A little early to panic: Thoughts on the Rockies’ first series

On Twitter, the modern version of Morse code, RIGHT NOW is all that really matters. Thus, from the first weekend of baseball’s new season, we get:

* Trading Jason Hammel was a huge mistake by the Rockies because he had the best start of his career in his Orioles debut, taking a no-hitter into the eighth inning.

* The Red Sox stink again, just like last fall when they blew a sure playoff berth. Shows what the experts know.

* The Mets are awesome.

* The Rockies’ roster is a joke, what was Dan O’Dowd thinking, and Jim Tracy still overmanages.

Slight exaggerations, granted, but I did receive these tweets, verbatim, after the Rocks lost two out of three in Houston:

“Offense overrated.”

“So far, Rockies are who critics thought they were.”

After three games. Out of 162. So let’s take a step back and remember a few things. Last year, the Rocks came out of the gate 11-2 and finished April at 17-8. They were under .500 by the end of May (25-29) on their way to a desultory 73-win season.

This is where the level-headed writer is supposed to urge fans to wait for a statistically significant sample size, but in two of the past five seasons, there has been no such thing for the Rockies.

In 2010, they had a .554 winning percentage, on pace for 90 wins, through 148 games, which seems like a pretty good sample size. Then they lost 13 of their last 14 to finish 83-79 (.512). So a team that looked good for much of the season turned out to be mediocre.

In 2007, as you may recall, exactly the opposite happened. The Rocks had a .514 winning percentage through 148 games, barely above average, then won 13 out of 14 (14 out of 15 if you count the one-game playoff with San Diego; 21 out of 22 if you could the NLDS and NLCS), to finish the regular season 89-73. So a team that looked mediocre for much of the season turned out to be pretty good.

All of which is to say sometimes you can’t tell with the Rockies even when you’ve watched them all summer. So one weekend in April is probably not enough basis for any significant conclusions. But let’s knock down a few misconceptions anyway:

* Jamie Moyer is not the No. 2 starter, even though he pitched the second game. You might think this wouldn’t need to be explained to anyone paying even casual attention, but apparently it does. Moyer, who throws nothing but junk because he’s . . . well, because he’s 49 years old . . .  was inserted in the rotation between hard throwers Jeremy Guthrie and Juan Nicasio in hopes he would serve as a change of pace. It may have worked, although not for him. After hitting against him Saturday, the Astros were largely lost against Nicasio’s heat Sunday. Starting Moyer in Houston also gives him one less start at altitude, where one winces at the prospects.

In any case, Moyer is the fifth starter, and a temporary one at that. The first four starters are Guthrie, Nicasio, Drew Pomeranz and Jhoulys Chacin. When Jorge De La Rosa is ready to return from Tommy John surgery — early June, the Rocks hope — he’ll take the fifth spot and Moyer’s grand Reminiscence Tour will be over.

Moyer made the club only because four younger candidates for the temporary fifth starter role — Guillermo Moscoso, Tyler Chatwood, Josh Outman and Alex White — failed to win the job in the spring. That’s disappointing, but if any of them starts pitching well, either in the minor leagues or from the bullpen, he can take Moyer’s spot any time.

* The fact that Pomeranz is not yet on the 25-man roster does not prove Rockies management is demented. Pomeranz, the fifth pick of the 2010 draft and the central prize of the Ubaldo Jimenez trade, pitched 101 innings in the minors last year and 18.1 in the majors. That’s . . . give me a minute to warm up the calculator — 119.1 innings pitched. Crunching the numbers on young pitchers who have run into arm trouble, the Rocks conclude that one red flag is a big jump in innings pitched from one year to the next.

If Pomeranz is as good as he looks — his minor league ERA last year was 1.78 — he would pitch 200 innings or more as a regular member of the rotation. The Rocks don’t want that. In fact, they don’t want him to pitch many more than 150. How to do that?

Well, treat him like a fifth starter, even though he’ll probably be their ace in short order. Skip him the first time around, since a day off allows them to go with four starters twice through the rotation. His scheduled start at Double A Tulsa is to keep him on schedule, but it should be a short one. I’m still suggesting you get tickets for Sunday, April 15, his first scheduled start of the season at Coors Field.

* The reason Jonathan Herrera is on the roster is not that he’s friends with Carlos Gonzalez. He, Chris Nelson and Eric Young Jr. may seem like way too many of the same sort of ineffectual player, but there’s one big difference: Rockies management doesn’t want to see either Nelson or Young playing shortstop or second base if it’s not an emergency. That means Herrera is the only defensive replacement for Troy Tulowitzki or Marco Scutaro that doesn’t make the brass cringe. Rockies fans love to hate Herrera because he doesn’t hit much, but inasmuch as the Rocks have committed four errors in three games, all by infielders and one costing them Sunday’s game, they probably want more defense, not less.

* Yes, admittedly, third base is still a black hole. While studly prospect Nolan Arenado begins the season at Tulsa (batting .533 through four games with an OPS of 1.344) the Rocks hope that either Nelson or Jordan Pacheco proves capable of being a placeholder. Each made a costly throwing error in Houston, Pacheco’s arguably costing them Sunday’s game, and they were a combined 1-for-11 at the plate.

If it makes you feel any better, Ian Stewart committed one of those sleepy Ian Stewart errors — dropping a ball as he transferred it from his glove to his hand — for the Cubs, although he is 2-for-8 with a run scored and an RBI through three games in Chicago.

But, hey, that ship has sailed. Stewart hit .156 last season and after eight years in the organization, the Rocks moved on, exchanging him for outfielder Tyler Colvin, another former first-round pick in need of a fresh start. One of three things is going to happen at the hot corner:

1. Nelson or Pacheco takes hold of the position, hits enough to stay in the lineup and learns how to throw to first.

2. Neither takes hold of the position and the Rocks, desperate, call up Brandon Wood from Triple A Colorado Springs, who is 4-for-14 through four games (.286) and hasn’t made an error yet.

3. Neither takes hold of the position and the Rocks, desperate, notice Arenado is batting over .500, figure he’ll be old enough to drink legally any day (his 21st birthday is a week from today), throw caution to the wind and call him up.

Even while losing the series in Houston, the Rocks saw some encouraging signs. Guthrie and Nicasio both gave them quality starts, pitching seven innings apiece. Rookie catcher Wilin Rosario hit a towering home run in his first start, confirming the power he demonstrated in spring training. The bats haven’t heated up yet, but newcomer Michael Cuddyer had five hits in his first series in purple and black.

But the main point I want to make is it’s only three games. The Yankees are 0-3. So are the Red Sox. The Orioles are 3-0, which is the biggest tell of all. So do what the Rocks did last night. Put the Houston series in the rearview and enjoy today’s home Opening Day.

About Dave Krieger

Dave Krieger is a recidivist newspaperman. View all posts by Dave Krieger

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