|Michael Cuddyer should be in the All-Star conversation.|
Jorge De La Rosa, a bright spot in the Rockies 2013 season, worked six innings and gave up two runs. After walking the first Nationals batter of the game, it was clear that De La Rosa didn't have his best stuff. In years past that may have been a concern. The De La Rosa that the Rockies have had the pleasure of witnessing in 2013 has learned how to be a pitcher, regardless of having his best stuff.
The difference between a pitcher and a guy who has good stuff and can get outs most of the time is what that guy can do when he doesn't have his best stuff. If that is the litmus test, De La Rosa passed with flying colors on Sunday.
The lefty gave up seven hits and walked three overall on Sunday in his six innings of work, but he gave up only two runs. He threw 95 pitches in his six innings, 59 of which were strikes.
De La Rosa was helped out by his offense, which failed him greatly in his prior start in Toronto. The Rockies came out and scored a run in the 2nd inning, a home run off the bat of Michael Cuddyer, then added three in the 3rd and 3 more in the 4th inning.
Those runs helped De La Rosa, but it is a testament to his focus that he was able to lock the Nationals down and maintain the lead, despite not having the same level of dominance that he showed in Toronto. In his return from Tommy John surgery, the Mexican lefty has reached his full potential. He is in the process of becoming a true ace, something that everyone knew he was physically capable of for several years.
In a road trip that has been peppered with bad hitting and good pitching performances, the Rockies got their second straight solid outing from their lineup. Michael Cuddyer is the main reason for that offense. Cuddyer extended his hitting streak to 21 games, a best for any Major Leaguer so far in 2013. His 2nd inning home run got the scoring started, but he didn't stop there. He went 3-for-4 overall, driving in four of the Rockies seven runs overall.
The reality is, Cuddyer's hitting streak has been extremely quiet. He usually collects the first hit in his first at-bat, so no real talk about it happens in the late innings when it is at risk of being snapped. The quietness of the streak has also hushed what is probably becoming something that shouldn't be silent. Cuddyer has done enough to start receiving serious all-star consideration.
Cuddyer entered the game on Sunday with an OPS of .944 on the year. He has 11 home runs and 43 RBIs. Those numbers are very good, but consider that he spent 15 days on the disabled list and where his numbers would be without those missed games.
All-Stars aren't just guys who put up good numbers, they are guys who are game changers. They are guys who get the job done when the game is on the line. That is what Cuddyer has been all season long for the Rockies. He probably won't make it to the game in New York City, but he should receive serious consideration.
The Rockies walked away with a win and a series split in Washington, but it wasn't without concerns. Matt Belisle, the most reliable member of the Rockies bullpen, struggled again. He couldn't get out of a jam and ended up giving up four runs in his 2/3 innings of work. Two of the runs came across when Rex Brothers was asked to come in and clean up the mess and gave up a bases-clearing double. Yet, one thing is clear, Belisle didn't pitch well.
Reality must be faced with a guy who has logged as many innings as Belisle has since he became a full-time reliever back in 2010.
That year, the righty threw 92 innings, being asked to be a late-inning reliever, a multiple inning mop-up guy, a middle reliever and everything in-between. The next year he logged 72 innings, then 80 a year ago. At some point, that number of innings from a reliever starts to take a toll. It looks like Belisle may have hit that point.
The struggles of Belisle underscore the need for Rafael Betancourt to return from the disabled list. This bullpen is very good when they are healthy and going strong. However, when things get mixed up, guys like Belisle don't get the rest between appearances that they need and they are used in different situations.
If Betancourt can return this week it will give Belisle less of a workload, helping to bridge the gap to the All-Star break, which will give Belisle four straight days off. That will be a telling time for the righty. If he comes back strong, he simply needed some time off, if he continues to struggle, the issues might be more long-term.
The Rockies suddenly have a chance to make this road trip far less of a disaster than it looked to be in the early going. If they can split the series in Boston they will come home with three wins under their belt. That isn't ideal, but it is for more than they could have expected after dropping the first five games.
This Rockies team, despite Troy Tulowitzki being hurt, is still within striking distance. They don't have to be in the lead, but if they can stay within three or four games out of the race, they might be the team to beat in August and September.
If De La Rosa and Cuddyer continue to produce the way they have been producing, the Rockies will be just fine.
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