Monday, April 30, 2012

Colorado Rockies bullpen shines, preserves win for Juan Nicasio

Esmil Rogers delivers a pitch to Matt Kemp.
There wasn't a Rockies fan who didn't cringe when Esmil Rogers trotted to the mound after Juan Nicasio allowed the first two men to reach in the top of the 7th inning.

With the bullpen weathered from short starts and an extra innings game on Sunday, Jim Tracy had little choice but to put his confidence in Rogers, knowing the sitting in the on deck circle was the player who was finishing off the best April in Major League history representing the go-ahead run in Matt Kemp.

To make matters worse, Rogers walked Mark Ellis, loading the bases for Kemp with no one out.

It seemed inevitable that Kemp would make the Rockies pay. He is in one of those grooves that almost seems unreal. He hit his 12th home run of the young season earlier in the game and has seemingly hit every pitch that even slightly missed it's location extremely hard all through April.


The tension built as Kemp worked Rogers into a full count. Then, Rogers pulled the string and got Kemp to swing over a slider, giving the Rockies a huge out. As the Coors Field faithful let out a collective sigh, reality hit that Kemp was just the first out and with the bases still loaded, Andre Either was stepping to the plate.

Again Tracy trotted to the mound. Again, Rockies fans everywhere started cursing his name as he called on Rex Brothers, Colorado's young lefty who has struggled with command lately. The last thing the Rockies needed was for Brothers to get down in the count and either walk Ethier, or worse, give up a meatball over the heart of the plate.

Brothers got down in the count 2-1 before coming back to strike out Ethier, a clutch hitter in his own right.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly called back lefty James Loney, forcing Tracy's hand again. This time, Tracy went to another young member of the bullpen who has struggled recently. Edgmer Escalona came to the mound and it just seemed as if there was no way the Rockies could actually wiggle out of this jam, using three of their struggling relievers, against Kemp, then Either and then pinch hitter Juan Rivera with the bases loaded and no outs.

The doubters were proved wrong, however, as Escalona induced a high pop fly that Troy Tulowitzki drifted into shallow center field in order to catch, sending the Rockies to the dugout without giving up a run and preserving a 5-2 lead for Juan Nicasio.

For his part, Nicasio once again showed how much poise he has. He gave up a first inning home run to Kemp, then pitched four scoreless innings before giving up a second run. He got into trouble in the 7th after he was out of gas but overall was phenomenal.

With the bullpen's heroics, Nicasio's start and Troy Tulowitzki lacing a double down the left field line in the 4th inning, it may have been the most complete game the Rockies have played so far in 2012. They hit well, they pitched well and they played great defense. Most importantly, the manager pushed all the right buttons, even if it went against conventional wisdom, and had Rockies fans holding their breath, Tracy's decisions on the mound proved effective and he deserves credit for those decisions.

The win was a big one for the Rockies. They were in a tough position, coming off of two losses to the Mets, then facing a Dodgers team that tore through April and had two lefties scheduled to face the Rockies in Ted Lilly, who the Rockies have traditionally been terrible against--and Clayton Kershaw, the reigning Cy Young in the National League who has given up just six earned runs in five starts so far in 2012.

A bad game on Monday night could have easily resulted in a sweep for the Dodgers and put the Rockies in a hole early in the season. Instead, they are in a position to steal one of the next two games from Los Angeles and pull off an improbable series victory.

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