Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Bad Outing For Marquis Sinks Rockies Early

Jason Marquis has been a huge reason why the Colorado Rockies have raced back into contention. Coming into Wednesday night he was 9-4, one win shy of the National League lead. When the Rockies struggled in the first two months, Marquis pitched well, ending five losing streaks in April and May.

Unfortunately for the Rockies, even the best pitchers have bad outings.

Wednesday night was exactly that for Marquis, a bad outing. Early in the game it was evident that the right-hander was struggling to hit his spots, and quickly gave up three runs in the first inning, facing eight hitters. In the second inning he gave up another three runs, never finding a feel for his sinker.

With Joe Saunders on the mound for the Angels, the remaining seven innings were only played because the rules said that they had to be. The route was on as the Rockies lost 11-3.

After a June in which the Rockies set a team record for wins before the official start of summer, a two-game losing streak feels like a 10-game losing streak.

While it may fly in the face of what has been going on with the squad, especially the pitching staff, it shows why the true weak link on this team has not throw a pitch or swung a bat all season.

The weak link for the Rockies is pitching coach Bob Apodaca.

Veteran pitchers like Marquis and Aaron Cook have thrown enough big league innings, won enough games and refined their mechanics enough to know what they need to do in order to get Major League hitters out. That is evident when Cook can respond from a horrible start and go back to using his sinker to get ground ball outs.

It has been reported several times that Marquis tweaked his delivery in the offseason, using Spring Training as a testing ground, to get more of a downward plane on his pitches, keeping the ball low in the zone and inducing more ground balls. All of these changes came before Marquis had every worked with Apodaca.

The problem is that even good pitchers like Marquis and Cook will eventually need another set of eyes to help them tweak their mechanics and find out other ways to be successful. There is only so much that they can do themselves.

On a night like Wednesday night, with Marquis struggling, Apodaca strolled to the mound for the first time in the bottom of the second inning. As is standard procedure, neither Chris Iannetta nor Marquis said a single word. For the entire minute that Apodaca was at the mound, the camera's clearly showed him doing all the talking.

This is commonly the case with Apodaca. Instead of listening to what is going on with the pitcher, he simply talks at him, sometimes even getting to the point of looking like a parent disciplining a child. While there is a time and a place for a coach to reprimand a player, on the mound with the cameras watching is not that place.

For another example of Apodaca's deficiencies, look no further than the young pitchers.

Ubaldo Jimenez has been nothing short of dominant in his last four starts, including a loss on Tuesday night in Anaheim. However, his struggles early in the season were a huge part of the reason that the team fell flat on their faces out of the gate.

Jimenez has drawn comparisons to Pedro Martinez, his fastball was consistently harder than anyone else's in the league in 2008. Not only does he have heat, his pitches move all over the place. He can easily throw a 96 MPH pitch with six inches of sink.

Despite having some of the greatest talent in the league, Jimenez started the season 1-4, with an ERA in the sixes. The reason is simple; his talent is unrefined and instead of pitching, he was simply throwing. Being young, it took Jimenez through the first six weeks of the season to figure out what was wrong. Since then he has been arguably the best Rockies pitcher.

Jorge De La Rosa is another example. He throws 96 MPH from the left side. He has the ability to get strike outs at any given time, however, his confidence wavers on a consistent basis and it is difficult for him to avoid the big inning when he gets in a little bit of trouble. Instead of Apodaca walking out to the mound to encourage De La Rosa, he goes out and chews him out, which clearly makes De La Rosa feel like his insecurities are true and that he cannot pitch well in the majors.

While the Rockies are proving that they are a good team, to get to the next level they are going to have to figure out how to win over the course of six months, instead of just one, with a second rate pitching coach.

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