|Jorge De La Rosa was phenomenal on Monday night.|
The Rockies left the country for the first time in six seasons, and in the process, accomplished something that feels like hasn't happened in another six years.
Jorge De La Rosa, following up a phenomenal performance from Jhoulys Chacin on Sunday, pitched nearly flawlessly in Toronto, shutting down the Blue Jays potent lineup for seven innings worth of one-hit baseball. The lefty looked like a dominant ace, making huge pitches when it mattered most.
The only problem with the game on Monday? The Rockies lost. De La Rosa was done after seven innings, giving way to Matt Belisle, whose workload may have finally got the best of him. Belisle gave up a bloop single to Maicer Izturis with runners at second and third, scoring both runs and giving Toronto all they will need.
There are plenty of questions to be asked. With De La Rosa pitching as well as he has all season long, including his phenomenal outing in St. Louis in May, why would Walt Weiss go to his bullpen when De La Rosa was only at 95 pitches through seven? Weiss answered that question in the postgame by saying that the lefty had suffered a bruise on his thumb that the Rockies wanted to be cautious about.
That answer may be true, but regardless, it shouldn't be accepted. One more inning on a bruise that the lefty had been pitching marvelously through since he suffered the injury in the second inning wasn't going to put De La Rosa on the disabled list. If the Rockies had given him the lead, the decision would have been more acceptable.
The decision would have also been more accepted if there wasn't good reason to be skeptical of how the Rockies handle their starting pitchers. A year removed from having a 75-pitch limit with piggyback relievers in a quasi system, the Rockies still have some strange pitching practices in place.
The pitch limit may be gone, but only one time in 2013 has a starter gone more than 100 pitches in a game. The front office of the Rockies has made it clear that they believe that they must handle starting pitchers differently due to the disadvantage of having to play at altitude for half of their games. Therefore, starting pitchers never get put in positions where they are going to go deep into games and feel fatigued.
Maybe De La Rosa would have headed out to the mound for the 8th inning if his thumb wasn't bruised, but don't fault Rockies fans for being skeptical.
The reality is, De La Rosa has ace stuff. Even though his fastball doesn't have the velocity that it did prior to Tommy John surgery in 2011, his slider is still ridiculous when he is on, and his fastball still rides in to right-handers at 92 MPH. There is no denying that his stuff is ace-worthy.
Matt Belisle, the Rockies most dependable reliever for the past four seasons, has officially hit a rough patch. Unfortunately for the Rockies, that stretch continued into Monday's game, and came at the worst time possible in a game in which their starter had been nearly perfect.
Losing a very winnable game in Toronto to start out a long road trip that is essentially a referendum on this team is difficult to stomach. However, there is plenty of reason to be excited instead of disappointed.
Building on the start that the Rockies got from Chacin on Sunday, De La Rosa showed the talent that this Rockies team has the talent to compete.
After blowing four six-run leads and several more three and four run leads, the Rockies had gotten to the point that their starting pitching simply wasn't cutting it. At some point, the starters had to give the offense something to work with or the pressure of having to overcompensate for continued bad starting pitching would take it's toll on the team.
The Rockies got that starting pitching right at the breaking point. Chacin built on a strong start from earlier in the week and put up perhaps the most impressive performance of his career on Sunday. He was economical, and wasn't afraid to throw strikes and pitch to contact. On Monday, De La Rosa showed just how good he can be.
The Rockies can't expect that same performance from both of those guys time and time again, but if they are able to get even close to that level of dominance on a fairly regular basis, this Rockies team, with the firepower that they have on the offensive side of the ball, will win the vast majority of games that they play in.
Now, couple those two guys pitching at a high level, with Roy Oswalt, who will be with the team once they arrive in Washington DC to play the Nationals. No one is expecting Oswalt to be an ace. No one is expecting him to go out and pitch seven innings, giving up only one or two runs each time out. However, if he can be anywhere near the type of pitcher that he was just three seasons ago, the Rockies will have three starting pitchers that won't just be good enough to keep them in baseball games, but will be good enough to make the Rockies the favorite the vast majority of the time that they play.
The loss is a disappointing start for the Rockies, but there are plenty of good signs for a team that is within swinging distance of the National League West race. There are concerns with this team, but there are plenty of reasons to believe that this team can find ways to win, even with their best player, Troy Tulowitzki on the disabled list for the next six weeks.
If the Rockies get good, not great, starting pitching from the top three guys in the rotation on a consistent basis, they won't just hang around in the race, they will suddenly be the team to beat, in control of their own destiny.
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