Wednesday, April 2, 2014

First win of the season is a nail biter for the Colorado Rockies

Jordan Lyles had a pretty good start in his Rockies debut.
When the Colorado Rockies signed LaTroy Hawkins and immediately dubbed him as the closer, many fans were scratching their heads.

Rex Brothers was coming off of a near-All-Star appearance and performed very well in the closer's role for the final six weeks of the season. He seemed to be the closer-in-waiting anyway when Rafael Betancourt was closing out games for the Rox. Instead, Hawkins was given the job.

On Wednesday night, Hawkins nearly let the first W of the season slip through his fingers. With the game-winning run at the plate in the form of slugger Giancarlo Stanton, Hawkins was in trouble. He missed with the first three pitches and Rockies fans were squirming. After a long foul ball, Stanton hit a single, which prolonged the suffering.

Garrett Jones popped up to third base to end the threat and the Rockies had their first win of the season.

Hawkins near implosion was just good enough to preserve the win for Jordan Lyles. The righty that the Rockies acquired from the Astros did a very good job in his Rockies debut. Lyles line doesn't represent the job that he did. After a 1st inning run he settled in with four straight scoreless frames. In the 6th inning he gave up a laser home run to Stanton, something that is certainly not unique to Lyles.

Lyles finished with five innings pitched, four earned runs on five hits. He struck out five and walked only one. His ERA doesn't reflect the fact that he did a pretty good job. He was good enough to keep his team in the game, and he did a great job pitching with the lead.

For the offense, it was a relief for Rockies fans to see the core of the Rockies come through in the clutch. In 2013, the Rockies lacked an edge. Tough losses would hangover into the next game, and sometimes turned into a trend.

On Wednesday night the Rockies offense came out with a bang. Charlie Blackmon led off with a single, Michael Cuddyer grounded into a fielder's choice, then Carlos Gonzalez roped a double into the right-center field gap. It was a typical CarGo smash that never died in the grass, it almost seemed to gain speed as it went. After a Troy Tulowitzki single, Justin Morneau went the other way and plated Gonzalez. Nolan Arenado recorded his first hit of the season, then Jordan Pacheco drove a ball back up the middle to score the Rockies third run of the frame.

The Rockies couldn't score the tying run from second base on Tuesday night when they had no outs in the 8th inning. It was reminiscent of 2013, when the Rockies struggled mightily in pressure situations.

Good teams have an edge. In baseball, it is more than just talent that gets the job done. It certainly helps to be good, but even good teams have to have a swagger about them. The Rockies are talented. They have one of the best lineups in baseball. However, they could never get into a solid rhythm in 2013 and never tapped the potential that they had.

Teams that win find ways to work counts and put the pressure back onto the pitcher. They force the pitcher to throw a good pitch because they can foul balls off until they get one they can drive. That requires plate discipline, and it requires trusting the entire lineup and not playing selfishly.

It was a good sign for the Rockies on Wednesday that the Rockies not only came out of the gate strong, but got some big hits in pressure situations.

Winning the first game of the season is always a good thing. It gets it out of the way and allows the Rockies to move forward. Had they lost on Wednesday, the pressure would have started to mount. It would have been easy for it to get into the Rockies heads and for them to start over thinking things. Instead, they can go into Thursday's day game with a chance to get a series split after starting so poorly.

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