Sunday, July 22, 2012

Colorado Rockies offense disappears in loss to Padres

Christian Friedrich has been a big confidence boost for the Rockies.
Christian Friedrich may be the biggest positive in a very negative season for the Colorado Rockies.

Heading into spring training, the 2008 1st round draft choice had all of the markings of a bust. His progress had stalled. In his second season in Double-A Tulsa in 2011, Friedrich had posted an ERA of 5.05. He didn't win a game after June.

Suddenly, the Western Kentucky product was staring at his last chance to make an impression before being written off as a minor league roster filler.

The impression he made was a great one. He showed up to spring training 30 lbs lighter. He had a focus that hadn't been seen before. Suddenly, the lefty looked like he was deserving of the pick the Rockies used to draft him. His agent, also the agent of Cliff Lee, suggested that the two spend a week together in the offseason. Clearly, that airplane ticket was the best few hundred dollars Friedrich spent.

Ironically, Friedrich, who wasn't expected to pitch in the big leagues in 2012 unless he really impressed in Colorado Springs, and then it would only be in a September call-up, has just one win all year, compared to Friedrich's five.

Make no mistake, Friedrich's performance in the Rockies 3-2 loss to the Padres on Sunday was no masterpiece. However, he continues to show signs of becoming a very good pitcher. In the bottom of the 2nd inning, Friedrich allowed a base hit to Evereth Cabrera. While trying to keep Cabrera honest, Friedrich threw wildly to first base. The error allowed the Padres shortstop to move to third base with just one out.

Many young pitchers lose their composure when something like that happens. Instead of having a double play lined up, the pitcher now has to pitch to avoid contact in order to keep that runner from scoring. Friedrich, being young and inexperienced, figured to allow the Padres to have a big inning.

Instead, Friedrich settled down and struck out John Baker. He was helped out next by getting to face Padres starting pitcher Ross Ohlendorf, but still got the job done, striking him out as well and heading back to the dugout without any damage done.

Of course, the story for the game is that the Rockies offense, one of the best in the National League, couldn't figure out Ohlendorf. He baffled them for 6-2/3 innings, particularly after the 2nd inning. Petco Park suddenly played more like itself after looking more like a hitters park over the past two nights.

The wins and losses really aren't important anymore for these Rockies. The reality is that they are done. Whether they lose 90 games or 110 games, the Rockies aren't going to the playoffs, which really is the goal for any franchise, so the actual number of losses that they finish with really isn't all that important.

What is important for this team is the development of younger players. The Rockies current roster is full of guys who won't be around after 2012, and don't figure into the long-term plans. That means it is time to get prospects developed and watch them learn the game as they play.

With that in mind, the Rockies have actually given plenty of reasons for hope.

Friedrich coming off of the deck to become a serious pitcher is huge for this club. Wilin Rosario looked like a guy who belonged in Triple-A in the early going, and despite his defensive deficiencies, gives the Rockies  real hope for an incredible offensive threat from the catching position. Drew Pomeranz, while struggling in his last start, has shown the talent that got him drafted fifth overall in 2010 and why the Rockies are so excited about him. Throw in offensive contributions from Jordan Pacheco and recently Josh Rutledge and the Rockies again look like a franchise that has some hope in the near future.

Make no mistake, the Rockies still have their issues. They are still looking like a franchise that is a complete mess. However, there suddenly seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel. That is a good sign for a team that has been challenging for even die-hard fans to watch every night.

Moving forward, it should be interesting to see how these young players continue to play out the rest of the season. Will they continue to develop at a high level, or will they level off? The Rockies immediate future depends on these young players. How they finish the 2012 season will be a glimpse into whether this team will have a quick turnaround, or if things will continue to struggle for the foreseeable future.

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