BY LESLIE MONTEIRO
It’s a problem when the Rockies’ starters don’t go deep in games.
The bullpen is getting overworked as a result, and it is starting to show in recent games.
Wilton Lopez could not protect a lead in the seventh inning last night, and as a result, the Rockies went on to take an 8-7 loss to the Phillies at Coors Field.
There’s no question Lopez was bad. He gave up a two-run triple to Freddy Galvis that tied the game at 7, and he gave up a single to Jimmy Rollins that scored Galvis from third to give the Phillies an 8-7 lead.
With that said, Lopez is not going to be perfect all the time. No reliever is. Not many relievers can be Rex Brothers and pitch well every game.
Blaming Lopez is missing the point of what’s going on.
The Rockies can’t find starters who can give the bullpen a night off, and that’s a problem moving forward.
If the relievers continue to be overworked, they are going to blow more games like last night.
Weiss did not want to use Lopez last night, but he had to after Juan Nicasio could not throw a zero on the scoreboard with a 7-2 lead in the sixth inning.
Rockies manager Walt Weiss hoped Nicasio would throw six innings last night. Despite his starter’s struggles in the sixth inning, he was hoping his starter would somehow get through the inning by getting out of jams. He got the first two outs, but he struggled to get the last out of that inning, so he was relieved before he blew a 7-2 lead altogether.
For Nicasio to not pitch through a 7-2 lead in the sixth inning, it shows he can’t be trusted to pitch in the sixth inning ever no matter how good he is pitching. Hitters figure him out, and he does not have other secondary pitchers to get hitters out for the second or third time.
Nicasio gave up three runs in that sixth inning, and that set the tone for the Phillies to make a comeback in the seventh inning.
If Nicasio pitched at least seven innings, Weiss could have brought Matt Belisle and Brothers to protect the lead.
It’s something he hoped to see from Nicasio and other starters often, but that’s never going to happen.
Outside of De La Rosa, no starter can go seven innings. This is a recipe for failure. It takes a toll on the relievers as their arm deals with the wear and tear.
It’s no coincidence Lopez, Josh Outman, Matt Belisle and Edgmer Escalona have struggled to get guys out late as a result of making too many appearances.
This is why everyone wonders if the Rockies can sustain their good play for the entire season. It’s hard to believe the relievers can be effective by August and September with the way things are going for them right now.
The Rockies have to hope Tyler Chatwood can go seven innings today and beyond. If he can do that, that will help the Rockies bullpen.
It can’t just be him, though. It has to be couple of other starters, and that’s why there has to be changes in the starting rotation. The Rockies need to find couple of other starters that can win and go deep in games.
They hope it’s Roy Oswalt and Drew Pomeranz when the Rockies call them up.
Oswalt is a question mark, though. He has been ineffective in the last two years, and it’s hard to believe he can go deep in games anymore. The Rockies are desperate to hope he can get the job done.
Pomeranz has the stuff to be a dominating starter, but he needs to have the proper mindset to believe he can succeed. They have to hope he has it in him to be an innings eater when he is out there.
If Chatwood, Oswalt and Pomeranz can be effective by giving quality starts and throwing seven innings, the bullpen should be okay to pitch for the final two months of the season.
That’s what the Rockies are hoping for.
If that does not work, this team will not be making any playoff run.
The Rockies need to get better in the rotation or else we are going to see more bad performances from the relievers as a result of them being used often.
The organization knows they have to do something about it.
They have to hope changes in the rotation can save the bullpen from being exposed of overwork.
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BY LESLIE MONTEIRO
Rockies general manager Dan O’Dowd has been criticized for not fielding a competent starting rotation in his 14 years at the job.
At least, he can say he found guys who can be reliable in the bullpen.
The Rockies have created a good bullpen this season, and that’s one of the reasons the Rockies are off to a respectable start this season.
Prior to the Rockies’ game against the Giants Friday night, the Rockies’ bullpen ERA is 2.85, and that’s good enough to be in the top 5 when comparing it to the other 29 teams in baseball. Hitters are hitting .245 when they go up against that bullpen.
It’s basically game over once the bullpen pitches with a lead in the seventh inning. That pen is also the reason the Rockies have a chance to win in extra innings with the game being tied late in the game.
That’s a good feeling for a manager to have. Rockies manager Walt Weiss knows what he has with his relievers.
O’Dowd assembled a good group with guys like Matt Belisle, Rex Brothers and Rafael Betancourt pitching in the seventh, eighth and ninth respectively. He also has Edgmer Escalona, Adam Ottavino, Rob Scahill and Wilton Lopez providing depth in the pen.
Part of a winning ballclub is to have a great bullpen.
What’s refreshing about this bullpen is their relievers want the ball every game. It’s a good thing they have that mindset to pitch everyday because the Rockies want to limit their starters to 100 pitches. That helps.
It will be interesting how their arms hold up in August. There is a good chance they can be worn down, but then again, every reliever gets burned down at that time of the year. It’s about survival of the fittest. That’s where durability comes in. If those guys can hold up, the Rockies are going to be fine.
Belisle will be an interesting case. He has made 22 appearances already, and he made 80 appearances last year and 74 two years ago. He is capable of handling the workload, but he also was hit hard in the final two months of the year.
The Rockies need him to build a bridge to Brothers and Betancourt. The seventh inning is where the leads stay or be blown. He is the right guy to protect that lead and that spot. He is invaluable in that regard.
So far, Belisle has been good.
Brothers has been a revelation with the way he has pitched. He is so good that he is now the setup guy after the Rockies pegged Wilton Lopez for that role when the season started.
The Rockies’ setup man has a 0.42 ERA in the 23 games he pitched, and he has 21 strikeouts. That is a definition of a lights-out pitcher. It’s also why the Rockies want to groom him to be a closer.
Betancourt continues to be reliable for the Rockies year in and year out. He has 10 saves, and he hasn’t blown a save. He gets guys out through strikeouts, and he has 18 strikeouts this year. He doesn’t get anyone nervous about him blowing a save since he pitches a seamless inning. That’s why he is one of the best closers in baseball.
When a team has guys that can shut down the game after the seventh inning, it’s a great luxury for a manager to have. Not many teams can have that.
In tight games early or late, Lopez, Escalona, Ottavino, Scahill can give the Rockies innings, and they can have shutdown innings, too. They also can fill in for Brothers or Belisle when either of them needs the day off.
For the Rockies, it’s a necessity to have a great bullpen with the starters not being good enough to go deep in games.
The Rockies’ starters can’t go deep in games. That’s why the Rockies have a pitch count limit. If the starters were good, there would be a pitch-count limit, and there wouldn’t be potential changes in the starting rotation with Drew Pomeranz, Tyler Chatwood and Roy Oswalt replacing Jeff Francis, Jon Garland and Juan Nicasio in a month or so.
The bullpen has been the Rockies’ saving grace, and that’s why they have been able to have a winning record.
For the Rockies to keep up with the Giants and Diamondbacks, their bullpen has to keep it up in being effective. That team can hit. It comes down to protecting leads, and Rockies have that in their relievers.
Handling the workload is the only thing the Rockies have to worry about with their relievers. That’s the only question moving forward.
How they handle it will determine if the Rockies create Rocktober III.
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BY LESLIE MONTEIRO
The Giants relievers found a way to get the key outs against the Rockies whether it was a strikeout or groundout in a tied game at 6 on Tuesday night. They set the tone in the Giants’ 9-6 victory over the Rockies.
This is what the Rockies envisioned when they acquired Wilton Lopez this offseason. They felt the game would be over when he and Rafael Betancourt would be on the mound to protect the lead.
It hasn’t worked out so far.
Lopez is off to a terrible start with a blown save and a 10.80 ERA. He has given up four runs and 10 hits. He only has a strikeout in the four games he pitched. He was taken out of a game after he gave up a hit in the second game he pitched this year.
Right now, his problem is his mechanics. He is not finding the strike zone for whatever reason. His sinker is not effective. That is never a good thing for a reliever.
For Lopez to be successful, he needs his groundouts. That has not been the case so far with hitters hitting his pitches past the outfield.
It’s no wonder hitters are not afraid to face him when he is out there.
It’s surprising why he has struggled. He always had a good command of his pitches.
It’s easy to ask if he has recovered from an elbow injury last year when he was with the Astros. Once a pitcher gets hurt, it takes time for him to get back on track on the mound.
Lopez doesn’t seem the same right now. He is all over the place. It’s easy to tell if he is still hurt.
If he wasn’t hurt, why would the Astros be in a rush to trade a commodity to the Rockies?
So many questions have now replaced a sure thing when it comes to Lopez.
At this point, there is no way Lopez should be pitching in the eighth inning until he gets straightened out.
This can’t be a situation where Rockies manager Walt Weiss has to take relievers out after each out. In the eighth inning, there has to be a guy that can get all three outs.
It is time for Matt Belisle to be the setup guy until Lopez straightens himself out.
It’s not something Weiss wants to do, but he has no choice.
It will mess up the Rockies’ plan of what relievers to use in their set role, but that’s where relievers have to step up when they are called to pitch.
Rex Brothers would be a good fit in the seventh inning.
Belisle has the stuff to be a good setup guy. If anything, he should have been after being effective last year.
Lopez can work as a setup guy, but now is not the time to use him. He can’t be trusted in that spot when he is not getting it done.
Sports is a result-oriented business. The Rockies can’t wait for Lopez to straighten himself out in an important role like the eighth. It’s about winning games first before development.
Lopez is not a rookie for the team to let him take his time to develop. He was a proven reliever that was supposed to be a sure thing in the eighth inning.
At this point, he is better off pitching in situational outings rather than go out there in the eighth. He is not going to get better with the way he is operating right now as a setup guy.
By pitching to get one or two outs, Lopez can get his confidence back and go from there.
With pitchers, it’s all about confidence. They feed off from that, especially relievers. That’s something Lopez need for him to be effective in the eighth.
That’s what the Rockies have to hope for.
If he can’t be effective in situational outings, then he is going to be a lost cause. It would be clear he is still hurt.
It’s something the Rockies don’t want to think about.
Last thing they need is being asked about acquiring damaged goods in Lopez, especially after the Phillies decided to not to acquire him due to injury concerns.
The way it’s going for the Rockies setup guy, it’s easy to wonder if he is damaged goods.
Whatever the case may be, Lopez has to straighten himself out. This isn’t cutting it.
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BY LESLIE MONTEIRO
First impression is always important.
Wilton Lopez knows the Rockies acquired him this offseason to protect leads in the eighth inning.
He wanted to make an impression yesterday afternoon when he was summoned by Rockies manager Walt Weiss to protect a lead. He knew he had to get it done after the Rockies played well enough to win. There was pressure as it is always the case in this situation.
Lopez didn’t get the job done. He blew a lead in the eighth inning, and the Rockies went on to take a 5-4 loss against the Brewers at Miller Park.
Lopez gave up three runs and four hits in his forgettable debut as a Rockie.
He didn’t take the loss because Dexter Fowler hit a solo home run off Brewers closer John Axford in the ninth inning to tie the game at 4. It was Adam Ottavino that took the loss after the Brewers made him pay for loading up the bases by winning the game on Jonathan Lucroy’s sac fly.
Lopez has to wonder if Ottavino would be in this position had he not blown a 3-1 lead in the eighth inning. If he did his job, he felt Rafael Betancourt would have closed it out in the ninth inning, and Ottavino would not be pitching in the extra innings.
Lopez knows the loss is on him. He is being paid to protect leads, and he didn’t on this day.
Go ahead and talk about how the Rockies stranded seven runners on base, but at the end of the day, the new Rockies setup guy did not do his job.
This is not a good way to make an impression to his teammates, his bosses and the fans. Lopez knows it, and that’s why he was reflecting about his poor performance when he was sitting in the dugout for a few minutes after the game.
Lopez was apologetic when he spoke to the media. He talked about how he didn’t have it, and he regretted about not throwing the proper changeup.
There’s no question Rockies fans were furious after Lopez blew the lead. They figured their team would win on Opening Day based on the bullpen being good enough to get it done.
The Rockies fans wanted a win as a way to feel good about the start of the season. They were beaten down with the losing last year.
Lopez blowing a lead served as a reminder that the Rockies know how to lose games.
It’s too bad this happened. Lopez spoiled a good pitching performance by Jhoulys Chacin. His blown save turned Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez hitting solo home runs into a footnote.
All people wanted to talk about was why Lopez had control problems in his first game of the season.
Go ahead and rip Lopez. He deserved it.
With that said, Lopez is hard on himself than anyone being hard on him. Any reliever would be after blowing a lead. They don’t pitch with the intention of blowing the lead.
This is something Lopez has to deal with.
Lopez was being relied upon to protect leads. That’s why he was acquired from the Astros. The Rockies feel the game would be over by the eighth inning when he was on the mound.
The Rockies like how he could get anyone out with his sinker, which is a must when a pitcher pitches at Coors Field. They also liked him being 6-3 with 10 saves and a 2.17 ERA in 64 games for the Astros last year. They were fascinated with him striking out 54 hitters and walking only eight hitters in 66 innings.
The Rockies felt Lopez’s command was good enough for them to acquire him.
It was surprising to see Lopez had nothing out there on the mound when he was called to protect a 3-1 lead. He was nibbling at the plate. That is never a good sign.
Basically, the new Rockies setup man was trying to get by. He almost pulled it off, but Ryan Braun had an infield hit to make it a 3-2 game and Aramis Ramirez’s double gave the Brewers a 4-3 lead.
It was one thing to give up a run, but it was another to implode altogether that helped the other team lead.
It’s never a good time to blow a lead, but there’s nothing worse than blowing it on Opening Day. That is a reliever’s worst nightmare. People will chronicle it at ad nauseam, and it can affect a reliever’s psyche.
Now, there will be questions if Lopez can get over yesterday. There’s no question Weiss will have him pitch in the eighth if the Rockies are leading tonight. He has to for his setup guy to get over blowing a lead.
Lopez is too good to pitch like he did yesterday.
It was just one of those days that his changeup had nothing.
If it was in the middle of the season, no one would care.
Since it was Opening Day, people are making a big deal about it.
That is why making a first impression was important for Lopez.
Weiss and Lopez’s teammates said the right things as a show of support.
Lopez won’t have this game back.
All he can do is move on and not create the feeling of deja vu when he pitches again.
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BY LESLIE MONTEIRO
Being realistic is a good thing.
It means no one can be disappointed at the outcome. It makes life easy that way.
While most folks around the country are optimistic about their baseball teams, the Rockies fans are not.
In fact, the Rockies are not, either.
The Rockies and their fans know this season will be another long season.
The Rockies are the favorites to be in last place in 2013. Talk about a buzzkill. This happens every year, too.
Give the organization credit for being honest about themselves rather than selling false hope. They know they are not better than the Giants, Diamondbacks, Dodgers and Padres. They are not fooling anyone when they don’t have starting pitching.
Yes, the Rockies have a great lineup. That’s good enough to win their fair share of games, but they are going to need quality starting pitching on a consistent basis for them to have a winning season. That’s not happening.
With the Rockies, it’s Jeff Francis, Jon Garland and pray for rain. It’s hard to have a winning season that way.
Jhoulys Chacin, Jorge De La Rosa, Juan Nicasio are question marks to round out the rotation.
The Rockies like to think Chacin is an ace after winning 11 games two years ago. They cite his ability to throw strikeouts after throwing 150 strikeouts two years ago.
With that said, he struggled in spring training after he was hit hard with an 8.44 ERA to show for it. His changeup was ineffective. In his final spring training start, he was rocked for 10 hits and six earned runs in five innings. That was against the Athletics’ B team.
It makes one wonder why Chacin is making an Opening Day start against the Brewers. He hasn’t earned it. This was about the organization demonstrating faith that he has what it takes to be an ace, and they hope Chacin can gain confidence from that.
Maybe this works tomorrow afternoon. We’ll see.
Francis should have started Opening Day for the Rockies. He is their best pitcher. He gives them a chance to win by giving out a quality start. He knows how to win games based on his experience for many years.
It’s not only Chacin that is a question mark. The Rockies like to think De La Rosa is their second best starter. Maybe he is, but he is always hurt. Who knows if he can be healthy? He also can let his struggles get the best of him during the course of the game.
Nicasio is not a starting material. Outside of his fastball, he does not have secondary pitches to get hitters out when they face him for the second time in the game. That’s why he does not go deep in games.
He is a reliever at best. It’s remarkable why he is in the rotation. As bad as Drew Pomeranz is, he is better than Nicasio.
It shows how the Rockies feel about Pomeranz’s lack of development for him to not be in the starting rotation over Nicasio.
When looking at the question marks in the starting rotation, it’s easy to ask why the Rockies did not do enough to get a starting pitcher. It shouldn’t take until last week to find a starter, and they found one in Garland after he was released by the Mariners.
The bullpen should be good. Rex Brothers, Matt Belisle, Wilton Lopez and Rafael Betancourt can be relied upon to protect leads late in the game.
The Rockies have a great lineup with Dexter Fowler, Josh Rutledge, Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Wilin Rosario and Jordan Pacheco leading the way. That’s something they don’t have to worry about.
That lineup is so good that Walt Weiss is hoping his team can outscore the other team to win games. That’s a depressing outlook for the first-year Rockies manager. He knows his starting pitching is not good enough for him to say his team will rely on his hitting to win games. He is smart enough to know a baseball team wins games through good starting pitching.
As for Weiss, he will do a fine job as a manager. He will get his team to play for him. His teams will execute well on defense.
That wasn’t the case when Jim Tracy was the Rockies manager in the last few years. Talk about how he got them to the playoffs in 2009, but the players were so fed up with Clint Hurdle that they wanted to prove he was why the team underachieved.
Once Tracy was the full-time manager in 2010, the team quit on him for the last three years. They never executed the fundamentals, and they often approached the game with no sense of urgency.
They hope Weiss can make the team fundamentally sound. They hope he can develop players.
He will do that, but he can’t make miracles out of that awful starting rotation. No manager can. If a pitcher can’t pitch, there’s nothing a manager can do.
It’s remarkable why Weiss wants to manage the Rockies. That said, they are giving him a shot to learn on the job. He’s not going to turn that down. He would love to see what he can do with this team.
The Rockies are good enough to win 74 games at best. If Weiss can get them to do that, he did a good job considering that’s the best he could with a flawed starting rotation.
That’s not good enough for the fans. That’s not good enough for the organization.
It’s about having winning seasons. It’s about playing in the playoffs. It’s about hope.
The Rockies don’t have any of that going for them.
No wonder why the organization and the fans are not excited about what should be another long season.
Maybe one day there will be a reason to be.