Saturday, July 14, 2012

Josh Rutledge shines in Major League Debut for Colorado Rockies

It doesn't get much better for Josh Rutledge.
For Josh Rutledge, it doesn't get any better.

Two days ago the 23-year-old was in the starting lineup for the Double-A Tulsa Drillers. After the 4th inning he was removed from the game and told that he had been called up, not called up to Triple-A, called up to the big league level.

He would make his Major League debut on Friday night against the Phillies. Rutledge found himself in the starting lineup out of the game, playing shortstop and hitting eighth against Cliff Lee.

Forget that Lee has recorded only one win in the 2012 season. Forget that he doesn't look anywhere close to the Cliff Lee that has dominated over the past four seasons. This is still Cliff Lee, a man whose focus in the postseason has made him one of the richest pitchers in the history of the game. This is who Rutledge had to face on Friday.

If there were any nerves for Rutledge, they didn't show. In his first at-bat, he ripped an RBI double to give the Rockies a 1-0 lead in the 2nd inning.

He wasn't done there. He came back up to the plate in the 4th inning and hit a single the opposite way to move Jordan Pacheco to third base. In the 6th, with a runner on third base and one out, Rutledge took perhaps his best at-bat of the night. He didn't try to do too much, and lined a ball to right field, just deep enough to score Tyler Colvin. The sacrifice fly gave Rutledge both of the Rockies RBIs on the night.

In the 7th inning, Rutledge recorded the first walk of his big league career, and then decided to get another "first" out of the way by swiping second base for his first career stolen base.

As far as a Major League debut goes, it doesn't get much better than that. His batting average sits at a pretty 1.000 and his two early RBIs were enough to get the Rockies going.

Rutledge is one of the newest crop of prospects that the Rockies organization is excited about. Making the jump from Double-A is going to eventually throw a few speed bumps his way, but it is a good move for the Rockies. They are well out of the race and they need to find out if Rutledge and some of the other prospects can play at the big league level so that the team can be comfortable enough to sell-off some of their aging and expiring contracts.

The move to bring Rutledge up might also be a way to invigorate some very angry fans. This move might be done to show fans that the Rockies aren't as far off as everyone seems to think they are. They have some prospects coming up that they are excited about and they aren't afraid to play them to show what they can do.

Despite a phenomenal debut for the rookie, Rutledge will have some ups-and-downs, just like every big leaguer. The interesting thing to watch for will be how he handles the failure. It will also be interesting to see how the Rockies handle his failure. Will they be quick to ship him back to the minors? Will they let him tread water until he figures things out? There can only be guesses at this point, but the time has never been better to see what some of the younger players can accomplish.

As good as Rutledge's debut was, it spoiled an absolutely incredible outing by Christian Friedrich on the mound. The lefty looks far more comfortable at Coors Field. Working his big hook, Friedrich struck out seven in six innings of work, giving up only one run on five hits. He pounded the strike zone, only walking one batter.

Friedrich, if he learns to pitch at Coors Field like he did on Friday night, could be a star. Something suddenly changed in him from 2011. He looks far more confident and his stuff is crisp.

Make no mistake, the Colorado Rockies are still a very bad team. However, if they can get some experience for their younger prospects who are waiting on the farm, the year might not be all lost. These are the prospects who the Rockies are depending on to turn the ship quickly and get the Rockies back in the playoff hunt within a year.

For one night, however, Rockies fans don't have to look to the future. They can be happy with two great performances from two very young baseball players.

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