Sunday, June 28, 2009

Rockies Slug Their Way To Series Victory; Bullpen Shows Weaknesses

The Colorado Rockies held an 11-2 lead going into the seventh inning. They held on to win 11-9 with the tying run at the plate and Huston Street on to secure the save.

Early on it was all Rockies, in the first Brad Hawpe connected for his 100th career home run, a towering shot just inside the right field foul pole and just below the second deck. In the second Ian Stewart connected for his team leading 14th home run, then Clint Barmes homered in the third and Seth Smith in the fourth.

Saturday night was a night that the Rockies were hoping to steal. They knew going into the game that Jorge De La Rosa would be on the mound for them and that the game could go either way. De La Rosa has proven to be frustratingly bipolar in his outings.

This time it was the good De La Rosa who took the hill for the Rockies. He threw six innings, giving up two earned runs, both in the third inning when he gave up a few hits and struggled to locate his pitches. He struck out five A's, none bigger then Matt Holliday in that same third inning with runners on and only one out.

For all of his struggles, De La Rosa finishes June with a 4-1 record. The four wins ties him for the most in the National League. He is tied with two teammates, Aaron Cook and Jason Hammel.

The Rockies have now won 19 out of their last 22 baseball games, the best stretch by far in all of Major League Baseball. While there is no Rockies fan complaining about the results thus far, on Saturday the team showed its glaring weakness, something that general manager Dan O'Dowd has said that he will try to acquire if the team remains in contention. Bullpen help.

Alan Embree, playing for his 10th team in the Major Leagues and in his 18th year of Major League Baseball was called upon to throw strikes and get outs in the eighth inning. Instead of getting outs, Embree gave up hits and runs. He threw 24 pitches, gave up three hits, two earned runs and a walk, all while getting only one out. Jim Tracy finally had finally seen enough and went back to the bullpen.

After Embree came Juan Rincon, a cast off from the Detroit Tigers. Rincon got out of the eight, but gave up four runs in the ninth inning without getting a batter out and leaving with the results of the game in doubt.

Fortunately for the Rockies, Huston Street came in and showed the Oakland faithful what they are missing out on, getting his 18th save in 19 opportunities.

The fact is, the Rockies wanted nothing to do with Street even getting loose in this game. He should have been in the clubhouse waiting to congratulate his teammates after a blowout victory. Instead he was busy getting three outs to secure the victory.

It really is not a problem in June. A win is still a win. But at some point the Rockies hope that they will not need Street to come in and save every single game. They need to give him some nights off if they want to stay in contention.

Of all the things that managers get accused of it is mismanaging the bullpen. If Colorado wants to be in the thick of the race in September, they most certainly will need a strong, well rested Huston Street to close out hard fought ball games.

The problem for the Rockies is that they lack bullpen depth. Embree has been a total bust so far. He may be 13th in the history of baseball for appearances, but he is dead last in the Rockies bullpen for ability to get outs. From the left side, even his mid-90's fastball is useless if it sits over the heart of the plate like it did on Saturday night. Embree's Rockies ERA sits at 7.08.

Rincon is a cast off from the Tigers. He was a decent pick up to add depth to the bullpen, but guys like him are a dime a dozen. For the most part, when a player is picked up off the waiver wire, there is a reason that they were there in the first place. If they had been producing for their current team they would not be willing to give them up. There is no reason to think that simply by switching uniforms a player will regain his composure.

The Rockies do have Josh Fogg, Matt Daley, Randy Flores and Joel Peralta, who have all done exceptionally well in their rolls, but at some point it has to be considered that the team is in desperate need of a pitcher who can get guys out with any of his pitches, someone who consistently pitches their game and will not give in to a hitter.

That will be the task for O'Dowd if the Rockies stay in the Wild Card hunt in '09, and by the looks of an offense that puts up 11 runs in a pitcher's park like Oakland, they may just stay in the hunt all season long.

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