Actually, disarray may be too mild a word for the state of the Rockies’ pitching staff after it blew early leads of 5-0 and 6-0 on consecutive nights against the Braves, scoring seventeen runs in two games and losing them both.
“That’s the worst game of the year for us,” manager Jim Tracy said after the second, Saturday night’s 13-9 throwback to the early days of baseball at altitude.
By the time it was over, the Rocks’ team earned-run average had ballooned to 5.06, worst in the National League. Esmil Rogers, who allowed five earned runs in an inning and a third, saw his ERA soar to 8.36. Edgmer Escalona is at 8.53.
“Our pitching, as I mentioned last night, it’s got to be better than what we’re seeing right now,” Tracy said in the understatement of the soggy evening at Coors Field. “It’s unacceptable. That’s the best way I can describe it.”
Generally inclined to defend his players to a fault, Tracy was critical of Rogers and Rex Brothers for lack of consistency out of the bullpen, just as he had torched Jhoulys Chacin and Guillermo Moscoso recently for short, ineffective starts.
And it’s not as though all this trouble is in the rear view. Before Saturday night’s debacle, the club was forced to abandon plans to bring Jeremy Guthrie off the disabled list for Tuesday’s game in San Diego, meaning Tracy had to tell reporters he didn’t know who would start either Tuesday’s or Wednesday’s game there. At the moment, he has three healthy starters, one of whom is 49 years old and couldn’t hold leads of 6-0 and 8-3 on Saturday.
That, of course, would be Jamie Moyer, who became the oldest player to get a hit in a big league game Saturday since 50-year-old Minnie Minoso got one for the White Sox in 1976. Heartwarming as this tale is, Moyer is trying to get batters out at Coors Field with a “fastball” clocked at 77 miles per hour, which is slower than most major league changeups. Saturday, he managed to do it for four innings before everything unraveled.
“The wheels fell off,” he said afterward. “Solo home runs usually don’t beat you, but they just chipped away, chipped away. I couldn’t get an out in the sixth. I don’t have an answer for you right now.”
After giving up two solo homers and a single to open the sixth, Moyer departed with an 8-5 lead and one runner aboard. By the time Rogers was finished pouring kerosene on the brush fire, the score was tied and the bases were loaded. By the time Brothers departed two outs later, the Braves led 12-8.
The fact that the Rocks are counting on Moyer at all is evidence of the implosion of their plans for this year’s pitching staff. Coming off Tommy John surgery and old enough to be most of his teammates’ father, Moyer was a non-roster invitee to spring training, the longest of long shots. The Rockies had nine starters ahead of him when pitchers and catchers reported in February.
After trading Ubaldo Jimenez for three pitchers from Cleveland, Seth Smith for two pitchers from Oakland and Chris Iannetta for a pitcher from the L.A. Angels, it looked as though they’d have enough starters to staff both the big league club and the Triple-A affiliate in Colorado Springs. Instead, it’s as if they all caught some awful, contagious disease.
Josh Outman, one of the pitchers from Oakland, got hurt. Guillermo Moscoso, the other pitcher from Oakland, was ineffective. So were Tyler Chatwood, the pitcher from the Angels, and Alex White, one of the pitchers from Cleveland. Only one of these four had to pitch well enough to bump Moyer from consideration. None of them did.
Jhoulys Chacin, the Rockies’ winningest pitcher last year, showed up out of shape and pitched to an ERA of 7.30 before being shipped out. Guthrie, the fitness freak obtained from Baltimore who rides a bicycle to the ballpark, had some sort of chain problem that crashed his bike, leaving him with a shoulder injury and a trip to the disabled list.
So here they are, with two healthy starters under the age of forty-nine — Juan Nicasio and rookie Drew Pomeranz — and just nine quality starts in twenty-six games, fewest in the National League. The bullpen, which started well, has been called upon way too much and is already fried. There are no quick fixes, either. If there were, you can bet the Yankees and Red Sox would have bought them up already.
The good news is Nicasio and Pomeranz pitch the next two. Each went at least six innings in his last start, which makes them marathon men in comparison to the rest of the Rockies’ staff.
The bad news is nobody is quite sure what happens after that. Christian Friedrich, the Rocks’ first-round draft pick in 2008, last pitched at Triple-A on Friday, which would make the timing right for Wednesday’s start in San Diego. He wasn’t exactly lights out, giving up five runs, three earned, in five and two-thirds innings, but the Rocks don’t have a lot of options. His overall ERA of 3.00 in thirty innings isn’t bad, particularly for the Pacific Coast League.
White last pitched for the Sky Sox on Tuesday, managing just four and two-thirds innings. Outman is on his way back from an oblique injury and a long way from being ready to go deep into a game as a starter. Chacin and Moscoso were just recently banished to Colorado Springs because they pitched so poorly.
So while Tracy declined to speculate, the options include Carlos Torres, recently called up from Triple-A to be a long relief man, and Friedrich. But stay tuned. Television analyst George Frazier and his son, Parker, now at Double-A Tulsa, might be options by the time the team arrives in San Diego.
All of this is having the depressing effect you might expect on the rest of the clubhouse. The Rocks are tied for second in the National League in runs, but when you score eight and nine in consecutive games and lose them both, that’s not much consolation.
“It’s hard when you go down like this after scoring six runs early in the game and feeling excited when things are going well early in the game,” said Carlos Gonzalez, who had four hits Saturday to raise his team-leading batting average to .323.
“Everything just blew up in the middle of the game. We just have to hold the other team and continue to score runs if we need to. It’s difficult. It’s a tough loss and I’m really tired of saying the same things over and over. We need to figure it out and just try to get that ‘W’.”
Rockies management might be forgiven if this were an isolated run of bad luck. After all, Moscoso made twenty-one starts for Oakland last season and pitched to an ERA of 3.38. Outman made nine more. Chatwood made twenty-five for the Angels. The Rockies have gotten two forgettable starts from Moscoso and none from the others.
But this organization has been struggling to assemble a competent pitching staff for years, and it has made some whopper mistakes with pitchers early in the the draft, most notably selecting Greg Reynolds with the second overall pick in 2006, in the process passing on Clayton Kershaw and Tim Lincecum, now the aces of two of their rivals in the National League West. At some point, you have to ask whether the existing management is capable of judging pitching talent, whether in the draft or the trade and free agent markets. Pitching at altitude poses unique difficulties, but you can’t do worse than last in the league.
Of course, those organizational questions are not Tracy’s concern at the moment. He just needs to find somebody — anybody — who can get people out. Preferably this week.