removed from the roster on Tuesday when the Rockies call up Franklin Morales in hopes that he can turn the ship against the Diamondbacks in Arizona.

In addition to Belisle and the rest of the bullpen (seven earned runs in 3-2/3 innings) the offense did little to help the club succeed.

The sputtering offense went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position, the hit coming off the bat of Jimenez that did not make it out of the infield. In fact, for the last week, it has seemed that the best hitters in the Rockies lineup have been the pitchers.

All of this, along with a 4-7 record, is a reminder of the message that was clearly sent to both General Manager Dan O'Dowd and Manager Clint Hurdle before the season began. Both in the final year of their contracts, neither was offered an extension before the season. A clear sign that the ownership group wants to see success on the field and that status quo is not OK.

In order to prove themselves, Hurdle and the Rockies would need to get off to a quick start. In Spring Training the Rockies got back to the basics. They were going over cut-off drills, bunting, and running all sorts of drills that reminded a spectator of the average peewee league tryout.

The added discipline seemed to pay dividends for the squad in the spring as every single member of the every day lineup finished the exhibition season with a batting average above .300

While many members of the Rockies credited the offensive success to new hitting instructor Don Baylor, the pitching staff, particularly the starters, struggled throughout Spring Training.

This was an interesting facet of the game to pay attention to, as pitching coach Bob Apodaca, along with first base coach Glenallen Hill, were the lone coaches on Hurdle's staff that escaped the ax after the season. Hurdle even fired longtime friend and former teammate Jamie Quirk.

The offense seems to be closer to finding its groove than the pitching staff. Aaron Cook, an All-Star and 16 game winner last season, is struggling mightily. He is always among the league leaders in ground ball outs, but has already given up five home runs this season.

Jimenez is a young player who seems close to turning the corner and becoming a superstar in this league, but struggles with his mechanics, leading to questionable location and a lack of confidence when he is in trouble.

Jorge De La Rosa is a lefty with all the potential in the world, but seems to be up and down due to his own mental struggles.

Jason Marquis struggled throughout the spring, he was tinkering with his delivery, but seems to have found his groove after going back to his old mechanics just in time for the regular season.

The common thread seems to be the pitching. Apodaca has been on Hurdle's staff since 2003, Hurdle's first full season managing the club.

Jeff Francis, the Rockies former ace who is out all year after undergoing shoulder surgery, did not go on the disabled list until the 4th of July last season. Apodaca was quoted as saying that he did not know that Francis was hurt all season until then. He had thrown every bullpen session and never complained about stiffness.

That kind of quote is baffling. Francis' velocity on his fastball was sitting at 84 MPH, and his mechanics were so far off that an amateur fan watching on TV could pick up that Francis was not throwing with a downward plane, leading to pitches being left up in the strike zone.

A pitcher not pitching with a downward plane is often the first sign of injury. It shows the he is dragging behind his legs and his body does not want to put extra force onto the shoulder.

The Rockies have Bo McLaughlin as the wings. McLaughlin is the roving pitching instructor this season after spending several seasons as the pitching coach for the Double-A Tulsa squad. McLaughlin is the go to guy when a pitcher needs a quick fix. Last season, the Rockies had Francis do his rehab starts in Tulsa so that he could work with McLaughlin. All of the young pitchers, including Jimenez and Morales have credited their success and quick jump to the Majors to his teachings.

The move may make some sense for the Rockies, if for nothing else than to change the voice that some of these players have been hearing for the last few years.

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