Friday, July 10, 2009

Atkins Comes Through For The Rockies

In baseball there is a saying that every team wins 60 games and every team loses 60 games, it is a matter of what a team does with the other 42 that determines if they are contenders or basement dwellers.

If Thursday night was one of those 42 games for the Rockies, it is a good sign.

Twice the Rockies battled back from two-run defects and overcame a sluggish start from ace Aaron Cook.

Cook once again battled control issues, not being able to use his sinker consistently. He left the ball up on several occasions and continued to pay the price for it. In 5-2/3 innings, Cook gave up five earned runs on nine hits, walking three and striking out three. He was able to pitch out of a couple of jams, but was far from dominant in the game. He did get 10 ground ball outs to four flyball outs, but when the Braves hit him, the ball seemed to find the gaps.

Despite the shaky outing, the Rockies offense gave the feeling that they were in the game. Down 2-0 in the second inning, third baseman Ian Stewart drilled a pitch 404 feet over the right-center wall, tying the game and giving Stewart his 16th home run of the season.

If Thursday’s game showed anything, it was how potent the Colorado lineup can be. Todd Helton and Brad Hawpe, the clear offensive leaders on the team, combined to go 1-for-7 with a walk and a strike out. If that would have been the case two months ago, this game would have gone down in the loss category for the Rockies. This time, however, the rest of the offense picked up the pieces.

Stewart hit the home run in his first at-bat, then proceeded to walk in each of his next three at-bats, scoring three times on the night.

Catcher Chris Iannetta went 2-for-3 with a big two run triple in the fourth inning to tie the game up at that point.

Clint Barmes, who had been slumping slightly recently after swinging the hottest bat on the club following his move to the 2-hole in the lineup, squarely hit two doubles. The second of which was a double that seems to be so much of who Barmes is that he should consider copyrighting it. The pitch was slightly outside, but Barmes turned on it and roped it past the third baseman and into the corner.

The biggest hit of the night, however, came in the bottom of the eighth inning when Garrett Atkins was asked to pinch hit with two men on and two outs. Stewart had walked, and then Iannetta was hit on the foot by a breaking ball, putting men on first and second base with the score knotted up at five. After Carlos Gonzalez struck out, Garrett Atkins was asked to pinch hit in the pitchers spot. Atkins has been struggling emensly all of 2009.

On Thursday however, he looked confident at the plate and ripped a double down the left field line, scoring two runs and giving the Rockies a 7-5 lead. That was enough for closer Huston Street, who actually gave up a run in the ninth, but still nailed down his 22nd save in 23 chances.

The win shows the depth that this Rockies team is starting to realize that they have. On a night when Helton and Hawpe struggled at the plate, the Rockies were still able to put up seven runs. Dexter Fowler is showing signs of maturity, and Iannetta and Stewart are starting to hit for average as well.

That, coupled with the fact that Colorado has Seth Smith, Ryan Spilborghs and Atkins coming off the bench means that the Rockies have more depth than any other team in the National League.

While Atkins and Spilborghs names have surfaced in the trade rumors, the Rockies really are not in desperate need of any additional help. Sure, the bullpen struggles to get to Street, but the reality is, pitchers are middle relievers for a reason. They are not good enough to start and they are not good enough to close, so they enjoy life out of the bullpen.

What that means is that every team is in the market for middle relievers, and anyone who is willing to sell one is going to ask for a haul in return for someone who is not a completely dominant force on the mound.

The Rockies take on the Braves again on Friday with Ubaldo Jimenez going against sinkerballer Derek Lowe. The game is at 7:10 and will be broadcast on Fox Sports Rocky Mountain and 850 KOA on the radio side.

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