Friday, July 29, 2011

Colorado Rockies continue to make Petco Park their second home

Since 1993, when the Colorado Rockies go on the road, it has been a struggle.

Most teams aren't as good on the road, but the difference for the Rockies has always been profound. Regardless of the talent level on the team, the Rockies generally play very well at home and struggle mightily on the road. When the club plays in places like Los Angeles and San Francisco, even watching the game has a feeling of struggle.

In those parks, it seems like the Rockies might have one or two opportunities the whole game to score a few runs. If they don't take advantage, they generally lose. Why that happens may be the greatest mystery in the history of the franchise.

However, even more baffling, is that as much as the Rockies struggle on the road, regardless of the venue, the home/road splits go out the window when the team lands in San Diego.

For whatever reason, the Rockies play with a different level of confidence in San Diego. Maybe it is the relaxed feeling within the city that manifests itself within the club. Maybe the team gets a chance to enjoy a great city with great weather that makes them relax. Whatever the reason, the Rockies seem to play well at Petco Park, one of the best pitchers parks in baseball.

Those successes continued on Friday night, as Jason Hammel dominated the Padres. One start after giving up 12 hits and seven runs in less than four innings of work, Hammel looked much better. He gave up two runs in 6-1/3 innings, giving up five hits while striking out five and walking three. It was an outing that might have just shaken the monkey off of his back.

A win is a win, and Rockies fans should be happy with any win. However, it would be a mistake not to mention some questionable managerial decisions. On Friday night it didn't hurt the team, but with the Rockies out of the National League West race by double digits, questionable decisions by the man in charge of the club have to be pointed to as one of the reasons why the club has struggled.

In the seventh inning, Jason Hammel had already hurled over 100 pitches. However, Jim Tracy decided to let him hit for himself with one out and no one on base and a 3-2 lead. Hammel bounced out to second base. The right-hander then headed back to the mound for the bottom half of the seventh inning. After getting one out, Hammel gave up a double to Cameron Maybin. At this point, Tracy made his way to the mound and went to the bullpen. Lindstrom struck out a batter, then gave up an infield single that only moved Maybin to third base. Tracy then went back to the mound and called on Matt Reynolds to face Chase Headley. Headley walked on nine pitches, putting the go-ahead run on first base with the tying run at third. Tracy then went back to his bullpen and got Matt Belisle, who was able to get Ryan Ludwick to pop out to end the threat.

So why is the decision so crazy? First, if Tracy was going to have a short leash with Hammel in the bottom of the seventh, he should have sent a pinch hitter to the plate for him in the top half of the inning. That would have at least given the Rockies a chance to put up another run of support for the tall righty.

Second, this is the time of year when bullpen arms start feeling the work that they have sustained throughout the season. Piecing together an inning is acceptable sometimes, and none of the pitchers threw too many pitches. However, keep in mind, all three of those pitchers had to start throwing, warm up in the bullpen, warm up on the mound and then throw the high-stress pitches in the game. If Lindstrom had been able to come to the mound with a clean slate, the inning is much easier for him.

In addition, the Rockies were currently in a one-run game in one of the best pitcher's parks in the game. Had any one of those pitchers given up a run, the game easily could have gone into extra innings. Sure, Esmil Rogers is available for long relief, but burning three bullpen arms to get two outs is not necessarily the smartest move in that situation.

Tracy always says that he does everything that he can to win the game in nine innings, and then goes from there, but burning through bullpen arms is not a recipe for success. It worked on Friday, but it hasn't been the most productive management style for most of the season.

Regardless, the Rockies won. They found a way to get it done, and once again, they played relaxed in San Diego, a place that seems to be exempt from the standard road struggles of the Colorado Rockies.

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