|Jeff Francis looked pedestrian at best on Friday night.|
Matt Belisle, one of the most dependable members of the bullpen, had his worst inning of the season, giving up three runs in the top half of the 10th inning, giving the Rays a 7-4 victory. The loss came after the Rockies had several opportunities to bury the Rays, especially after getting to starter Matt Moore in the early innings.
In both the 3rd and 4th innings, the Rockies stranded runners on second and third base. Those potential runs proved pivotal for the club, as the Rays fought back against Jeff Francis and eventually won the game.
The fact is, it is time to get serious about Francis and his ability to make good enough pitches and keep the Rockies in games long enough to win consistently. A starter who is given a three run lead in the early innings must find a way to get outs and get his offense back in the dugout to score more runs.
Of course, the offense didn't do it's part, leaving runners in scoring position and not figuring out how to come up with a big hit when they needed it most. Teams that go from good to great seem to find ways to take advantage of the opportunities that come there way. The Rockies have proven to be better than most gave them credit for, but there is still work to be done.
Sometimes it seems that offenses start to press when they know they are going to be forced to score several more runs after they have already put up a crooked number. Offenses seem to start to squeeze the bat a little harder and try to do too much, knowing that their starting pitcher is going to need several solid innings of support.
That may be the case with the Rockies when Francis is on the mound. The lefty knows what he is doing. He is a smart pitcher. However, his stuff simply isn't as good as it once was. He lives in the low to mid-80's with his fastball and has no margin for error. When a pitcher doesn't have good enough stuff to make up for his mistakes, very rarely will he make it out of a start without having a few big innings. That was the case for Francis on Friday night.
The problem for the Rockies is that they had a decent lead early and were able to score a few runs off of one of the league's best young left-handed starters in Matt Moore. The 23-year-old came into the game with a 5-0 record, and an ERA at 1.13. In 32 innings he had recorded 38 strikeouts. To say that he dominated April would be an understatement.
When an offense is able to go out and score a few runs off of a pitcher who has been that dominant, the starting pitcher for that team must match his offense's output. On Friday night, Francis simply couldn't get the job done.
There were definitely some positives for the Rockies to take home with them on Friday. Rookie Nolan Arenado, five days into his big league career, logged three more hits. Two of his hits were hard-struck balls that fell for doubles. At some point, the league will find some of the holes in Arenado's swing, but one thing is certain, he doesn't play the game with any fear. There is no sense that he is overwhelmed playing at the big league level. The highly touted prospect certainly seems to be living up to his billing in the early going. His bat has been great, but he has also delivered in the field, looking smooth and making tough plays look easy.
As good as Arenado was, there has to be a certain level of concern for Rockies fans with the fact that Troy Tulowitzki missed another start. This time it was due to "heaviness in his legs." As good of a player as Tulowitzki is, there is no way around the fact that he is fragile. There must be some concerns around his stretching routines and the things he is doing to keep himself loose. Is he working himself too hard? Is he stretching too much? The fact is, when Tulowitzki is in the lineup, everyone is a better player.
With Tulo out, Carlos Gonzalez doesn't see the same pitches that he would see with that lineup protection. On Friday night, CarGo went 1-for-5. Despite a 1st inning home run, Michael Cuddyer struck out three times hitting in the cleanup spot. The answer is easy, Tulowitzki needs to be in the lineup and something must be done to ensure that he stays healthy.
There may be some concern that Tulowitzki is feeling slightly gun-shy after his injury in 2012. He may be worried that if he pushes it he will re-injure himself. That is a legitimate concern, especially considering he missed four months at the end of the year. However, there also has to be a balance and the shortstop needs to figure out how to stay healthy long enough to play a full month without needing to rest his legs.
The Rockies hope to have Tulowitzki, as well as Dexter Fowler, who hurt his hip in a collision at first base, back in the lineup on Saturday night when they take on the Rays again. They won't get a break as they face David Price, another tough lefty. Jon Garland gets the ball for the Rockies, looking to regain the form he showed in his first two starts.
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