On Monday night, in desperate need of any sign of life, Colorado shut out the Padres 3-0 behind a solid performance by Clayton Mortensen and five relievers.
Despite scoring just three runs, the Rockies offense looked better. They seemed to be able to work counts and find ways to get on base. Chris Nelson continues to impress in his most recent call up, drilling a triple to center field with one out in the first inning to get the Rockies started. He scored on a Troy Tulowitzki single that caromed off of Padres starting pitcher Clayton Richard.
From there, it was Mortensen's game. It was clear that he didn't have his best stuff. He was pitching up in the zone, and missing the zone far too often. However, he got outs when he needed to, with a little help from his defense as well.
In his first 2011 start in center field Carlos Gonzalez bailed out his pitcher in a big way. In the fourth inning Jorge Cantu doubled to lead off the inning. Then Kyle Phillips hit a long fly ball to center field. By far deep enough to advance the runner. Except that Gonzalez was in center. Cargo played the ball perfectly and fired a missile to third base. Ty Wigginton made a great play to catch the ball and apply the tag, and suddenly the leadoff double was erased.
Overall, Mortensen went six shutout innings. He gave up five hits and walked two while striking out three.
For whatever reason, the Rockies find ways to win in San Diego. It might be the big outfield that gives hitters an ability to relax at the plate, seeing more green for the ball to land on, or it might be that the pitchers are able to make a few more mistakes because the ball doesn't carry out of the park. Whatever the reason, the Rockies need to take that same mindset in every opposing ballpark.
This Rockies team is not as bad as they have been playing. They have tons of talent. Gonzalez and Tulowitzki have been compared to the best one-two punches in the game. There is no reason to believe that at some point, they won't both figure it out at the same time and carry this club on their shoulders. However, in the meantime, it has been a huge struggle.
If the Rockies can somehow figure out how to win games when they only score two or three runs right now, it will put them in a much better position when the offense comes around. In fact, winning those types of games will help the offense find its groove because they will be able to relax, knowing that even when they don't score a ton of runs, that they still have a good chance at winning.
To get to that point, the club will have to figure out how to do the little things better. They can't make costly base running mistakes, as Nelson did on Monday. They must be able to lay down bunts, as Mortensen failed to do on Monday. If they want to win low scoring baseball games until the real offense shows up, they have to be better at the little things. When they do that, they will find themselves righting the ship.