|Jhoulys Chacin is maturing as a starting pitcher for the Rockies.|
Chacin had been brilliant his past three outings. He was nearly untouchable. So in a way, it was a welcomed sign when the Rockies right-hander came out and didn't have his best stuff.
That may be confusing, but everyone already knew that when Chacin is on, his stuff is top-shelf. When his slider is moving, it is tough to hit and opens up the possibilities for him to throw his change up on the inner half to right-handed hitters.
However, over the course of his career, Chacin has either been very good, or very average, nothing in-between. The Venezuelan pitcher has been known to have a good few innings, then let things get completely out of control and give up four or five runs in one inning, letting the game get out of hand.
On Thursday night, with a sellout fireworks crowd watching, Chacin clearly didn't have his best stuff right out of the gate. Those fans who have followed him since he was a top prospect coming up the Rockies system know that at any time, the flood gates could open up.
It looked like that moment was going to happen in the third inning. Chacin was stuck in a bases loaded jam with only one out. With Dodger catcher Tim Federowicz at the plate, Chacin worked a 2-0 cutter in on the hands of his batter, forcing an infield pop up to second baseman DJ LeMahieu. With two outs, the Rockies Opening Day starter wasn't out of his jam, not even close.
Nick Punto stepped to the plate in a situation where Chacin normally breaks. He had just gotten a big out, and needed one more to erase all of the damage. This is typically where Chacin would have invested so much energy into getting the previous batter out that he would throw a pitch right down main street that would end up in the gap.
Instead, Chacin continued to attack the strike zone. He got up 0-2 on Punto with two fastballs, then after a foul ball, Chacin came back with another fastball and struck out his man, ending the threat and changing the course of the game for the Rockies.
The Rockies need Chacin to lead. They need him to be a big-time pitcher. They need him to come out and stop losing streaks. On Thursday night, he did all of that. In the end, the Rockies starter went 5-2/3 innings, giving up four earned runs on nine Dodger hits. He struck out four and walked three. The numbers clearly point to him having to work hard on an off-night, but Chacin took the next step in his development and stopped the bleeding and got outs when he needed to.
The night didn't belong to Chacin, it belonged to a guy who frankly hasn't received the attention that he deserves. Michael Cuddyer may be having the best season in the big leagues at this point. On Thursday, Cuddyer went 2-for-3 with a home run and a double. He added three RBIs to his total.
With 15 home runs and 52 RBIs and a .343 batting average the Rockies outfielder should be a no-doubt All-Star. There should be no discussion of him being in the final man voting. This is a guy who has done more on the field than all but three of four position players in all of baseball in 2013. Keep in mind that he missed 15 days with a oblique strain early in the season. If he had those 15 days back, where would his numbers be?
On Thursday, Cuddyer's damage came exactly when the Rockies needed it. Following Chacin's big strikeout in the 3rd inning, Cuddyer strolled to the plate with two men on and one out. He had a chance to do damage, and he didn't disappoint. He drilled a Chris Capuano pitch to deep center field, over the head of Matt Kemp, driving in two runs and breaking a 2-2 tie and swinging the momentum back in the Rockies favor.
The Rockies finished off a disappointing seven-game homestand with a win. It gave them a 3-4 record for the three team, seven game set at Coors Field. They sit 2-1/2 games behind the Diamondbacks for first place in the National League West, and conveniently they head to Phoenix to play Arizona in a three-game set.
The series with the Diamondbacks starts off a 10-game, three city road trip that concludes the first half of the Rockies season. Where they sit now is far better than anyone could have expected, but if they want to take the next step and legitimately give themselves a shot to win this division for the first time in their history, they cannot replicate the road trip that they wrapped up just over a week ago. They have to put together a respectable trip or they will be buried.
With outings like Chacin gave them on Thursday and performances like Cuddyer has given them all season long, there is no reason to think that the Rockies can't perform. They must prove that they can, or people in Denver will start to turn their focus to the start of Broncos training camp.
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