Saturday, May 25, 2013

Chatwood, Cuddyer help Colorado Rockies turn the tables on San Francisco

Tyler Chatwood has forced himself into the rotation.
The Colorado Rockies made the Giants look like they didn't have a shot on Friday night.

Sure, the Rockies were able to take three-of-four from the Giants a weekend ago. That was at Coors Field. It is different at Coors Field. The Rockies have an advantage at altitude, and a team built for high-scoring affairs. The truth would come out a week later when the teams regrouped by the bay.

If that was the thought, as it was for many Rockies skeptics, the team answered in convincing fashion on Friday night, blanking the Giants in their home ballpark, 5-0.

The Rockies continue to impress. Friday night was the latest example of the Rockies being deeper than anyone thought. Tyler Chatwood, who spent the better part of six weeks in Triple-A, shined once again for the club. He threw six shutout innings on the mound, giving up only four hits and a walk while striking out four.

Chatwood has returned to the big leagues showing a maturity that didn't exist in his initial season with the Rockies a year ago. He fills up the strike zone with all of his pitches. He isn't afraid to throw his off-speed pitches in hitter's counts, and the snap on his slider makes him very difficult to hit.

The key for Chatwood is throwing strikes. Opposing batters know that they are going to have to swing the bat if they want to get on base. Even that option, however, isn't necessarily fruitful. Chatwood induced 11 ground ball outs, while the outfielders essentially were placeholders, recording only one out with the 23-year-old on the mound.

Chatwood was called up to fill in for the injured Jeff Francis, but the reality is, as well as he has pitched, there won't be a demotion back to Colorado Springs any time soon. Chatwood has shown that he deserves to be at the big league level. He has shown that he has been seasoned enough in the minor leagues, and he is good enough to consistently get Major League hitters out.

Taking no credit away from Chatwood, there has to be a hand extended to third baseman Nolan Arenado. Since his promotion, it seems that the slugging third baseman has been making more of a difference with his glove than his bat, and his hitting alone has been enough to justify the decision.

Arenado made three very difficult plays look extremely easy on Friday. The most incredible was a surprise bunt off the bat of Marco Scutaro. Arenado wasn't playing in for a bunt, but quickly scrambled to the ball, bare-handed it and threw off-balance to first base to record the out. The throw was absolutely perfect. Scutaro's bunt was as well-placed as it could have been. That bunt is a base hit 99 percent of the time. Arenado, however, made the play.

While the young third baseman flashing the leather, Michael Cuddyer was doing his part with the bat. After 15 days on the disabled list with a stiff neck, Cuddyer showed no signs of rust. In the 1st inning with two on, the veteran set the tone for the game by smacking a Tim Lincecum pitch down the right field line to score two runs.

In the 6th inning, Cuddyer drove a Lincecum pitch deep into the left field bleachers, a no-doubt home run that is rare in the night sky at AT&T Park.

The game was impressive not only because the Rockies put themselves in a good position in the National League West race with the win, but also because of way the game played out.

Baseball is such a mental game. So much of success and failure is determined by the mindset of the player or the team. Baseball is full of superstition for this very reason. When patterns and trends begin to emerge, they can creep into a player's head and become magnified. The Rockies lack of success against the Giants, particularly in San Francisco, had reached that level.

At scripts would almost write themselves for Rockies games by the bay. The Rockies might score an early run or two, but the Giants would claw back into the game, tie it up or go up by a run, then pile on two or three more runs late in the game to bury the Rockies. It became so predictable that it almost wasn't worth it for fans in Denver to stay up watching an 8:15 game that would end late at night with the same results.

On Friday night, however, the Rockies switched roles. This time it was the Rockies who seemed in control of the game. It was Colorado who seemed like they were going to continue to add runs to the board, and it seemed like the Giants were the ones waiting for another surge from the Rockies, and it was the Giants who were desperately trying, and failing, to scratch out a couple of runs.

There is no way around it, AT&T Park has been a house of horrors for the Rockies for years. Even when the club was good, going to San Francisco wasn't a fun experience.

Friday night the Rockies looked like, for the first time in years, they had cleared that hurdle. They looked like a team who felt like they weren't the underdogs, but that they were the better team. It didn't matter that they weren't playing in the comfortable altitude of Coors Field or the thick ocean air of San Francisco. They played like they were the better team, with the better pitcher on the mound.

If the Rockies, who have enough depth at the minor league level to overcome some of their starting pitching weaknesses, can continue to play with the mindset that they displayed on Friday night, the idea of them sticking around the top of the standings, rather than the bottom, may become a reality.

The Rockies have a chance to build on their success on Saturday afternoon. Juan Nicasio also gets a chance to prove that his success against the Giants on Sunday was no fluke and the Rockies offense gets another crack at evening the score with Barry Zito.

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1 comment:

  1. I think that all of the players play with more confidence when they believe in the pitcher on the mound. Knowing that have a better chance with Chatwood than Francis thus they tend to relax and play better ball.