|Jeff Francis pitched very well and gave the Rockies a chance.|
That was the lesson once again for the Colorado Rockies on Thursday night in Philadelphia. This time, however, the Rockies got to see firsthand what being on the right end of the strong pitching performance feels like.
Jeff Francis, limited to 76 pitches due to the Rockies four-man rotation rules, pitched five strong innings. He gave up just one run on six hits. He struck out three while walking no one. The lone run came from Jimmy Rollins, who led off the bottom of the 1st inning with a blast to left field that had Rockies fans feeling like they were about to witness the same misery they have been throughout most of May and all of June.
Instead, Francis put his foot down. He was efficient, pitching his way through five innings and handing the ball to the bullpen with his offense in a place where they had a chance to win.
The offense did just that. Down 1-0, Chris Nelson drilled a two-run home run into left center field. It was his second homer in as many days and gave the Rockies a lead that they wouldn't relinquish. For good measure, rookie catcher Wilin Rosario blasted a 9th inning fastball into the seats in left field. The only question on Rosario's ball was whether it was going to get over the fence, or put a hole in it.
As much heat as he has taken since the Rockies collapse, Dan O'Dowd deserves some credit for the performance from Francis. Knowing the starting rotation was in dire need of a guy who could give a quality performance every now and then, O'Dowd signed the Canadian and has been rewarded with two wins in the three games he has started.
With Francis dealing, it was Jim Tracy's first test to see whether he would stick to his guns on the 75-pitch limit. Sure enough, Francis didn't face another batter after hitting that mark. Conveniently enough for Tracy was the fact that his starting pitcher was due up first in the top half of the 6th inning, making the decision fairly easy.
The bullpen came in and did a great job. Lost in the madness of the Rockies terrible season has been the performances of both Josh Roenicke and Matt Belisle. Roenicke went 1-1/3 innings, picking up the win. He has a stellar 2.76 ERA despite pitching more innings than any other reliever in the National League. Belisle has also been special. His success comes less as a surprise because fans have become used to watching him pound the strike zone and get outs, regardless of the situation he is called in to. On Thursday, he pitched a dominant 8th inning, lowering his ERA to 2.13.
When the Rockies get a good starting pitching performance, they have the horses to win games. Their bullpen is very good. It is not above average, it is one of the better bullpens in baseball. The offense does not have any true holes. When guys like Nelson, a true fill-in, can show some pop and hit, and Rosario can hit bombs out of the eight hole, the Rockies should be in a good spot.
It might make most Rockies fans sick to think about how good this team could have been if the starting pitchers could just be mediocre. They don't have to be great, they just have to be decent. Instead, they have been extremely bad, aiding in the Rockies spiral out of control.
The Rockies give their fans something to be positive about, if not for just one night. They head to Arlington, Texas on Friday to take on one of the best hitting clubs in the game in the Rangers. It should be interesting to see how many innings 75 pitches gets the starting pitchers through against an American League team that has a tendency to score big runs.
For now, however, the Rockies can feel good about a win. Thanks, in large part, to Jeff Francis, who pitched well enough to give his team a chance.
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