Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Colorado Rockies win despite head-scratching moves

Jeff Francis has been great in his past four starts.
Three hours before game time, Colorado Rockies manager Jim Tracy told the media that he was relaxing the 75-pitch limit for his starting pitchers.

Five innings in, and everything Tracy had said went out the window.

Despite another phenomenal outing by Jeff Francis, the Rockies failed to let conventional wisdom prevail. In fact, once again, Tracy took the lack of brilliance to a new head-scratching level.

Francis had thrown 77 pitches through five innings of work. Based on Tracy's comments, the lefty figured to throw at least one more inning, despite being due up third in the top of the 6th inning. It appeared as if that would be the case and Francis would continue on when he strolled to the plate to take his at-bat with two outs in the inning.

However, anyone who has watched Tracy manage baseball games knows that to assume Francis would throw another pitch would be assuming too much.

Indeed, Francis made the last out and the bullpen doors swung open with Josh Roenicke heading to the mound for the Rockies. The bullpen did a phenomenal job, Roenicke, Rex Brothers, Matt Belisle, and Rafael Betancourt together went four innings, giving up just four total hits and no runs, nailing down the win for Francis.

The Rockies won, the bullpen was great. So Tracy's move was brilliant, right? Wrong. The issue with Tracy's move to allow Francis to bat without having him go out and pitch makes no sense. If the team is up by four runs, or down by four runs, it might be alright. One out isn't going to make or break the game when the score is lopsided.

However, the move was made as the game was starting to get late and the Rockies only had a one-run cushion. The explanation from Root Sports announcer Jeff Huson was that Tracy was trying to save his bench for later in the game and there was no reason to burn a pinch hitter in the 6th inning.

How does that make any sense? Is the out in the 6th inning less important than an out in the 8th inning? If anything, that out is more important in the 6th in that situation than later in the game simply because the game is close at that point. Without knowing what the bullpen is going to bring to the table, it makes more sense to try and add a run and give the bullpen some breathing room.

At that point in the game, the 9th inning might not mean anything if the bullpen can't hold the one-run lead. Also, Tracy had the luxury of not facing the plus-side back-end of the Cardinals bullpen, which would have been the case had the Cardinals tied the game or taken the lead.

At this point, however, expecting rational baseball thoughts from Tracy and Dan O'Dowd is just as insane as the moves being made on the field.

The negatives have been examined and re-examined. For the Rockies, it was good to see something positive. For the fourth straight start, Francis has looked great. He isn't the same Francis that won 17 games for the Rockies in 2007, but compared to what the Rockies have received from their starters, he looks like Cy Young.

The Canadian lefty made only one mistake, allowing Matt Holliday to line a home run that just got over the fence in left field in the first inning with a runner on. After that, Francis was great. He wiggled out of a bases loaded jam in the bottom of the 3rd inning by getting Allen Craig to line out to third baseman Chris Nelson, who made a highlight reel play to end the inning.

Francis is forcing the issue. At some point if he continues to pitch as well as he has been, the Rockies are going to have to allow him to go beyond the 75-pitch limit that the club has imposed. He has given the Rockies a shot to win every time he takes the mound, and that is all that anyone can ask for from their starting pitcher.

The Rockies have also seen huge strides from Tyler Colvin. The former Cub hit another home run on Tuesday. This time it provided Colorado with all three runs that they would score on the night. He now has 10 home runs and 35 RBIs in limited duty. If he can continue to show that this is not a fluke, and that he is the type of hitter that can consistently hit 20 home runs, just as he did in 2010 for Chicago, then he must play. The Rockies will have to find a spot for him in the lineup.

In the meantime, the Rockies won a game. They won a game against the reigning World Champions, and they won that game on the road. At this point, with just a few games left before the All-Star break, with the Rockies on pace to lose close to 100 games, little positives must be highlighted. There are plenty of negatives, but surprisingly, there are a few things going right for this franchise.

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