Thursday, April 30, 2009

Colorado Rockies April Review; The Good And The Bad

The Colorado Rockies knew that they were in for a difficult April as soon as the schedule was released.

In the first three weeks, the Rockies would play 11 of 14 games on the road, where wins have always been a challenge for the club. The fact that there were so many games on the road was not the only part that made it difficult. Six of the 11 road games came against the Diamondbacks, where the Rockies won only once all of last season. Three were in Los Angeles, a team that was three wins away from a World Series last year, and two were against the defending NL Central champion Chicago Cubs.

The home games did not provide much solace. The three opening games were against the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies.

Despite the difficulties in the schedule, the Rockies made no excuses and battled their way through it, having successes and failures along the way.

The reality is that the Rockies were hoping to be at or around .500 at the end of the month. They stand at 8-12, which is not quite where they would like to be, but is truly only one or two wins short of the goal.

The Good:
From the perspective of some, it is difficult to find positives in the first month of the season for Colorado. However, there were some good pieces to take away from the first 20 games.

The emergence of Dexter Fowler has to be the biggest plus that the club experienced. One month ago, Fowler was first rumored to make the team. At the beginning of the spring, Fowler had little to no chance of winning a spot on the Opening Day roster. Everyone had pinned him for a year of seasoning in Triple-A Colorado Springs, especially considering the logjam in the Rockies outfield already.

Fowler ends April with a .290 batting average, to go along with four doubles and two home runs. Although the most impressive stat for Fowler has got to be his league leading nine stolen bases.

The youngster from Georgia has shown that the the Rockies made the right decision by putting him on the Opening Day roster. He originally was only going to start against lefties, but he has played his way into the everyday lineup. He has become a dependable leadoff hitter, and has already made several run saving plays in the outfield.

One other aspect of the Rockies early season that should not go unstated is their ability to beat good pitching. Out of the eight wins early on, Colorado has defeated Dan Haren, Cole Hamels, Rich Harden, Clayton Kershaw, Chris Young and knocked Brandon Webb out of a game before he could reach five innings.

The Bad:
The 8-12 record would suggest that there are several issues keeping the Rockies from getting the hot start that they were looking for.

First and foremost, the starting pitching has been nothing short of a complete disappointment. Through five starts, Aaron Cook, last year's ace, has averaged just better than five innings pitched each time out. He is 1-1 with a 7.11 ERA. After giving up only 13 home runs all of 2008, he has already given up seven in 2009. Cook's signature sinker has been elusive all season long.

Ubaldo Jimenez has also struggled. After dominating the Diamondbacks in his 2009 debut, he has not been able to find his mechanics. Jimenez is 1-3 with a 7.58 ERA while throwing only 19 innings through four starts.

The other side of the struggle has been the bullpen. Out of Spring Training newly acquired Huston Street was given the closer job. He quickly pitched his way out of that and Manny Corpas was in. Corpas also struggled in the role which has left several games feeling closer than what they should have been.

It should say enough that the Rockies are the worst in the league in one run games, currently sitting at 0-5.

The other aspect of the club struggling is the hitters. Troy Tulowitzki started off hot, but cooled quickly. Instead of finding his pitch to hit and driving it, Tulowitzki is getting fooled by off speed pitches outside of the zone, and he is striking out at an enormous rate. He currently has 17 strikeouts in just 60 at bats. At the end of April his batting average sits at a lowly .200.

Chris Iannetta was highly touted this offseason as a catcher ready to take the reigns as the starter. He showed confidence last season, belting 18 home runs in less than 400 at bats. He also showed that he was able to call a good game behind the plate.

2009 however, has shown the exact opposite. Iannetta is hitting just .174, with only two home runs. He has struck out 14 times in just 46 at bats.

Moving Forward
May should bring a different set of cards for the Rockies. The squad plays 14 games at Coors Field as opposed to 15 on the road. A much better ratio than April. As of late both the offense and the pitching has shown signs that they are coming around.

On Wednesday Cook pitched seven strong innings to claim his first win of the year. Street pitched a perfect ninth inning, striking out the side. His pitches had the movement that the Rockies had yet to see from Street early.

Ryan Spilborghs started the year struggling at the plate, but seems to have found his swing. A late surge has upped his average to .301. If he can continue swinging a hot bat, the Rockies may be able to produce a few more runs early in games.

Todd Helton is showing that his surgically repaired back is in very good condition. Although starting out slowly, he has shown bat speed that has not been seen since 2004. He only has two home runs so far, but he is hitting .303 and already has 15 RBI's. He has been swinging a hot bat as of late as well.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Todd Helton; Aaron Cook Lead Colorado Rockies To Victory

Aaron Cook has been an interesting case so far this season. In four starts coming into Wednesday's day game against the Padres, Cook has looked terrible. He is a sinker ball pitcher whose pitches were staying up in the zone. After three starts Cook had already given up five home runs. He gave up 20 all last season.

Wednesday was a whole different story. Cook had a seven pitch first inning, an eight pitch fourth inning and through four innings was only to 58 pitches. Most importantly, his sinker looked like the sinker that landed him in the All-Star Game at Yankees Stadium last July.

Cook gave up only two hits through the first six innings before running into trouble in the seventh inning when he gave up three runs on three hits including a home run by Adrian Gonzalez.

Despite the late struggles, there is a sense of relief for Cook and the Rockies. The sinker ball that had seemed to disappear was back.

At the plate, Todd Helton showed once again that his surgically repaired back is perfectly healthy. In the bottom of the third inning, Helton hit an absolute bullet into the Rockies bullpen. It was a no-doubt-about-it home run. The bomb gave the Rockies a 3-0 cushion.

In the sixth inning, Helton came up with two men out and the bases loaded. In typical Helton fashion, he worked the count full and fouled off a pitch, and then laced a ball into the outfield to score two runs.

Helton finished the day going 2-for-3 with a walk and three RBI's. His batting average has silenced his critics as it now stands at .303. Helton also has 15 RBI's, more than half of what he finished the season with last year when he checked in at 29.

It is clear with Helton that he is feeling better. Although he only has two home runs, the bat speed is back. He is able to foul off pitches that he does not like and wait to get a pitch to drive. He is also hitting the ball to the opposite field quite a bit better, which shows that his hands are quick enough to let the ball get deep on him.

With Helton healthy, the Rockies lineup is undoubtedly better. He brings a bat that is not only difficult to get out, but he also has such an ability to wear a pitcher out with his ability to foul pitches off. Since 2002, Helton has more foul balls than any other player in baseball. That includes Helton missing almost half of the season last year.

The biggest shame of Helton's career may be the fact that he had to endure so many years on a losing ball club. It seems that the majority of the media, and even many baseball fans in Colorado, missed several years of world class baseball by Helton.

If Helton had played in a place like New York or Boston, he very well may be considered one of the best first baseman to play the game.

Those who disagree point to the fact that Helton plays half of his games in Coors Field. However, if the numbers are broken down, Helton's road stats closely resemble that of Alex Rodriguez, Pete Rose, and Derek Jeter.

With Helton swinging a hot bat, the opposition may want to get to the starting pitcher early because the Rockies lineup is extremely potent with Helton protecting all of the other hitters.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Colorado Rockies Lose A Heartbreaker; Lessons From Tucson Forgotten

The Colorado Rockies looked to win their third game in a row tonight against the Padres.

Winning tonight would have given the club a chance to salvage at least a decent April record with a win tomorrow afternoon.

The Rockies could not capitalize, as Padres starter Chad Gaudin, a pitcher Colorado pursued less than three weeks ago when the Cubs cut him, matched Jorge De La Rosa in a fun to watch pitcher's duel. It was De La Rosa's third straight start in which the Rockies wasted a great performance.

The Rockies lost 4-3 in a game that see-sawed back and forth in the late innings. With the Padres up 2-0 with two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning, Seth Smith one handed a pitch that found itself barely making it over the wall in right field. That got the Rockies within a run for the late innings.

In the seventh, after Yorvit Torrealba struck out for the third time, Troy Tulowitzki, out of the lineup for the second straight day, pinch hit in the pitcher's spot. After going down 0-2, Tulowitzki stayed back on a ball and lined it into center field for a base hit.

Dexter Fowler, quickly becoming a fixture in the Rockies lineup, laid down a beautiful push bunt for a single.Ryan Spilborghs then singled home Tulowitzki, then Todd Helton followed with a sharply hit liner to right field to score Fowler.

With Spilbourghs at third, Helton at first and one out, Colorado had an excellent chance to pour the runs on.

Unfortunately, Garrett Atkins could not use his big bat to come through, instead he proceeded to ground into a double play to end the rally.

In the ninth inning the Rockies had another rally going when Helton doubled down the right field line. This brought Atkins back to the plate with a chance to redeem himself. Instead, Atkins grounded to the shortstop Luis Rodriguez, who flipped to Kevin Kouzmanoff at third for an easy fielders choice to end the game.

The Rockies effort to go back to basics this spring may be one of the most over publicized stories in the history of the franchise. Even the most amateur Rockies fan knows that the club was going to work on situational hitting and being more aggressive on the base paths.

It seems that Garrett Atkins missed the memo.

Atkins, who had a chance to open the game up with even a sacrifice fly in the seventh inning, failed to find a pitch to hit into the outfield. In that situation, a power hitter of Atkins ilk is looking to do one thing; hit the ball into the seats. If he fails, he has scored a run via the sacrifice fly.

Since 2005, Atkins has grounded into no less than 16 double plays. In '06 he led the National League with 24 GDP's.

The troubling part of this number is the flip side of it. While grounding into double plays seems routine for Atkins, he has never had more than 10 sacrifice flies in one season.

Part of the pain in losses like this for the team is that it has such a similar feel to that of last season. It was games like these, in which star players were ineffective in clutch situations, that caused manager Clint Hurdle to fire three coaches and make the declaration of going back to basics.

It seems that most of the Rockies have jumped on board and done their part to scratch out runs and make it more of a team game.

The Rockies are wait still waiting for Atkins to get on board with the new style of play.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Colorado Rockies And Dexter Fowler Outrun Chris Young and Padres

Dexter Fowler was invited to Major League Spring Training as a courtesy. It was a way to get him some time on the big league field and help him see what he would be up against the next season. The Rockies were extremely deep in the outfield and Fowler figured to need another year of seasoning in the minor leagues. Besides his cup of coffee in the big leagues last September, Fowler had never played above Double-A.

Fowler had other plans.

After starting the spring striking out 10 times in his first 21 at bats, Fowler worked with Don Baylor and made a few tweaks with his hands.

At that point the whole picture changed.

The Rockies, after losing Willy Taveras, were in desperate need of speed in the offense. They were figuring to have outfielder Ryan Spilbourghs hitting in the lead off spot. Spilbourghs is not necessarily a lead off type. He is more of a doubles hitter with decent speed, but nothing excellent.
Fowler worked hard everyday and began to find his groove in spring. As Opening Day became kept creeping closer, Fowler had yet to be moved to Minor League camp. Finally, four days before the season began, manager Clint Hurdle confirmed that Fowler would be on the Major League roster.
In the first month, Fowler has done nothing short of making Hurdle look like a genius for his decision.

Tonight as Colorado faced Chris Young and the Padres, Fowler made a huge impression. He began the game with a single off of the 6'10" pitcher. He proceeded to steal second base, and then third base. Fowler then scored the first run of the game when Todd Helton drove him in for the Rox first of 12 runs in the 12-7 win.

In the third inning, Fowler reached base via a walk, one of his eight walks on the year. Once again Fowler stole second, and then third.

Fowler, who ended the day with five stolen bases and could have had more had Glendon Rusch not been on base in front of him, is bringing a dynamic to the field for Colorado that no one else is able to.

With pitchers clearly being flustered by Fowler's speed when he is on base, the hitters behind him are seeing more fastballs than they would have otherwise, which has created better opportunities to swing the bat.

Not only does Fowler bring speed to the base paths, he is also bringing it to the massive expanse of land that is Coors Field.

On Saturday in Matt Daley's Major League Debut, Russell Martin of the Dodgers stroked a pitch to the right-center gap. Off of the bat it looked to be an easy triple. Instead, Fowler snagged the ball before running into the wall. A catch that Daley credited with calming him down and making it easier to get the next two outs.

Fowler has made a habit of collecting catches that most center fielders would envy. Especially coming in on balls, Fowler has shown an incredible ability to get to the ball before it reaches the ground.
The Rockies are now 7-11, nothing to be thrilled about. However, if Fowler continues to grow and shows the ability to get on base and steal bases, Colorado may be able to crawl back into the race.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Marquis Performance Sparks Struggling Colorado Rockies

This offseason the Rockies acquired Jason Marquis for Luis Vizcaino from the Chicago Cubs. It was a move that the Rockies made in an effort to provide quality depth in the starting rotation.

Marquis was on the outs in Chicago. Cubs fans were down on Marquis after rumors that he did not get along well with manager Lou Piniella, especially after being left off of the NLDS roster.

Sometimes you don't know what you have until it's gone.

Marquis has won no less than 11 games in the last five seasons. He was a huge question mark in the spring when he sported a plus 14.00 ERA. He said that he was working on tweaking his mechanics to maximize his sinkerball. It became clear early in the regular season that no one should have been worried about Marquis.

After today's 10-4 win over the Dodgers, Marquis is 3-1, owning half of the Rockies total wins for the season.

Today's win is easily the most important of the young season. Colorado was already sitting seven games behind the Dodgers in the NL West and needed the win to avoid sweeps in consecutive weekends by Los Angeles.

In postgame comments in Arizona, Marquis was asked if this team struggled with getting through tough losing streaks. He responded by saying that he believed that the team plays young and that sometimes they did not have the veteran mentality in the clubhouse to shake off the night before and believe that the club would win that day.

Clearly Marquis is taking on a veteran role in the Colorado clubhouse this season. He may not exactly be the cheerleader type that you might find in Troy Tulowitzki, but a guy who goes out onto the field and shows the younger players how it is done.

Conventional wisdom would suggest that both Aaron Cook and Ubaldo Jimenez, who have struggled mightily this season, will find their grooves and be successful on the mound. If Marquis can continue to give quality performances, Colorado may be in a good position to get back into the NL West race.
The Rockies finish up their six game home stand with three games against the Padres, starting Monday night. Colorado will start Jason Hammel on the mound. He will go against Padres starter Chris Young.

Colorado Rockies Reach A New Low

The saying goes "you can't win a pennant in April, but you can lose one."

The Rockies are doing their best to make that statement true this April.

Ubaldo Jimenez, fresh off of two erratic starts in which he had very little fastball control, felt good coming into the night. He had said earlier that he had figured out some mechanical flaws and knew what he needed to do to fix the problems.

Apparently more mechanical issues crept in, as Jimenez gave up four runs in the first inning to a very potent Dodger offense. The final score made it seem like it was last night all over again, a 6-5 Dodger triumph.

Jimenez lasted failed to make it into the fifth inning again for the third straight outing, throwing 91 pitches, 51 for strikes. This outing is tough to find a silver lining, which has been the saving grace for the two earlier struggles for Jimenez this season.

This game was as close to a must win game as a team can get in April. The Rockies are fresh off a 2-6 road trip, including a three game sweep in Los Angeles last weekend. The Rockies now sit at 5-12, a dismal early record, seven games behind the Dodgers. In order to salvage even a decent April would require the Rockies to win tomorrow and then sweep the Padres next week.

The offense still has not found its groove either, but it is tough to lay blame on the hitters when they are constantly battling their way out of a hole dug by the starting pitchers.

Coming from behind is a difficult task in baseball because it sets up the plus side of a bullpen. What that means is that the opposition can pitch their best setup men and their closer in the late innings, rather than facing some of the lesser members of a bullpen.

At this point, it may be difficult for Colorado to overcome this deficit, even this early. The Dodgers look strong, their pitching may still be suspect, but with Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw, the front end of the rotation looks strong. Then the bullpen boasts flame thrower Jonathan Broxton to close the game. The lineup features slugger Matt Kemp hitting in the seven hole.

It should be interesting to see what happens with the club in the next few weeks. If the team cannot find a way to turn things around in a hurry, it may be inevitable that manager Clint Hurdle gets shown the door and General Manager Dan O'Dowd may not be that far behind.

A move like that could greatly change the future of the organization and shape decisions for years to come.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Rockies Looking For A Well-Rounded Game

The Colorado Rockies finally got home after a miserable 10 day, eight game road trip in which the team only won two games. They have been home for only four days since the beginning of Spring Training on February 14th.

On the road trip the Rockies were plagued by a variety of issues. If the offense hit well, the starting pitcher was ineffective. If the starter was good, the bullpen struggled. There was not a complete game that the Rockies played on the entire trip.

Coming home was supposed to change that.

With the Rockies finishing off their brutal April schedule with six games against the Dodgers and Padres at home, the club was looking to even some things out before the month came to a close. To say that a home stand is of great importance in April is stretching the truth, but if there ever was an important time to have two good series, the time is now.

In Colorado it is becoming a trend to start the month of April by falling flat on your face. Two seasons ago the Rockies went 10-16 in April. Last year the first month was finished at 11-17. This season the club is 5-10 so far.

Tonight, after getting a pedestrian outing from Aaron Cook in which he gave up three runs in six innings while walking a career high six, the Rockies were still in it. Cook departed the game with the game tied at three.

The offense did not get ahead early, but was good enough to stay in the game, and when Clint Barmes hit a two run shot into the left field seats in the 8th inning, it looked as if the Rockies may have a chance to turn their fortunes.

Unfortunately, tonight was a night for the bullpen to blow a game.

Huston Street pitched a flawless 7th inning, but was sent out to pitch a second frame in the 8th. He immediately gave up a double to Brad Ausmus and ended up giving up two runs while only getting one out.

Jason Grilli came in to rescue Street, but walked two batters and gave up a hit to score the two runs credited to Street.

The failing reliever parade continued in the ninth, one frame after Barmes had tied the game up, when Manny Corpas came in and gave up a double to James Loney, and a seeing eye single to Ausmus to plate the winning run.

The reasons why this team has yet to click seem baffling. The only aspect of the team that did not seem to be a strength coming into the season was the starting pitching. But not Cook and Ubaldo Jimenez. The concerns were with Jason Marquis and Jorge De La Rosa. Surprisingly the latter two are the only two pitchers who have thrived so far this season.

The bullpen was supposed to be as good as good, anchored with two closers in Corpas and Street. In addition, the back end of the pen would have Taylor Buchholz and veteran Alan Embree to bridge the gap. The bullpen has done a less than satisfactory job, with Street and Corpas struggling and Buchholz going down with an elbow injury.

The lineup was the other plus. Many experts around baseball predicted Chris Iannetta to be an All-Star this season. Clearly the pressure has gotten to the young catcher, and despite going 2-for-5 tonight, his average sits at a lowly .139. Troy Tulowitzki is also looking to find his bat after starting hot, he has cooled greatly. His average stands at .191, but progress seems to be made after walking four times tonight.

The two biggest positives in the lineup are from two of the biggest surprises. Both Dexter Fowler and Ian Stewart were not guaranteed spots on the Opening Day roster coming out of camp. In fact, Fowler was going to be starting at Triple-A up until a week before the season began. Neither player is an everyday starter at this point.

The two players are the only hitters who have shown signs of life in this young season. Fowler has shown the ability to get on base and steal, while Stewart has hit lefties well and shown he is ready for everyday Major League action.

Those are great signs, but this club desperately needs players like Garrett Atkins to step up and play to their potential. Without hitters in the middle of a lineup who can change a game with their bat, this team will continue to spiral out of control and may never find their way.

If Clint Hurdle and Dan O'Dowd want to be employed before most schools get out for summer break, they had better find a way to get something going in a hurry.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Colorado Rockies Ready To Be Home

The Colorado Rockies have played the least amount of home games of any team in the league.

They played a three game opening weekend series with the Phillies before heading back out on a ten day, three city road trip. One of the longest of the season. The 2-6 record made the trip seem even longer.

When Spring Training is factored in, the Rockies have been in Denver for four days since February 14th.

To say the least, the club must be happy to sleep in their own beds and eat in their own houses.

The Rockies are starting a six game home stand against the Dodgers and the Padres. Revenge must be on the team's mind with the Dodgers after getting swept in a three game series in which Colorado gave up 24 runs to the men in blue.

A huge factor in the poor performance on the early road trip was bad pitching. Both Aaron Cook and Ubaldo Jimenez, the two starting pitchers who are paramount to the success of the Rockies, struggled mightily. Jimenez pitched twice, once in Chicago and once in Los Angeles. Both times he struggled with fastball command and did not make it out of the fifth inning. Cook, who gave up 20 home runs all of last year, gave up three in one game on Saturday in LA.

Both pitchers get their opportunities to redeem themselves on Friday and Saturday respectively.

Just because the pitching struggled on the road trip does not mean that the offensive side was bringing their "A game." In fact, it could not be more opposite.

One of the biggest reasons that Colorado struggled last season was due to their ineffectiveness with runners in scoring position. Garrett Atkins hit a lowly .225 in that category.

Manager Clint Hurdle blamed the struggles on players putting too much pressure on themselves and trying too hard. Instead of simply hitting a ground ball to the right side, or hitting a sacrifice fly, hitters were trying to win the game in one swing of the bat.

It seems that all of the lessons from Spring Training went out the window when the Rockies got on the plane in Tucson.

Wednesday, as the Rockies were shutout 2-0, the Rox were 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position. Although they were facing Dan Haren, the club was unable to find an opportunity to score the easy runs even once.

On the road trip Troy Tulowitzki and Chris Iannetta combined to go 6-for-44. Leaving Tucson, both of these players were being tauted as ready to dominate at the plate and be leaders on this team. Possibly the pressure put on them from this has been causing them to squeeze the bat a little tighter.

For the Rockies, now is as good of time as ever to turn this young season around. Six straight games against National League West opponents, three against the Dodgers. A successful series against the Dodgers would put the Rockies record back to respectable. After that the Rox play the Padres, which should provide some relief from the early season schedule against playoff contenders.

On the flip side, if the club struggles on the home stand they may be in the same boat as 2008. So far out of the race that even above average play the rest of the season would not be enough to keep them in contention for their first ever N.L. West title.

Another interesting tidbit to watch for this weekend will be how Hurdle uses Ian Stewart. While the club has been struggling at the plate, it seems that Stewart is finding his groove. He is hitting well above .300 and hits lefties as well, if not better, than righties. It is possible that he could get a start or two in left field, a spot that he is still learning. Although Ryan Spilborghs seems to have broken out of his slump with four hits on Thursday.

Also, Dexter Fowler seems to be winning the battle for more playing time. Originally Fowler was going to be used sparsely, but with Seth Smith struggling at the plate, it makes it easier to move Spilborghs to left field and putting Fowler in center field, especially at Coors Field, where a defensive upgrade in Fowler is also welcomed, considering the cavernous outfield at the Rockies home field.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Despite Rockies Loss, De La Rosa's Improvement Is Encouraging

The Colorado Rockies broke a four game losing streak last night, battling an injury to Franklin Morales, and a horrible fifth inning.

Jorge De La Rosa had the unenviable task of taking on Dan Haren of the Diamondbacks. Haren has been nearly perfect in this short season, but coming into today had exactly two runs put up by his offense to support him.

The young Rockies pitcher did everything in his power to give Colorado it's first series win since the last time they were in Arizona two weeks ago.

Despite having all the tools necessary to be a successful big league pitcher, De La Rosa has struggled mightily with the mental aspect of the game. He has a few good innings, then when he gets into trouble it snowballs, and before you know it, the opposition has put a crooked number on the scoreboard.

The last two starts, despite both being losses, have been extremely encouraging for De La Rosa. Today he took a shutout into the seventh inning.

The seventh inning was a struggle for the lefty, as he gave up consecutive base hits to Chris Young and Chris Snyder. Then a base hit by pinch hitter Ryan Roberts gave the D-Backs their first run. De La Rosa battled and struck out Stephen Drew and his day was finished.

Jason Grilli came in and walked in a run on an extremely questionable call before getting out of the inning.

For the game De La Rosa's line read like this; two runs on six hits with six strikeouts and four walks over 6-2/3 innings. He lowered his ERA to 3.78.

Last Friday, De La Rosa battled against the Dodgers, and although he worked with more men on the bases, he held the Dodgers scoreless over 5-1/3 innings, striking out five and walking four.

Both starts came in a losing effort, but it seems that De La Rosa may be turning the corner. The Rockies, who have seen Aaron Cook and Ubaldo Jimenez struggle early, are desperate for a quality pitcher at the back end of their rotation.

If De La Rosa, who throws 94 MPH from the left side and has a biting slider, is beginning to look like he has what it takes to harness his talent. If he can continue to discover how to get outs when things are not necessarily going his way, the Rockies could be in very good shape.

Eventually Cook and Jimenez will be OK. With Jason Marquis proving that he is a solid number three starter, and De La Rosa proving that he is ready to assume the fourth spot, the rotation could very well be taking shape.

It may not be the best rotation in the National League West, not with talent like Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain in San Francisco, Jake Peavy and Chris Young in San Diego, Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw in L.A. or Brandon Webb and Haren in Arizona. But with the lineup that the Rockies have, they may be in a good position to go out and win a lot of games and prove that they are serious about contending in this division.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Rockies Battle Through Adversity, Beat Diamondbacks

Riding a four game losing streak and six out of their last seven, the Rockies were in need of a big game.
They were depending on Franklin Morales, who was added back to the starting rotation tonight after being sent down to continue getting regular work. After the starters had struggled in recent games, Morales was looking to keep the Rockies in the game for at least six innings.

After pitching two innings and delivering with an RBI single in the top of the third, Morales came out to warm up in the bottom half of the inning. He threw one warmup pitch to Yorvit Torrealba and Torrealba immediately recognized that there was a problem. He called trainer Keith Dugger to the mound and Morales night was done.

Glendon Rusch came in and promptly gave up two runs in the third inning. Overall Rusch gave up four earned runs in 2-1/3 innings.

A huge moment came in the fifth inning for the Rockies. With no one out, the Rockies had runners on second and third base. It almost seemed as if Colorado knew what was going to happen. Brad Hawpe, Ian Stewart and Clint Barmes all failed to score even a single run.

The bottom half of the inning arrived, and the Diamondbacks promptly put up two more runs.

This is where the club may have turned the corner. In previous days, Colorado would roll over and go through the motions, letting the opposing squad pile on more runs hoping the game ends soon enough to start looking for tomorrow.

Not tonight.

The Rockies bounced back in the sixth inning. Once again they had runners on second and third with no one out. Instead of swinging at every pitch and trying to force some runs across the plate, rookie Dexter Fowler worked a five pitch walk to load the bases. Ryan Spilborghs, battling through a season long slump, hit into a double play to plate a run. Then Todd Helton bounced a ball through the left side that scored two runs.

The Rockies ended up getting four runs in the inning, and a lead that they would not relinquish.

Todd Helton later launched his first home run of the season deep into the right field seats off of Jon Rauch. Helton had three hits tonight, and in the last two nights has continued looking more and more comfortable at the plate.

It was the first time this season that Colorado has found a way to grind through adversity. All of Spring Training the emphasis was on moving runners over and focusing on not trying to do too much. That was exactly what was not happening through the first 12 games of the season.

It seemed as if the Colorado offense finally relaxed and found a way to simply get good at-bats tonight and hit a good pitch.

Chris Young, the Diamondbacks center fielder, was credited with 11 putouts. None of the balls that were hit to Young were soft balls. In fact, several of them were hit all the way to the warning track.

When this offense settles down and does not worry about how they are going to force a base hit or try and put a ball into the seats. At that point, the offense becomes contagious and the hits keep rolling.

The bullpen was also a huge plus tonight. Matt Belisle, who had been struggling, worked 1-2/3 scoreless innings and earned the win. Alan Embree, Huston Street and Manny Corpas were all lights out tonight and seemed to have had their confidence on the back end of the bullpen.

If this Rockies team can play with confidence, and find their stride right now, they should be right in the mix of things in the National League West.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Colorado Rockies Continue Downward Spiral, Lose To Diamondbacks 6-3

The Rockies Spring Training home is Hi Corbett Field in Tucson, Arizona. The stadium is the oldest facility in the Cactus League, and most well known for being the location of several scenes from the Major League movies, starring Charlie Sheen and Wesley Snipes.

The movies, ironically, are about a fictitious Cleveland Indians team that begins the season horrible, only to find their groove, come back and go to the playoffs.

The Rockies may be confused about whether or not they are playing Major League Baseball and not acting out the scenes from the movies that were filmed in their spring home. The last three seasons in particular the Rockies have struggled mightily in April.

Tonight's loss at the hands of the Diamondbacks puts the Rockies early season record at 4-8. Despite the fact that the Rockies play only three home games in their first 14 games, the team was looking for a quick start. They needed it so that they would not be crawling out of a hole like in the previous two seasons.

In 2007, the Rockies finished April at 10-16. They went on to win the National League Wild Card, but only after posting the best record in the Majors after the 15th of May. It took all of that for the Rockies to crawl back into the race, which reached its peak when the Rockies defeated the Padres in the 13th inning of a play-in game in Denver.

Last season the glory of being the National League Champions quickly faded as the club finished the first month an abysmal 11-17.

In '07 it took everything the Rockies had, and some help from a collapsing Mets team to pole vault the Rockies into the playoffs.

In '08, there was no such luck. Even though the Rockies played better baseball down the stretch, they never recovered from their early season struggles.

That is why having a good April is so paramount to the Rockies this season. Although playing in the weak National League West, they cannot afford to fall so many games out of first place that they are just trying to get back to the .500 mark all season long.

Thus far, the biggest problems have been situational hitting and executing pitches.

Aaron Cook and Ubaldo Jimenez were the two pitchers the Rockies had this season that the organization figured to be locks as far as consistency goes. Both are pitchers who induce several ground balls and avoid the home run.

That has not been the case this April, as both have struggled to find command of their fastballs, routinely leaving pitches up in the zone. Cook has already given up five home runs, after giving up only 20 all last season. Jimenez cannot seem to find location and is struggling with giving up walks and working with runners on base.

After tearing the cover off of the ball in Spring Training, the offense has fallen flat. Ryan Spilbourghs, who won the Abby Greer Award for the best spring player for the Rockies is off to a terrible start. The new leadoff hitter is hitting .256 after tonight's pinch hit double, but has already struck out 14 times.

Brad Hawpe is leading the starting lineup in batting average, checking in with a pedestrian .275 batting average.

In the spring the Rockies emphasized being aggressive on the base paths and taking the extra bases when they could. This meant more stealing, more hit and runs, and more putting the ball into play. The Rockies led all Cactus League teams in stolen bases.

That aggressiveness seems to have alluded the Rockies since they have been donning their regular season uniforms. Going into tonight, the team had only five stolen bases and four sacrifice flies on the season. Yet the most alarming stat is how often the team is striking out, something that plagued the club throughout the '08 campaign.

In Los Angeles, the Rockies averaged 12 strikeouts per game in the three game series. In Chicago, Rich Harden had nine strikeouts in the fourth inning. Tonight in Arizona, Diamondbacks pitcher Jon Garland, who had struck out two total batters in his two starts so far this season stuck out five in 6-2/3 innings.

In Major League, the Indians dig themselves out of their hole once they find confidence in themselves. The story lines matched up very similarly to the 2007 Rockies team. However, unlike most movies, real life does not always have a happy ending, and if the Rockies continue to fail at executing, they may find that they have played themselves out of the race before May begins.

Rockies Pounded By The Dodgers, Changes On Their Way?

Ubaldo Jimenez looked to come into today's game looking to prove that his efforts early last week in Chicago were due to the cold weather, and a complete fluke.

Today the temperature in Los Angeles was in the 90's. The result for Jimenez was the same.

Once again, Jimenez hit the 100 pitch mark before getting through the fifth inning, while struggling to command his fastball and off speed pitches. Overall Jimenez gave up seven earned runs, while surrendering four walks and hitting a batter in 4-1/3 innings in the Rockies 14-2 drubbing at the hands of the Dodgers.

Not only was Jimenez bad, the entire team was horrible. The bullpen gave no relief to Jimenez, as Matt Belisle came in and immediately surrendered a nail-in-the-coffin grand slam to Matt Kemp. It made Belisle the number one candidate to be removed from the roster on Tuesday when the Rockies call up Franklin Morales in hopes that he can turn the ship against the Diamondbacks in Arizona.

In addition to Belisle and the rest of the bullpen (seven earned runs in 3-2/3 innings) the offense did little to help the club succeed.

The sputtering offense went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position, the hit coming off the bat of Jimenez that did not make it out of the infield. In fact, for the last week, it has seemed that the best hitters in the Rockies lineup have been the pitchers.

All of this, along with a 4-7 record, is a reminder of the message that was clearly sent to both General Manager Dan O'Dowd and Manager Clint Hurdle before the season began. Both in the final year of their contracts, neither was offered an extension before the season. A clear sign that the ownership group wants to see success on the field and that status quo is not OK.

In order to prove themselves, Hurdle and the Rockies would need to get off to a quick start. In Spring Training the Rockies got back to the basics. They were going over cut-off drills, bunting, and running all sorts of drills that reminded a spectator of the average peewee league tryout.

The added discipline seemed to pay dividends for the squad in the spring as every single member of the every day lineup finished the exhibition season with a batting average above .300

While many members of the Rockies credited the offensive success to new hitting instructor Don Baylor, the pitching staff, particularly the starters, struggled throughout Spring Training.

This was an interesting facet of the game to pay attention to, as pitching coach Bob Apodaca, along with first base coach Glenallen Hill, were the lone coaches on Hurdle's staff that escaped the ax after the season. Hurdle even fired longtime friend and former teammate Jamie Quirk.

The offense seems to be closer to finding its groove than the pitching staff. Aaron Cook, an All-Star and 16 game winner last season, is struggling mightily. He is always among the league leaders in ground ball outs, but has already given up five home runs this season.

Jimenez is a young player who seems close to turning the corner and becoming a superstar in this league, but struggles with his mechanics, leading to questionable location and a lack of confidence when he is in trouble.

Jorge De La Rosa is a lefty with all the potential in the world, but seems to be up and down due to his own mental struggles.

Jason Marquis struggled throughout the spring, he was tinkering with his delivery, but seems to have found his groove after going back to his old mechanics just in time for the regular season.

The common thread seems to be the pitching. Apodaca has been on Hurdle's staff since 2003, Hurdle's first full season managing the club.

Jeff Francis, the Rockies former ace who is out all year after undergoing shoulder surgery, did not go on the disabled list until the 4th of July last season. Apodaca was quoted as saying that he did not know that Francis was hurt all season until then. He had thrown every bullpen session and never complained about stiffness.

That kind of quote is baffling. Francis' velocity on his fastball was sitting at 84 MPH, and his mechanics were so far off that an amateur fan watching on TV could pick up that Francis was not throwing with a downward plane, leading to pitches being left up in the strike zone.

A pitcher not pitching with a downward plane is often the first sign of injury. It shows the he is dragging behind his legs and his body does not want to put extra force onto the shoulder.

The Rockies have Bo McLaughlin as the wings. McLaughlin is the roving pitching instructor this season after spending several seasons as the pitching coach for the Double-A Tulsa squad. McLaughlin is the go to guy when a pitcher needs a quick fix. Last season, the Rockies had Francis do his rehab starts in Tulsa so that he could work with McLaughlin. All of the young pitchers, including Jimenez and Morales have credited their success and quick jump to the Majors to his teachings.

The move may make some sense for the Rockies, if for nothing else than to change the voice that some of these players have been hearing for the last few years.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Colorado Rockies; Aaron Cook Look Miserable Against Dodgers

The Colorado Rockies suffered a heartbreaking loss Friday night after the bullpen blew an absolute gem pitched by Jorge De La Rosa.

Saturday the Rockies, playing their one and only nationally televised game of the season, struggled all day against the Dodgers. The final score had the Dodgers on top 9-5.

Aaron Cook gave up three home runs. Two of them were to Manny Ramirez and the other, the big blow, was a three-run blast by Andre Either. Cook exited the game after the fourth inning, giving up five earned runs on eight hits and two walks.

The Rockies tried to crawl back into it, but as soon as the lead was cut to two runs Alan Embree gave up three runs, two earned and failed to get an out. It was Embree's second horrible outing in as many days.

The Rockies batters are clearly in a funk, with no regular in the lineup hitting above .267, where Brad Hawpe checks in. Even Troy Tulowitzki, who started out hot, is hitting just .235. Chris Iannetta still has only one hit on the season.

Although the bats are cold, it is not a question of if, but rather when in speaking about the Rockies bats getting hot and the offense putting a bunch of runs on the board.

The problem for the Rockies lies in their pitching.

Aaron Cook, an All-Star last season who won 16 games, is struggling mightily. He could not make it out of the fourth inning on Opening Day in Arizona, then pitched fair in his second outing, but came into today looking horrible from the get go.

Cook has given up five home runs already this season. Last year he gave up 20 over the course of the whole year. Today he only got three outs via the ground ball, two of them on one 6-4-3 double play. One out was on a sacrifice bunt and the other 11 were all from the fly ball.

Cook is a sinker ball pitcher. He lives and dies by getting ground balls. When his pitches get elevated he gets into trouble. That was the problem today.

Several reports over the course of spring training quoted Cook as saying that he was working on mixing in a breaking ball to become a more dynamic pitcher.

It may seem like a good thing to hear about a pitcher who just won 16 games and made an appearance in the All-Star game making strides to get better. That is not the case in this situation however.

Cook's new curve ball is being thrown in the place of his change up. He is not locating it where it needs to be, and he is struggling to find the location on his other pitches after he throws the hook.

This season's fate comes down to how well the Rockies pitchers do. There are already several question marks in the starting rotation and the bullpen. Cook is thought of as possibly the most dependable pitcher that the Rockies have this season. He is a rock for the Rockies.

It is always a good thing to be improving. The Rockies would be disappointed in Cook if he wasn't working on his pitches. But in this case, Cook is who he is. He needs to stop pretending that he can add another pitch to his repertoire. Throwing a sinker and a change-up helped him baffle hitters last year and win 16 games. There is no reason to try and fix something that isn't broken.

It is early enough for the Rockies to turn the ship in the right direction. However, Cook returning to his 2007 form is imperative for the club to have any amount of success.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Colorado Rockies Review: Rockies Spoil De La Rosa's Gem, Bullpen Missing Buchholz

Jorge De La Rosa knew that he needed to come into Friday's outing knowing that he would need to pitch well to prove to the Rockies that they had made a good decision by trusting him in the fourth spot in the rotation.

Last Saturday, De La Rosa fell victim to the same issue that has hampered him throughout his young Major League career; himself. When De La Rosa gets in trouble, his nerves get the best of him and a big inning gets the best of him.

Tonight was a different story. De La Rosa battled out of trouble and went 5-1/3 innings without giving up a run.

De La Rosa's gem went for naught, as the bullpen gave up four runs as the Rockies lost 4-3 in the series opener.

The loss underscored a major issue that the Rockies have been dealing with since the middle of Spring Training. Going into the spring, the Rockies were touting the back end of their rotation as possibly one of the best in the National League.

The clubs claims looked legitimate, with Taylor Buchholz slotted into the seventh inning, and Manny Corpas and newly acquired Huston Street vying for the closer job, with the loser being given eight inning duties. Beyond that, veteran lefty Alan Embree was brought in to handle tough left handed situations.

Everything lined up perfectly for the Rockies until Buchholz went down with an elbow injury. The diagnosis is a partial tear of a ligament, not bad enough to require surgery.

Buchholz's development was a major bright spot last season for the Rockies. After spending the '07 season bouncing between the starting rotation and long relief, it seemed that Buchholz had found his place in the late inning role. He posted a minuscule 2.17 ERA, while striking out 56 and walking only 18.

With Buchholz out, the bridge to the eighth inning has become longer. The Rockies have been forced to piece together the typical six and seventh inning of work, mixing in Glendon Rusch, Matt Belisle, and Alan Embree.

Belisle is a member of the team strictly because Buchholz is out. While Belisle may be a quality member of the clubhouse, he is not the replacement that the team was hoping for. Last season with Cincinnati Belisle posted a 1-4 record with a 7.28 ERA. He did battle some injuries, but even in seasons before that, Belisle's numbers were less than desirable. In '07 he posted an 8-9 record with a 5.32 ERA in the starting rotation.

Buchholz is scheduled to come back no earlier than the beginning of May, but the reality of his injury would suggest that he will not be back until June.

The other concern for the Rockies and Buchholz is that the elbow injury is worse than they had originally thought. If rehabbing the elbow does not help, it may be determined that he needs surgery, which would put him on the shelf for the entire season. That would be a blow the Rockies would have a tough time recovering from.

Until Buchholz returns, the Rockies and manager Clint Hurdle are going to have to figure out the best way to keep a lead into the late innings.

The Rockies get another shot at the Dodgers tomorrow. The game will be a nationally broadcast game on FOX. Last season the Rockies were abysmal on national TV, going 0-4.

It should be a good pitching matchup as the Rockies put ace Aaron Cook on the mound to face the Dodgers young phenom Clayton Kershaw. The game will be at 1:20 mountain time.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Dexter Fowler Has Been Impressive For The Colorado Rockies

Dexter Fowler impressed the Rockies so much at Double-A Tulsa last year that when September rolled around, they decided to give him a taste of big league action.
Fowler had just finished helping Team USA to the Bronze metal in Beijing, and had made an impressive catch at the Futures game, an event that takes place during All-Star Weekend that features the up-and-coming prospects, at Yankee Stadium.
Fowler was drafted in the 14th round of the 2004 draft. He was taken so late because he had already accepted a scholarship to play basketball at Harvard. No team figured they could lure a kid away from an education like that. The Rockies used some of the money that they saved by trading Larry Walker to convince Fowler to sign.
Fowler's intelligence is evident by the way he carries himself. He is friendly and has a smile that lights up a room.
At Double-A Tulsa, Fowler hit an impressive .335 with 31 doubles, nine triples and nine home runs. His OPS was .946, extremely impressive for a leadoff man.
In the outfield, Fowler has been compared to Devon White, a seven time Gold Glove centerfielder. That is a pretty nice comparison for a kid who coming into this season had played all of 13 Major League games.
Still, despite the talent and potential that the Rockies saw, they were projecting him to start the season at Triple-A Colorado Springs. In his '08 call up, Fowler looked over matched and struggled to hit Major League pitching.
Confirmation of this came early in the spring, when Fowler had three hits in his first 20 at-bats, striking out 10 times. It seemed that the 23 year old Fowler made need another full year of seasoning in the minor leagues before being ready to adapt to Major League pitching.
Instead of accepting the assignment and figuring that he would get another chance to prove himself in September, or again next spring, Fowler got together with new hitting instructor Don Baylor and figured out the problem.
Baylor noticed that Fowler's hands were up to high. He had him adjust them down, to see if that would help. In addition, Fowler and Baylor would take extra batting practice before and after every game in Spring Training.
In six weeks, Fowler had transformed from a starting Triple-A center field prospect, to a player that the Rockies felt they needed on the 25-man roster. Fowler, a switch hitter, was hitting well from both sides of the plate and showing the confidence that the Rockies had not seen in the September call up.
Going into Spring Training, Rockies manager Clint Hurdle made it clear that Ryan Spilborghs would be the every day center fielder, and Seth Smith would be penciled in the lineup in left field. Hurdle's depth chart looked to include Ian Stewart, Jeff Baker, Scott Podsednik and newcomer Matt Murton. Fowler had something to say about that depth chart though.
Fowler forced the Rockies hand with his incredible play. Hurdle let the media know a few days before the season that Fowler would be on the team, and that he did not want him to lose at-bats, so if he was going to be on the team, he would be getting his fair share of starts as well.
That would mean that in games started by Fowler, Spilborghs would push over to left field and Smith would take a spot on the bench. It also meant that Podsednik did not have a role on the team, and he was let go.
Hurdle made it very clear that Fowler would be on a short leash and that if he needed more seasoning, Colorado Springs is only a little over an hour away from Coors Field.
Based on the first eight games it doesn't look like Fowler is going anywhere.
In the second game of the season for the Rockies Fowler got his first start in center field. He led off the game for the Rockies and drilled the first pitch from Diamondbacks starter Doug Davis into the left field bleachers for his first Major League home run.
Fowler also got the start in the home opener, facing the World Series MVP Cole Hamels, in his first at-bat, Fowler drilled a ground ball in between the shortstop and third baseman for a hit. He then stole second base. On Sunday, Fowler hit his second home run. This time from the left side of the plate.
On Wednesday Fowler came into pinch hit in the 8th inning after Clint Barmes had singled with two outs. The Rockies were up 4-1 at the time. Fowler hit the first pitch he saw deep into the right-center gap, scoring Barmes from first and giving the Rockies a more comfortable 5-1 lead.
That extra run gave the Rockies just enough breathing room when Huston Street gave up a ninth inning home run to Derrek Lee and let the next two batters reach base.
With Fowler, the Rockies have speed and energy in the lineup, something that they were not expected to have this year with Spilborghs, a very unconventional leadoff hitter, hitting first.
Already in eight games, Fowler has proven that he is ready for the big leagues. It would not be a surprise if he keeps getting more and more playing time.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Eight Games In, One Distinct Difference For Colorado Rockies

The Colorado Rockies beat the Chicago Cubs today 5-2 to earn a split of the two game series at Wrigley Field.

The game started out with Cubs pitcher Rich Harden striking out the Rockies in order in the top of the 1st. Harden only needed 13 pitches to strike out Ryan Spilborghs, Seth Smith and Todd Helton.

For Rockies fans, it looked like an all too familiar scene.

Last season when the Rockies faced a pitcher the caliber of Harden, if they did not immediately get ahead in the early innings, the average fan could sense the team folding. It felt as if the offense was hoping for better results the next day. The rest of the game was played lethargically, and whether the doomed Rockies starter that day gave up one run or 10 runs, they were destined for a loss.

In fact, last season Brandon Webb, ace of the Arizona Diamondbacks, went 4-0 against the Rockies. When the Rockies faced former Dodger Brad Penny, it was not even worth turning on the television to watch. It seemed to be the same story over and over again. Penny goes six innings giving up two hits and leaving with a 5-0 lead.

When the schedule came out, the Rockies must have cringed, seeing that they would have to face Webb and the Diamondbacks on Opening Day in Phoenix, a place they won only a single game last year.

It seemed that the baseball gods were laughing at the Rockies when the schedules were made. After facing Webb and the D-Backs, the Rockies drew the World Series Champion Philadelphia Phillies. If that was not bad enough, because of an early spring training injury, Cole Hamels, the Phillies ace and World Series MVP was not ready to go for the first game of the season, he would need a few extra days, setting him up perfectly to pitch in the home opener for the Rockies.

All of this to go along with the fact that in the first 16 games of the season, the only three the Rockies would be playing at home were those against the champions.

The Rockies are notorious slow starters. In 2007, the club went 10-16 in the first month. Last season the Rockies were not much better, going 11-17.

This season though, the Rockies are clearly out to prove that this is a different year. In the first game of the season, the Rockies lit up Brandon Webb for six earned runs in only four innings. Although they went on to lose the game, it was not the fault of the offense. The squad scored eight runs total, continuing to pour on the offense after Webb departed.

Three days later against Cole Hamels and the Phillies, the Rockies offense showed what they are made of. Hamels lasted only 3-2/3 innings, giving up 11 hits and giving up seven earned runs.

Today the Rockies faced Harden and the Cubs. While the first four struck out, the fourth was probably the game changing at-bat. Garrett Atkins struck out swinging at a change up, but the important fact to note is that he struck out on the 13th pitch of the at-bat.

After that at-bat by Atkins, Ian Stewart stepped to the plate and drew a walk. He was the first of two runs in the second inning.

The Rockies went on to score another two runs off of Harden in the third inning, thanks in part to a Seth Smith home run.

Harden made it only through three innings, giving up four runs, but throwing 92 pitches.

Atkins strike out is part of what Rockies manager Clint Hurdle has been emphasizing for the entire spring. He has talked about taking quality at-bats. Sometimes quality at-bats do not result in base hits, but they impact the game in a positive way. In this case, the strikeout to Atkins looks bad on paper, but the number of pitches thrown was enough to get into Harden's head.

While the hitting abilities of Matt Holliday will never be questioned by Rockies fans, one thing that was often a knock against his abilities was that he swung at the first pitch more than 50 percent of the time.

Holliday collected several hits on the first pitch of an at-bat, but often times he was headed back to the dugout after a routine ground out. The pitcher just got one out with one pitch and felt comfortable about getting the other two outs. Even if the next two hitters had decent at-bats, maybe facing five or six pitches, the pitcher could easily get out of the inning with under 20 pitches. This allowed the starter to go deeper into the games and continue to dominate.

That said, Holliday was a player that any team would love to have in their lineup, but maybe the mentality of free-swinging penetrated the clubhouse and was not beneficial in helping the Rockies get the starting pitcher's pitch count up and get into the oppositions bullpen.

The season is early, and the Rockies will be tested by team's aces all year long, but after eight games, the Rockies new mentality seems to be paying off.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Colorado Rockies Early Schedule May Not Be Such A Bad Thing

The Major League Baseball schedule makers must have been laughing when they penciled the Rockies in for 10 of their first 13 games on the road. The three home games were against the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies, and the road games include two series at Arizona, one at Los Angeles and the other against the Chicago Cubs.

The first 13 games of the season are not the only issue. If the Rockies do not have at least a formidable April, they may be in severe trouble if they plan on contending in the National League West.

After finishing a the current two game series in Chicago tomorrow, the Rockies play 19 games in a row against the N.L. West, 11 of which are on the road.
The schedule is particularly trying for manager Clint Hurdle, who is in the last year of his contract. The last time a Rockies manager entered the final year of his contract without quickly receiving an extension was in 2002 when Buddy Bell was only around to see the Rockies start 6-16 before being shown the door.

Although on paper it looks as if the schedule is a disadvantage to the Rockies, there is more than one way to look at it. If the Rockies can hold their own in the early going, they will have put themselves in a good position to make a move later in the season. The majority of games from that point forward will be at home, which historically has been a huge advantage for the Rockies.

Also, the April weather in Denver has proven to be extremely bipolar. The Rockies going on the road early and playing games in warm weather cities such as Phoenix, Los Angeles, and San Diego, the team has a chance to avoid games like Monday afternoon's, in which the team played in a steady drizzle with whipping winds in 38 degree weather. The Rockies were shutout and only had one hit.

April has historically been a good month for hitters, as pitchers still are building up arm strength and have not quite found their grip on pitches. Playing a large bulk of games against the N.L. West early and games on the road also could be a good thing for the Rockies.

The team typically struggles with the bats in both Los Angeles and San Francisco. Drawing the likes of Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Chad Billingsley, and Jake Peavy early, before they have found their rhythm could bode well for an offense that showed early how dangerous it is going to be.

Playing these teams early on the road means that they will get games with them later at Coors Field, where even the best of pitchers have seen their ERA's rise to astronomical levels.

The key for the Rockies is to tough it out through the early, difficult schedule. If they can hold their own and be somewhere close to .500 by the middle of May, they may be a force to deal with throughout the rest of the season.

If they do not start out well, they may be so far buried that it could look eerily similar to the 2008 season in which the Rockies finished April and May with only 20 total wins. They were so far out of the race that they were unable to mount a comeback.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Colorado Rockies Review: Lilly One-Hits Rockies On Rainy Day In Chicago

The Colorado Rockies were looking to bounce back from an ugly loss in the cold weather at Coors Field on Sunday.

The weather must have followed the team plane, as the Rockies dropped their third in a row to the Cubs 3-0.

The game was delayed for one hour and 12 minutes as the rain came down onto Wrigley Field. When the game finally started, the conditions were no better, 38 degrees with a slight rain and high winds.

The Rockies seemed doomed from the out set.

Ted Lilly took advantage of the weather and dominated the offense that had been averaging over five runs per game. The Rockies were held to one hit, which did not come until the seventh inning, when Garrett Atkins lined a ball into the outfield. Chris Iannetta worked a walk in the 3rd inning, and those were the only two baserunners for the Rockies all day.

Ubaldo Jimenez, who baffled the Diamondbacks last Wednesday, could not find his location throughout his day. He tied a career high with six walks. He lasted only 3-2/3 innings.

Several times Jimenez worked himself out of jams, but things blew up in the 4th inning when a tailor made 6-4-3 double play ball was misfired by Jeff Baker and skipped past Todd Helton at first base, scoring a run.

After that, Jimenez was called for a balk by first base umpire Tim McClelland which moved a runner to second base. When a base hit scored the run, Jimenez's day was done after throwing 104 pitches.

Immediately after the inning manager Clint Hurdle was ejected for the first time this season. McClelland headed over to the first base dugout and Hurdle could be seen pointing to his eyes and yelling. Apparently Hurdle was arguing the balk call on Jimenez that cost the Rockies a run.

Hurdle was ejected twice last season, once in San Francisco and once in Arizona. It was the 22nd time since Hurdle became manager in April of 2002 to be ejected.

Brad Hawpe left the game after the 5th inning after striking out looking. He was clearly disappointed by the call and it was thought that he may have been ejected. That was not the case however, as Hawpe felt the hamstring that had given him problems in the spring tighten up.

The have an off day tomorrow, then conclude the series with the Cubs on Wednesday before heading out to Los Angeles to take on the Dodgers.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Rockies Bullpen Can't Hold Early Lead, Spoil Good Outing By Aaron Cook

The Colorado Rockies came into the season touting the back end of their bullpen as one of the best in the league. With two closers who have had success in the Major Leagues to pitch the eight and ninth innings in Manny Corpas and Huston Street respectively, the Rockies look to be a team feared in the late innings.

That was not the case today however, as both of them were roughed up in a 7-5 loss at the hands of the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies.

After Aaron Cook rebounded from his bad opening day start to pitch six innings, scattering seven hits and three runs, it was the bullpen's job to bring the game home. Cook left staked to a 5-3 lead.

Jason Grilli and Alan Embree worked the seventh inning perfectly, but Corpas could not hold the lead in the eighth. Corpas gave up a sharply hit single up the middle to Shane Victorino, then left a slider over the middle half of the plate to Chase Utley. Utley hit the ball just hard enough to clear the out of town scoreboard in right field at Coors Field.

With the game tied at five, Street came on in the ninth inning to give the Rockies a shot at winning it in the bottom half without having to face Philadelphia closer Brad Lidge, who entering the game had saved 49 straight games including the postseason.

Street immediately gave up a double to Rockie killer Pedro Feliz, then Chris Coste laid down a beautiful bunt to advance Feliz to third.

Phillies manager Charlie Manual then pinch hit Matt Stairs in the pitchers spot. Street tried to get a slider down and in on Stairs, but the pitch never got in. Stairs crushed the ball to deep right-center field for a two run home run.

Lidge came in in the 9th and after the Rockies got as close as anyone to breaking Lidge's streak, they failed when Troy Tulowitzki rolled over a pitch and grounded to second base for the final out of the game.

The offense however, did it's fair share of damage. The Rockies came out quickly and scored four runs in the bottom half of the first inning. The highlight was Brad Hawpe's RBI double, followed by Garrett Atkins singling Hawpe home.

Clint Barmes would later plate two runs to close out the scoring in the first inning.

In the second inning, Dexter Fowler showed why he was given a roster spot by blasting a home run from the left hand side. He has been nothing short of impressive in the first week of the season.

The Rockies head to Chicago to play a quick two game series against the Cubs. The first game is Monday at 12:20 Mountain time with and off day Tuesday, then the finale on Wednesday, also at 12:20. Both games will be aired on Fox Sports Rocky Mountain, with radio coverage on 850 KOA in Denver.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Colorado Rockies Review: Jorge De La Rosa Can't Avoid The Big Inning

Jorge De La Rosa has pitches that most left handed Major League pitchers would envy.

He throws a 94 mile per hour fastball, with a sharp slider. He can also mix it up with a good change up. He has the makings of being a very good Major League pitcher.

Despite winning 10 games last season, De La Rosa's Major League short time in the Majors has been characterized by one issue. He cannot seem to wiggle out of the big inning.

When De La Rosa gets into trouble, he struggles with his own thoughts and lets a little damage turn into a lot of damage in a hurry.
Tonight was no different.

De La Rosa was tagged with the loss in the Phillies 8-4 victory tonight at Coors Field.

De La Rosa looked sharp out of the game-he retired eight out of the first nine batters-then, staked to a two run lead, courtesy of a Troy Tulowitzki home run, De La Rosa let things spin out of control. He had two outs in the third inning, then gave up singles to Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino before walking Chase Utley to load the bases. Former MVP Ryan Howard strolled to the plate and laced a double over the head of centerfielder Ryan Spilborghs to plate all three runs.

De La Rosa got into trouble again in the fifth, giving up two out singles to both Utley and Howard. At that point, after throwing 99 pitches through 4-2/3 innings, Clint Hurdle had seen enough. He was lifted for Ryan Speier. Speier gave up a hit down the line in which Brad Hawpe played poorly against the wall which turned into a two run triple.

That closed the books on De La Rosa. His line read 4-2/3 innings, five earned runs on six hits with two walks and three strikeouts.

Despite solo home runs by Garrett Atkins and Clint Barmes, the Rockies could not crawl back into the game. In fact, the Rockies bats went cold against the Phillies Brett Myers, who continued his success at Coors Field by pitching seven innings and giving up four earned runs on four hits with six strikeouts and only one walk. The Rockies had three home runs, and one double, finishing the day without a single.

The Rockies go for the series win tomorrow at 1:10 Mountain time, with Aaron Cook looking to forget his opening day start. He will face Chan Ho Park, a face that seems to always be able to find a job in a Major League rotation.

The game will be broadcast on FSN Rocky Mountain and on the radio on KOA.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Colorado Rockies Beat Up Cole Hamels

A fan in left field held up a sign at the beginning of the game that said "Matt Wholliday, Welcome Spilly."

While most fans have not forgotten so quickly about their traded All-Star slugger Matt Holliday, today gave them a few reasons why they may just not miss him as much as they thought.

Most thought that in order for the Rockies to have a fighting chance to win their home opener it would come in a pitcher's duel. After all, the Rockies were facing NLCS and World Series M.V.P. Cole Hamels.

Hamels dealt with elbow issues all spring which required him to delay his 2009 debut until today.

The Rockies offense did not give Hamels the welcome that he was hoping for.

Hamels lasted only 3-2/3 innings, giving up seven earned runs on 11 hits while walking one and striking out one.

Hamels wiggled out of trouble in the first inning, when Dexter Fowler, who had singled and stolen second, ran into an out at third base on Ryan Spilborghs ground ball to Jimmy Rollins. Immediately following the mistake, Spilborghs was caught going on the first move by the lefty.

The lefty could not get out of trouble in the third inning, however, when Garrett Atkins, who entered the game with a .000 batting average and looked like his timing was off in Arizona, launched a 403 foot, 3-run home run to left field.

The route was on.

Every member of the Rockies lineup, minus Chris Iannetta, got in on the action. Even pitcher Jason Marquis recorded two hits, knocking in a run.

Spilborghs had two doubles in the gap, and Todd Helton advanced runners seemingly all day, driving in three runs.

Not to be lost in all of the offense was the performance by Marquis on the mound.

Despite Marquis' track record, he has won at least 11 games in each of the past five seasons, critics were saying that he was washed up and another example of a scrap heap pitcher that the Rockies were attempting to recycle.
Marquis had a terrible spring, but made it clear that he was tinkering with his mechanics, trying to perfect his delivery. Today he looked like a refined veteran pitcher who was worthy of his Opening Day start.

Early on, Marquis looked like he might struggle. He gave up a hit and a walk in the first inning. He was struggling to find the strike zone and the Phillies seemed to be ready to show him the showers early. Marquis got out of the first inning by inducing a ground ball double play ball from Ryan Howard.

Marquis was in trouble again in the second inning, but wiggled out again, giving up only one run and getting a double play ground ball.

In all, Marquis gave up two earned runs on five hits in seven innings. It was a performance that will no doubt inject confidence into the Rockies clubhouse, the front office and the fan base.

Everyone knew that the offense could hit, but the back end of the rotation has been what all of the experts and fans alike suspected of being the team's achilles heal.

After performances like the last two games, by Franklin Morales and Marquis respectively, the Rockies may turn some heads in the National League West.

Tomorrow the Rockies hope that Jorge De La Rosa can continue the trend and prove that he has overcome his composure issues and can be a consistent Major League starter. He will face Brett Myers, who was knocked around on Sunday night in Philadelphia by the Braves his last time out.