Jason Giambi’s 429th career home run won the Rockies both a game and a series in dramatic walk-off fashion Wednesday, but the team is still struggling to get a disappointing pitching staff together.
“I knew I hit it good when I got it,” Giambi said on the Dave Logan Show just minutes after his three-run bomb in the bottom of the ninth gave the Rocks an 8-5 win in the rubber match of their first series of the season against the Dodgers.
“It’s kind of a like a warm butter knife through butter. It’s just nice and easy and free. I was just excited to get it up in the air because I knew that’s what we needed in that situation. It’s always exciting when it goes out of the park and you get met at home plate. That’s what keeps you coming back every year. You can’t get that feeling anywhere else on the planet. That’s what keeps me training and working out and coming back.”
The Rocks got a rare quality start Wednesday, just their ninth in twenty-four games, which is tied for worst in the National League. Rookie Drew Pomeranz gave them their first look at the dominance general manager Dan O’Dowd was betting on when he made Pomeranz the centerpiece of last summer’s Ubaldo Jimenez trade.
Still, with the bullpen taxed from so many short starts, setup men Matt Belisle and Rex Brothers couldn’t hold a 2-1 lead in the eighth and closer Rafael Betancourt couldn’t hold a 5-3 lead in the ninth.
On the bright side, the lineup kept bouncing back. After the Dodgers went up 3-2 in the eighth, Carlos Gonzalez hit his second homer of the game off Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw. After L.A. tied it in the ninth, Giambi delivered the game-winner with CarGo waiting on deck. All three homers by the left-handed hitters came off left-handed pitchers.
“The exciting part is last year I think we would have gave away that game,” Giambi said. “But this year it’s been a lot of these games where we’ve kept fighting and not let it get us down offensively when they’ve come back and tied the game or even went ahead. We’re starting to grow as a ball club. The maturity level of the younger players is starting to come through. Hopefully this is the win that jump starts us to start playing a lot better baseball.”
Obviously, that can’t happen until the pitching improves. Manager Jim Tracy finally got fed up Tuesday when Jhoulys Chacin put his team in a 7-0 hole, allowing four runs before an out was recorded. The Rocks battled back but lost 7-6. Tracy called the starting effort “awful,” and Chacin, the team’s winningest pitcher last season, was optioned to Triple-A Colorado Springs the next day. The Rockies are last in the National League in opponent batting average (.287), tied for last in quality starts and next to last in earned-run average (4.69). Yet they’re 12-12.
“We’re playing good baseball, but we haven’t played great, and I think our best baseball is yet to come,” Giambi said. “We’re starting to cinch up a few things. Our defense is getting better. Our bats are getting better. We’re starting to figure it out on the mound. Unfortunately, we just need to get some of these starters to go a little bit deeper in the game because our bullpen’s tired. Skipper’s having to give a lot of guys days off in the bullpen just because we’re not getting the length that we need. And I think that’s going to happen. They’re working on it and that’s the best you can do.”
There are hopeful signs. Pomeranz threw 6 2/3 innings Wednesday, giving up just one run, his longest outing of the season so far. Juan Nicasio threw six in Colorado’s 6-2 victory over the Dodgers in the series opener. Jamie Moyer has been better than anyone had a right to expect from a 49-year-old coming off Tommy John surgery. Jorge De La Rosa has begun a series of minor league rehab starts following his own Tommy John surgery. Barring setbacks, he could be back in the big leagues by the end of the month. And while Jeremy Guthrie had a lousy start, once he recovers from his bicycle crash he should revert to his own history as a reliable innings eater.
In the meantime, CarGo is red-hot and basically carrying the team. He has fourteen runs batted in over the past six games.
“He just oozes with talent,” Giambi said. “You could always tell that he was a phenomenal player. I know he kind of went around the league a little bit, but you could tell the talent was always there. We would always say in New York when he was with Oakland, like, ‘Who’s this CarGo kid?’ He would play one day and hit a few bullets and the next couple days he wouldn’t play. We were like, ‘Why isn’t that guy in the lineup?’
“I think he was just trying to find his way and he’s finally starting to come into his own. This kid is going to be as good as he wants to be. He’s one of those guys, you look at the A-Rods, the Jeters, the Rickey Hendersons that I’ve played with, he’s going to be as good as he wants to be. He’s putting in the work and he’s trying to learn and he asks a lot of questions because he wants to better.”
So the Rocks are keeping their heads above water while sorting out the pitching. Guillermo Moscoso has already been called up to fill in for Guthrie while he’s on the disabled list. The Rocks called up right-hander Carlos Torrez on Thursday but it’s not clear whether he’ll take Chacin’s turn on Monday or the club will make another move before that. Torrez, who pitched for the White Sox in 2009 and 2010 and in Japan last season, was starting for the Sky Sox, but averaging only five innings per outing. Alex White and Christian Friedrich are also possibilities to be recalled from the Springs to make Chacin’s next start.
In the meantime, Giambi likes the fight he’s seen in the early going and credits the addition of veterans to the roster — Marco Scutaro, Ramon Hernandex, Michael Cuddyer — with providing some of the resilience.
“We’ve had some meetings and I’ve had a lot of meetings with the younger kids saying that I’m proud of them this year, where before we would take a lead and if the other team came back or went ahead, we kind of went in shut-down mode and didn’t keep pushing,” Giambi said.
“We’ve really turned the corner this year of doing that. It’s exciting to watch. I think it’s helped out to have a few more veterans around to help these younger kids get through it, and they’re responding.”