In any baseball season, regardless of how potent a lineup is, there will be times of struggle. It is simply the way the game works.
When that happens, the pitching staff has to step up and find a way to keep the offense within striking distance.
That is exactly what Jason Hammel did on Saturday night. After struggling in his first four starts of the season, Hammel seemed to find his stuff. He worked a great breaking ball in with a dominant fastball to keep Marlins hitters off of the base paths. He worked 6-2/3 innings, giving up just one earned run on seven hits. He walked one and struck out four.
Hammel also made a huge contribution at the plate in the sixth inning. After Todd Helton and Seth Smith led the inning off with doubles, Smith was at third base with one out and Hammel at the plate. On the first pitch, Hammel laid down a perfect squeeze bunt with Smith bearing down on him. The run put the Rockies up by two, giving just enough cushion for Hammel and the bullpen to be comfortable.
The offense struggled once again, but once again showed that 2011 is going to be different than 2010. In the past, when the Rockies offense was off, they didn't do the little things that don't require squaring a ball up and putting it into the seats.
In the sixth inning, when the Rockies plated their two runs, Ty Wigginton did a great job of moving the runners up on a deep sacrifice fly to center field, scoring Helton from third and moving Smith up to third base, setting up the Hammel squeeze bunt.
In years past, that at-bat seemed to always go into the books as a strikeout, or an infield pop out that doesn't advance the runners. The difference is huge. Instead of relying on a pitcher to come through with a base hit, a run has already crossed the plate, and a good bunt by Hammel scores the second run.
The Rockies have scuffled slightly over the past week, but have found ways to win games that in the past would have gone into the loss column.
That makes for a very optimistic outlook. When the offense does find a way to get going, things will be that much better for the Rockies.
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