Saturday, June 18, 2011

Colorado Rockies ride Ubaldo Jimenez to get back to .500

With a big 6-5 win on Saturday night for the Rockies, they are now back to .500. Seventy games into the 2011 season and the Colorado Rockies are exactly where they were before Opening Day.

The Rockies rode the right arm -- and the bat, of Ubaldo Jimenez to victory on Saturday. The right-hander was sharp through five innings. He gave up three runs on eight hits while walking two and striking out five. His line was not a great representation of the way he pitched. For the first time at Coors Field in 2011, Jimenez looked like he was dominant again.

His numbers would have been better, however, Jimenez was forced to leave the game in the sixth inning after giving up two base hits. Concerns arose when his first three fastballs of the inning failed to hit 90 MPH on the radar gun. Even with his velocity well below where it was in 2010, Jimenez throwing fastballs in the upper-80's was a major cause for concern.

After he exited, with what turned out to be a minor calf cramp, Matt Lindstrom came in and gave up a double that scored both of Jimenez's men.

While Jimenez looked sharp on the mound, his greatest damage came in the bottom of the second inning, when Tigers starter Phil Coke pitched around Chris Iannetta with two on and two out. Without giving him the intentional pass, Coke made sure not to put anything near the strike zone for Iannetta to do damage with.

Jimenez, hitless on the season, drove the first pitch he saw back up the middle, scoring two runs and giving the Rockies the lead.

Even if Jimenez never finds his velocity back near 100 MPH, seeing sharp movement on his pitches is a very encouraging sign. Without that movement, and without the velocity, the Dominican is simply another Major League pitcher, nothing worth fearing the way he was in 2010.

Beyond Jimenez, new Rockies continue to contribute. After knocking his first Major League home run on Friday night, Chris Nelson provided on encore. His 408-foot shot to left-center in the sixth inning minimized the damage created by the two runs given up in the top half. It also proved to be the game-winner, as Huston Street allowed a run in the ninth following the first two outs.

Every member of the Rockies offense contributed. From top to bottom, if the player didn't log a hit, they got on base via the walk. That is how baseball games are won, when the entire lineup is contributing in some way or another.

With the win, the Rockies are back to .500. They need to seize the opportunity as a fresh start. They are playing well, having a chance to finish their longest homestand of the season with a 7-3 mark, they need to simply build on each win.

If they are able to get a few games over .500, they can stay in a position to make up some ground when the Giants and Diamondbacks falter above them. Playing team baseball, where everyone contributes, is a huge start.

On the defensive side, fundamental baseball needs to continue to be played. On Saturday, the Rockies executed three plays perfectly that contributed greatly to the win. In the fourth inning with runners on first and third and no one out, Todd Helton, Troy Tulowitzki and Chris Iannetta executed a sound play to get the out at first on a ground ball, then get the runner going to second base in a run down long enough for the runner at third to commit to going to the plate. At that point, Tulo gunned the ball to Iannetta who put the tag on to save a run.

Later, with Lindstrom on the mound, Lance Raburn launched a bases loaded double to right-center that looked like it would tie up the game. Instead, Ryan Spilborghs made a perfect throw to Tulowitzki, who made a perfect relay throw to the plate to nail Jhonny Peralta, who was trying to score from first.

That type of defense is what the Rockies have been missing. Throughout May, someone would drop the ball on those types of plays, or the throw would be off-line. A good fundamental team makes those plays. Without that defense, the Rockies probably walk away with the loss on Saturday. Instead, the get the win, and with a win on Sunday against Justin Verlander, the Rockies would leave town with a sweep of a first place team, something to build on moving forward.

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