On Wednesday night in Atlanta, the Colorado Rockies dug their hole in the National League West race a little deeper. The final score was a difficult to swallow 12-4 loss.
The game was determined in the fourth inning when Rockies starter Jorge De La Rosa lost his composure and control of the game. The inning began with De La Rosa walking three of the first four batters, and hitting the fourth. Before it was all over, he had given up six earned runs in the inning.
Matt Belisle could not do much better. He came in and gave up three more runs before finally getting out of the 44 minute half inning. In all, the two Rockies pitchers threw 66 pitches in the bottom half of the inning.
With the loss the Rockies fell to nine games under .500 and nearly 12 games out of the race in the National League West.
The only thing consistent about the Rockies play so far in 2009 has been inconsistency.
When the offensive plays well, the pitching seems to explode. When the pitching is good, the offense looks clueless at the plate. When the starting pitching does well, the bullpen falters. The defense seems to come and go at any given time.
That is not exactly what Clint Hurdle and the front office in Colorado had in mind when they decided to focus on fundamentals during Spring Training in Tucson.
While every team struggles with inconsistency over the course of a 162 game season, this is different.
It has been well publicized that Hurdle has had several individual conversations with players about what they needed to do to bring their game to the next level. Recently he has spoken with Ian Stewart about being more aggressive, Dexter Fowler about laying off the inside slider, and Troy Tulowitzki about trying to hit the ball to the opposite field.
All three of these players have been taken out of the lineup on several occasions to have what Hurdle terms "work days." These days are designed to take the pressure off of the player and give them a chance to break down their swing and analyze what is wrong.
On Wednesday, Hurdle benched Tulowitzki for swinging at the first pitch the previous night after Fowler had walked when the Rockies were down 6-1 late in the game. Tulowitzki rolled into a 6-4-3 double play.
Hurdle continues to talk about being consistent and finding ways to win ball games. After Wednesday's game it has become clear that his words are falling on deaf ears.
One of the challenges of Major League Baseball is adjusting to the ever changing landscape of the game. This applies to a manager as much as it applies to the players.
The way that Hurdle handles some of his players, especially the Tulowitzki situation on Wednesday, seems similar to the way a parent would reprimand a child. Tulowitzki was made an example of to the rest of the team. While this may have worked when the team was young and just breaking into the big leagues, it seems to be counter productive.
Tulowitzki is no longer a rookie. He is an established Major League player who has proven himself to the organization enough to be rewarded with a long term deal. He is not in a position to be sent back to Triple-A if he struggles.
The other less established players like Stewart and Fowler now have older players like Tulowitzki, Todd Helton, Brad Hawpe, Aaron Cook and other veteran players who can provide leadership.
In 2007, the only truly accomplished player in the clubhouse was Helton. The team relied on Hurdle for direction and leadership.
There is no doubt that Hurdle is a good man. He is active in the community and he has been a huge part of the Colorado Rockies organization. His fingerprints are on this club and will remain long past his time. There is no doubt that letting Hurdle go would be an extremely emotional decision for the Monfort brothers.
However, at some point in sports, difficult decisions must be made. There is too much talent on the Colorado roster for them to be nine games under .500 on May 21st. The Rockies have huge potential in their lineup. They have the ability to hit the ball out of the park from every spot in the order.
Their pitching staff is better than anyone could have anticipated. With Cook and Ubaldo Jimenez at the top end and Jason Marquis and De La Rosa anchoring the back end, the Rockies have a chance to win on any given night.
At some point, when the talent is on the field, the finger has to be pointed back to the leadership. Unfortunately for Hurdle it is becoming more and more clear that his leadership is outdated in the clubhouse. His pep talks and speeches to players are no longer effective.
The right move for the Colorado Rockies is to cut their losses with Clint Hurdle and find a new voice for the players.