Sunday, June 2, 2013

De La Rosa overcomes Dodger blues with help of powerful offense

Dexter Fowler found his power stroke on Sunday.
Jorge De La Rosa had made 10 career starts against the Los Angeles Dodgers in his career. His team had never won a game against them. On Sunday, the lefty finally got over the hump, helping the Rockies to a 7-2 win.

That streak ended on Sunday as the lefty dealt seven strong innings, giving up only two runs. He gave up six hits and two walks, while striking out five. He threw 94 pitches, 58 for strikes. The two runs came on one bad pitch to Skip Schumaker, who barely squeaked a liner past a diving Carlos Gonzalez. Schumaker got greedy and tried to extend his two-run double to a triple, and CarGo promptly threw him out at third base.

The Rockies took advantage of the fact that they didn't have to face Dodgers starter Hyun-Jin Ryu, who was scratched from his start, still dealing with a bruise on his ankle that he suffered in his last start. Instead, the Rockies faced Triple-A call-up Matt Magill, who was in over his head at Coors Field.

Dexter Fowler, emerging from his month-long slump, welcomed Magill back to the big leagues with a long home run to lead off the Rockies half of the 1st inning. Magill never seemed comfortable on the mound after Fowler's blast. Instead of attacking the strike zone, the rookie tried to nibble, which had him behind in counts, and gave the Rockies several free passes. In six innings, Magill walked nine Rockies.

The Rockies have displayed issues with runners in scoring position all week long, so apparently they decided that it was better to quit stopping in scoring position. In six hits overall, four of them were home runs. Fowler added a second homer to his day in the 6th, Todd Helton hit his second of the weekend and Michael Cuddyer put one in the pond in center field.

Fowler was a hero once again on Sunday. His play was concerning in May. He didn't hit a home run after hitting eight in the first month of the season. His swing had gotten long, and instead of being the gap-hitter with occasional pop that he is, Fowler looked like he was trying to hit the ball out of the park every time he stepped to the plate.

His approach in the game-winning at-bat on Saturday was a great sign for Fowler. Instead of trying to pull the pitch into the bullpen, Fowler put the ball on the ground, lining it down the right field line, scoring the winning run.

On Sunday, Fowler pulled the trigger when he needed to. With a pitch belt high and in the middle of the plate, the speedy outfielder did what he should do, he turned on it and put his weight behind him. Again in the 6th inning, he got a pitch he could handle and drilled it. Recognizing which pitches can be launched into the stands is a huge step into becoming a dangerous hitter.

If Fowler continues his hot streak, and can add in the power that was on display in April, the Rockies offensive woes will soon be a distant memory. The reality is, this team has the ability to hit the ball out of the park on a consistent basis from the top to the bottom of the order.

De La Rosa's performance was overshadowed by the four home runs. However, it is time to acknowledge just how good he has been for the Rockies.

Forgive Rockies fans if they forgot to factor in De La Rosa as a serious contributing member to this Rockies rotation. After Tommy John surgery, the left-hander missed four months in 2011, then as he tried to rehab in 2012, continued to have setbacks in his rehab process. Tommy John surgeries work more times than not, but there are times when a pitcher never recovers.

When De La Rosa finally made it back to the big leagues, his three starts at the conclusion of 2012 were lackluster. The talent with De La Rosa has never been questioned, but to think that this team was going to be able to rely on him as a dependable starter was out of the question heading into 2013.

Best case scenarios saw the Mexican lefty as a guy who would be a .500 pitcher, winning 10 games and losing 10. No one was expecting him to come back anywhere near the level that he displayed in 2009 and 2010.

The fact that no one was counting on De La Rosa was a big reason why experts around baseball thought that the Rockies could easily have the worst rotation in the history of the game. With the lefty looking phenomenal once again, those predictions are beyond laughable.

The Rockies have received a huge boost from De La Rosa. With his win on Sunday, his record sits at 7-3 with an ERA at 3.10. At Coors Field, coming off of Tommy John surgery, those numbers should be talked about far more than they have been in the early going.

Additionally impressive for De La Rosa is what he has dealt with in the past. When he came to the Rockies in the 2008 season, fans were quickly shown why three other franchises had given up on a left-hander with as much talent as he has. All-too-often, De La Rosa would be seen by the cameras with a confused look on his face, his hat pulled up, wiping sweat off of his brow. After giving up a walk, a hard hit or a home run, things would spin out of control. He was his own worst enemy.

The Rockies wisely hooked De La Rosa up with their mental skills coach, who helped the lefty understand that was has happened in the past is over and done with. Once that was understood, De La Rosa transformed into the pitcher that everyone saw the potential for him to be.

Many fans wondered if that mindset would crumble in the rehabilitation process, especially if his stuff wasn't quite up to the level that it was before. Even with a slight reduction in velocity, De La Rosa has shown that he is a bulldog on the mound. He isn't easily shaken when opponents are hitting him and he doesn't let one bad inning snowball. He trusts his stuff and continues to pitch well.

If Jorge De La Rosa can continue pitching the way that he has been all season long, and Dexter Fowler can hit the way he did in April and the way he has for the better part of a week, the Rockies aren't going to start sinking into the standings. They will have a very good shot at playing for a division title into the late days of September.

For now, the Rockies head off to Cincinnati for a very tough three game set against a very good Reds team. The Rockies will have to find a way to keep the bats hot as they face a tough lineup.

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