Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Colorado Rockies pitching theory may be backfiring

Is Dan O'Dowd's theory backfiring on his young pitchers?
Dan O'Dowd's theory may be dismantling right in front of him.

On Tuesday night at Coors Field, Christian Friedrich pitched well enough to keep his team in the game--until the 5th inning. In the fifth frame, the rookie lefty had everything set up in his favor. He was facing the bottom of the Pirates order and he was well below the Rockies self-imposed 75 pitch limit.

However, Friedrich walked Mike McKenry, then walked Clint Barmes to runners on first and second, an easy sacrifice situation for Pirate pitcher Erik Bedard. Bedard laid down the sacrifice, moving the runners over. Friedrich got Alex Presley to ground out, scoring a run, but it looked like he was going to limit the damage.

Instead, Friedrich gave up three singles in a row and uncorked a wild pitch, allowing the Pirates to score four runs in the inning, and ending the lefties night before he could record 15 total outs.

O'Dowd has made it clear that he believes that the third time through the batting order is when a starting pitcher starts to suffer because he is getting fatigued and the opposition has seen him enough to have an idea of what to expect.

As the Rockies get deeper into this experiment, however, they have to take a look and see if their pitchers are now conditioned to only pitch five innings, so instead of faltering in the 6th or 7th inning, they now hit their breaking point in the 4th and 5th innings.

That was the case for both Friedrich on Tuesday and Drew Pomeranz on Sunday. Both pitchers pitched well enough to give their team a chance, but hit the 5th inning and the flood gates opened on them. It could easily have been a coincidence, but the Rockies are now one month into this theory, so the pitchers arms should be conditioned for 75 pitches. It will be interesting to see moving forward when fatigue sets in.

Tuesday night was also a reminder of bad situational baseball and how that has hurt the 2012 Rockies. In the 1st inning, the Rockies were able to load the bases after getting two outs. Jordan Pacheco, who has shown that he is more than capable with the bat, came to the plate. The previous batter, Michael Cuddyer had walked on four pitches. The first pitch to Pacheco was a ball. The next pitch, Pacheco grounded softly to shortstop, ending the threat.

In a poor season, bad baseball tends to be forgotten about. After all, these games really don't mean much for the Rockies. They are already in the mode of playing for next year. However, this is when they should be refining their true baseball fundamentals. If these were big games, if the Rockies were in the thick of the race to the postseason, Pacheco's at-bat would have been unacceptable.

There is no reason that Pacheco should have swung at that pitch. With the bases loaded, all of the pressure is on the pitcher, especially when that pitcher has thrown five consecutive pitches outside of the strike zone. If Pacheco lays off and the pitch is called a ball, suddenly Bedard is forced to crawl out of a hole by challenging Pacheco with some pretty good pitches, or he is going to walk in a run.

Unfortunately for the Rockies, Pacheco bailed Bedard out, and from there, the Pirates lefty stayed out of trouble. This is when bad baseball needs to be addressed and learned from. Pacheco should have had the bat on his shoulder until Bedard proved he could throw a strike.

The Rockies also left the bases loaded in the bottom of the 7th inning. Despite a good at-bat from Michael Cuddyer, he got underneath a 93 MPH fastball from Pirates reliever Jared Hughes and missed a home run by about 20 feet. That happens in baseball, but the ill-effects from it would have been lessened if Pacheco had done his part earlier in the game.

The Rockies are back to what they were in 2006. They are a talented bunch, but they are figuring out their identity. They have struggling, young pitchers who have talent, but aren't sure if they can pitch at Coors Field yet. Also, their lineup is taking shape. Newcomers like Tyler Colvin are forcing their way into the lineup, but where they fit is still a mystery. Wilin Rosario is proving that he is a force at the plate, but his defense has a long way to go before anyone is comfortable with him taking the reins.

The good news for the Rockies is, despite their struggles, there is some level of excitement from some of the younger players. There is clearly potential. The rest of this season must be used to get comfortable at the big league level, however. It cannot be a wasted season. The Rockies must help their young talent improve or 2013 will look much the same as 2012.

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