Whether or not a line drive off of starting pitcher Jeff Francis' throwing arm in the first inning had something to do with it remains to be seen, but Francis had his first bad outing since returning from shoulder surgery that kept him out of the entire 2009 season.
The lefty lasted just three innings. He was lifted in the fourth inning with two men on base and no outs recorded. His line was not what he was looking for. In three innings pitched, Francis gave up eight runs on seven hits. He walked three and failed to record a strikeout.
To be completely fair, Francis' line was not helped by Jim Tracy's decision to bring in Franklin Morales to finish the inning. Morales promptly gave up a walk and then a bases-clearing double to Jerry Hairston that effectively ended any chance the Rockies had of crawling back into the game.
To Jim Tracy's credit, he had to get Francis out of the game. It was clear that he simply did not have his best stuff. When a starting pitcher fails to get an out in the fourth inning, it is going to be a long day for the club's bullpen. That means win or loss, a middle reliever is going to have to take one for the team and eat up a bunch of innings.
The problem for the Rockies is that the definition of a long reliever is a guy like Josh Fogg. Someone who is beyond his days of being a viable option in the starting rotation, but a guy who will take the mound and throw strikes. It is someone who can throw 40 pitches and get through three innings, minimizing the number of arms the club has to use to get through the day.
Franklin Morales could not be more opposite of that.
Morales had become an enigma for the Rockies. He throws in the mid-90's from the left side and has the ability to throw biting offspeed pitches. However, he simply does not have the proper mindset to succeed in the big leagues. He struggles to throw strikes, and when he doesn't get a close call from the umpire forget the inning may as well be considered a loss.
Morales has thrown 9-2/3 innings in June. In those innings he has given up 10 walks and 11 runs. Putting Morales in a ballgame in which the Rockies are already struggling is the equivalent of fighting a fire with gasoline. All season long he has failed to get his job done.
The problem for the Rockies is that Morales has so much talent that it is tough to give up on him. The fear is that if the Rockies cut bait and trade the lefty, he is going to be the next Jorge De La Rosa, another hard throwing lefty who had seemingly warn out his welcome in big league baseball, only to come to his fourth organization and become a dominant member of a starting rotation.
In defense of Morales, the Rockies probably have not handled him as well as possible. A pitcher with a fragile psyche probably should not be a starter, then moved to the closer role, then made a lefty specialist, then brought back to the closer role, then a middle reliever. Part of his problems are that he simply does not know where he belongs.
The good news for the Rockies is that help is on the way. Taylor Buchholz has been on a rehab assignment and after a small setback, looks like he will be ready to return sometime in early-to-mid July. The obvious choice for a roster move is to send Morales back to Triple-A. The Rockies already have two lefties in the bullpen with Randy Flores and Joe Beimel and simply need Morales only if he is ready to perform at the Major League level.
Until then, the Rockies are going to have to weather the storm and hope that their starting pitchers can go deep enough into games to keep Morales out of the ballgame.
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