It was an important game for the Rockies. They had fallen short the two previous nights and were looking at going into the All-Star break three games behind in the National League Wild Card race.
Starter Jason Hammel lasted just three innings, giving up five runs on nine hits. He simply did not have it.
The past two days have seen the Rockies get down by a few runs and the offense struggle to keep the team in the game. It looked as if the Rockies from April and May had returned. The batters seemed to be pressing when they had runners in scoring position and they found new ways to keep runs from coming across the plate.
Not on Sunday, as the Rockies continued to battle back. Despite the poor outing by Hammel, and the two-run home run given up by Jorge De La Rosa, who relieved Hammel, there was a constant feeling that the Rockies were going to find a way to get back in the game.
Hawpe got them on the board in the second inning with a solo home run, his 14th of the season. Then Tulowitzki got the Rockies within two runs with a solo blast of his own in the fourth. It was Tulowitzki’s 16th home run on the season. In the seventh Seth Smith hit his seventh home run of the season, a two-run blast that got the Rockies within one run. Smith’s home run gave the Rockies the confidence to win the game.
In the eighth inning Ryan Spilborghs pinch hit in the pitchers spot and laced what would have been the game winning double, but Nate McClouth played the ball perfectly off the wall and was able to throw out the slow-footed Chris Iannetta at the plate. It was good enough, however, to tie the game up.
The play of Seth Smith is going to make it difficult to continue running struggling prospect Carlos Gonzalez out to left field eveyday. With a 2-for-5 day, Smith upped his batting average to .298. He is seeing the ball well and continues to get hits in the clutch. As a pinch hitter, Smith has nine hits in 2009.
While he has been phenomenal as a pinch hitter and is valuable off of the bench late in games, the question must be asked if his abilities are being wasted on the bench while Gonzalez struggles.
Gonzalez has floundered in the first five weeks of his Rockies career. He is hitting just .202 and looks lost at the plate. While struggling at the plate is nothing new to a young player, Gonzalez’s struggles go beyond just looking lost.
The scouting report on Gonzalez when he was in Oakland is that he could never adjust to the offspeed pitch. He was a great fastball hitter, but hitting a Major League curveball or slider was difficult for him. Difficult enough that the A’s felt he may never find his swing at the big league level.
Gonzalez’s athleticism cannot be doubted. It is clear why he has been dubbed a potential five-tool player. He has a phenomenal arm in the outfield, has the speed to steal bases, and when he hits the ball, he hits it hard. However, getting on base is a problem.
It could be argued that the Rockies have done fine with him in left field,and that in order for him to reach his potential the club needs to keep the faith in him and continue letting him mature on the job. The problem with that thought is that the Rockies are in the race. If they were in the same boat as the Diamondbacks or Padres it may be a different scenario, but if there is a chance to win, the Rockies should be playing the talent that is ready to help them win.
Smith is hitting .96 points higher than Gonzalez. He is more of a power threat, and while his defense may not be as sharp, his bat in the lineup near the end of a close game more than makes up for the lack of speed in left field.
On a day like Sunday the credit will go to Brad Hawpe, and it very well should, but the Rockies would never have been in that situation had Seth Smith not had the day that he did. His seventh inning home run could not have been more timely, allowing the Rockies to have two innings to score one more run. Without his hit in the ninth, Hawpe has no one on the bases to drive in.
Players like Smith are what make the Rockies a good team. Instead of having to depend on superstars day in and day out, Colorado can put faith in someone who can be a role player and do his job when he is asked to.
With more of Seth Smith in the lineup, the Rockies could find themselves in the race not just at the All-Star break, but down the stretch run as well.