Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Juan Nicasio dominates Padres, leads Rockies to victory

It is good to have depth.

The Colorado Rockies certainly feel that way. With Jorge De La Rosa out until sometime in the 2012 season, the Rockies season could have been sunk. Instead, they reached to their farm system and brought up one of their top young stars from Double-A.

Nicasio has been extremely impressive. On Tuesday night, he continued to look like he belongs in the rotation. The 24-year old pitched six innings, giving up two runs on six hits. He struck out nine while walking only one.

The impressive part for Nicasio was his ability to work out of jams. In the first inning he gave up a leadoff home run to Chris Denorfia, and then proceeded to hit Jason Bartlett. Instead of folding under the pressure, and allowing the inning to snowball, Nicasio struck out the next three batters, stranding Bartlett at third base.

In the fourth inning he did it again. With runners on first and third with one out, Nicasio got Ryan Ludwick to chase three pitches, and then struck out Anthony Rizzo on a change up that was extremely impressive.

The fact that Nicasio is already comfortable throwing his changeup to in big situations speaks highly of his maturity level. This is a kid who hadn't thrown a pitch above the Double-A level until three weeks ago, and he is already attacking the strike zone with all of his pitches. That is rare.

If Nicasio can continue to improve and grow up at the Major League level, the Rockies will have yet another arm that they can depend on for a while.

Nicasio was a breath of fresh air for Rockies fans. However, Jim Tracy continues to baffle common sense with some of his moves. With lefty Wade LeBlanc on the mound for the Padres, Tracy opted to leave hot-hitting Seth Smith on the bench in favor of Ryan Spilborghs.

What does Smith have to do to prove that he isn't a platoon guy anymore? What does he need to accomplish to get a chance to play everyday, instead of five days a week?

If the Rockies were facing a hard throwing lefty with a great slider, the move might make sense. However, LeBlanc is far from that type of pitcher. In fact, coming into Tuesday night, lefties were hitting over .300 against him, better than righties had been fairing.

Smith is the hottest hitting Rockie right now. There is no reason to leave him on the bench because the team is facing a lefty. He needs to be playing everyday.

Later, in the seventh inning, the Rockies got the bases loaded with two outs and a 6-2 lead. With the pitchers spot coming up, Smith was on deck, ready to pinch hit. Tracy, however, called Smith back and had Rex Brothers take his first Major League plate appearance. Brothers, with no intention of swinging, was struck out on three pitches to end the inning.

The move allowed Tracy to leave Brothers in the game to pitch the eighth inning, saving his bullpen. However, the move happened when the Rockies had only a four run lead, not a six or seven run lead. Luckily for the Rockies, Brothers was able to work his way out of a leadoff single and get through the inning unscathed.

The move didn't make much sense, as Smith had the opportunity to blow the game open. A single, or even a walk, essentially buries the Padres. Instead, they get out of a bases loaded jam and have six outs to work with in just a four run game.

After the game Tracy said that both Matt Belisle and Rafael Betancourt were down because of their pitch counts on Monday night. That meant that he had to ask Brothers to go out and get four total outs to bridge the gap to Huston Street in the ninth inning.

The only problem with Tracy's explanation is that he still had Clayton Mortensen available. While Mortensen is the long guy, who will come in to eat a few innings, would it be too much to ask him to pitch the eighth inning with at least a four run lead? Even if Mortensen struggled, Street could be getting loose and ready to come in at the first sign of trouble. Asking Street to pitch more than the typical one inning is really not that much to ask when he hasn't pitched since Saturday and has a guaranteed day off on Thursday.

Tracy's move paid off, Brothers got out of the inning, but asking a kid who is one week removed from his Major League call up to go out and perform in a way that he was never asked to at the minor league level is risky. Had Brothers given up a few runs in his eighth inning of work it may have been a move that ended up costing Tracy the respect of his clubhouse. Tuesday night's game was as much of a must-win as it gets in baseball.

The Rockies face Mat Latos in the finale of the three-game set on Wednesday afternoon. Winning this series, and getting back on the plus-side of this homestand is very important for these Rockies. They need to find a way to get a positive streak going.

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