Tag Archives: Carlos Gonzalez

Treading water

Center fielder Charlie Blackmon has been an early bright spot for the Rocks, sharing the National League batting lead with an average of .406 through the first 20 games.

Center fielder Charlie Blackmon has been an early bright spot for the Rocks, sharing the National League batting lead with an average of .406 through the first 20 games.

It was one of those Colorado days Sunday at the ballyard. Bright blue sky, big crowd, lots of hits, lots of runs, no discernible sign of professional pitching.

This was in marked contrast to the Rockies’ three previous games — the finale of the last road trip in San Diego and the first two home games against the Phillies — in which they got shockingly good pitching, putting together their first three-game winning streak of the season by scores of 3-1, 12-1 and 3-1.

This is really the only question that matters about the 2014 edition of the Rocks. If they pitch like that even half the time, they will be pretty good. If they don’t, they won’t.

“Yeah, the game tends to fall into place when you get starting pitching,” manager Walt Weiss said before Sunday’s game when I asked him about that three-game stretch.

“That’s the key to this game. I don’t care what level you’re playing at. You get good starting pitching, you’re usually in good shape. We’ve had some guys step up. We’re talking about missing three of the top guys in our rotation to start the season. I think if you did that to any rotation in baseball, it’d be a challenge. So the fact that we’ve had guys step up and respond to the call has been really encouraging to me. And one of those guys is the guy that threw (Saturday) night, Jordan Lyles. He’s really been giving us a shot in the arm.”

Through 20 games, or 13 percent of the season, the Rocks are 10-10, and their team stats are pretty much what we’ve come to expect. At home, in the most hitter-friendly ballpark in baseball, they’re a sensational offensive team, batting .354. Their OPS of .978 is 160 points higher than the next best home team.

On the road, they’re a mediocre to poor offense, their team OPS of .662 ranking 20th among the 30 big league clubs.

Troy Tulowitzki is batting .667 at home with two homers and 10 runs batted in. He’s batting .229 on the road with no homers and two RBI.

Carlos Gonzalez is batting .375 at home, .205 on the road. Charlie Blackmon’s splits are .486 and .313; Michael Cuddyer’s .417 and .250.

As anyone who has followed the Rockies for any appreciable amount of time knows, numbers such as these are an occupational hazard of playing here. The home numbers are inflated by the Coors Field factor and the road numbers are depressed by the increased movement of pitches at or near sea level and the constant adjustment Rockies hitters must make as they switch elevations throughout the season.

You might expect the reverse effect on their pitching numbers, and over large sample sizes and multiple years, you get it. But so far this year, they’re actually pitching better at Coors Field than on the road with a home earned-run average of 3.78 and road ERA of 4.55. For individual pitchers, of course, the sample size so far is ridiculously small.

The most encouraging single development, by far, has been the work of Lyles, as Weiss noted. He would not even be in the rotation if it weren’t for a sore hamstring that kept Tyler Chatwood from making his first couple of starts. Unaffected by Coors Field and its reputation for driving pitchers insane, Lyles has thrown his power sinker and big breaking curve ball at elevation with considerable early success, giving up one earned run in 13 2/3 innings for a home ERA of 0.66. He and Chatwood have been the Rockies’ only reliable starters so far.

As Weiss noted, the pitching staff remains a work in progress due to injury. Jhoulys Chacin, a 14-game winner last year, has yet to make his first start as he works his way back from shoulder stiffness in the spring. Brett Anderson, acquired from Oakland during the offseason along with a history of being prone to injury, broke a finger hitting a ground ball and is out at least a month after making just three starts. De La Rosa, a 16-game winner a year ago, has yet to find his groove, although his most recent start, his fourth of the season, was his best. Juan Nicasio and Franklin Morales have been predictably unpredictable.

The bullpen has been very good for stretches and very bad for stretches. Sunday, with a chance to sweep a series for the first time this season, it gave up five runs to the Phillies in four innings of work. Matt Belisle took the loss, but Boone Logan had the worst day, surrendering three runs, two earned, and retiring just one batter, as the Rocks fell 10-9.

Despite what looks like a sensational defensive team on paper, they are in the middle of the pack with 12 errors in 20 games, three of them at the catcher position, and that doesn’t include two run-scoring passed balls by backup Jordan Pacheco in just five games wearing the gear. It’s nice to have guys who can hit behind the plate, but so far the poor defense has more than made up for the offensive contributions of Pacheco and Wilin Rosario.

The much-maligned Dexter Fowler trade is working out pretty well so far. It produced their best starter to date in Lyles, and it freed up the money to sign free agent Justin Morneau, who looks like a classic Coors Field reclamation project in the tradition of Andres Galarraga and Dante Bichette. Morneau is batting .364 and leads the club in RBI with 15 in the early going. He’s also avoided the dramatic splits, batting .367 at Coors and .324 elsewhere.

The fragility of their star players was a big factor in last season’s long, slow-motion collapse, and it’s already been an issue this year. Tulowitzki, Gonzalez and Cuddyer have already missed time with leg issues, a troublesome sign. It might be time to bring in a yoga instructor.

It’s early, of course. April numbers are overly examined because they’re the only numbers we have when everybody is still excited about the possibilities. Last year the Rocks went 16-11 in April and finished 74-88.

When I asked Weiss if he liked where his team is through 20 games, this is what he said:

“I like our club. I like the mentality of our club. I think our guys will fight through the tough stuff and I think that’s the X factor in this league. And I think we have that. So, yeah, I like where we’re at.”

So far, the Rocks are who we thought they were — a big-time offense at home, a small-time offense on the road and mediocre on the mound pretty much everywhere, except for that promising stretch of three games at the end of last week. If Chacin returns soon, De La Rosa finds his form and Lyles and Chatwood continue what they’ve started, the pitching could be better than mediocre. If the hitting stars can stay on the field and learn to play more situational ball on the road, the offense could be more consistently productive.

That’s a lot of ifs. The promise is there, but that’s still all it is.


Shake, rattle and roll

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The day begins with a man bundled up like a polar explorer riding a lawn mower around an already-manicured outfield while another man pounds the dirt around home plate and another carefully unwraps the pitcher’s mound.

It ends with the man whose Twitter handle is @Chuck_Nazty putting himself in the baseball history books, the Rockies’ fifth starter of the year showing the first four how it’s done and the most beautiful swing in the game launching a ball so high and far it almost crashed the party in a string of drinking houses now occupying the previously uncharted third level in right field.

They shook, they rattled, they rolled. You could almost hear Big Joe Turner.

“Pretty much couldn’t have gone any better,” manager Walt Weiss said.

The Rockies lost three of their first four in Miami to a team not expected to do much this year. They hit adequately, but not in the clutch, and pitched poorly. It looked a lot like last year. Neither the batting order nor the pitching staff looked anywhere near as good as the spring previews of coming attractions.

So the traditional pilgrimage to 20th and Blake for the home opener carried a certain trepidation that all the offseason optimism was manufactured, a product of our pitiful wistfulness, sure to be dashed again. Then Charlie Blackmon, a.k.a. Nazty, doubled to lead off the first and scored on a Michael Cuddyer single to give the Rocks a 1-0 lead.

“I was just happy to get a hit,” he said afterward. “You go in there, you’re like, all right, first inning, you’re leading off, like, I’m just trying to jump-start the offense. Usually, I’m just trying to get a hit. And if I get one hit, come out and try and get two hits. And you just take it from there.”

He came out and got two hits in the third, singling and coming around to score, along with Cuddyer, on a triple down the right field line by Carlos Gonzalez.

Blackmon homered to right in the fourth, a no-doubter driving in D.J. LeMahieu as well. This made it 6-0 and Nazty got a little cocky.

The next time he came to bat, with the score 6-1, he doubled to the opposite field leading off the sixth, his fourth consecutive hit. On the first subsequent pitch, to Cuddyer, Blackmon took off for third. There are a number of reasons one might have advised him not to do this. One would be the old baseball rule, never make the first out of an inning at third base. You’re already in scoring position at second and the meat of your batting order is coming up. Another would be that the meat of your batting order consists of Cuddyer, CarGo and Troy Tulowitzki.

Anyway, he takes off on the first pitch from lefty Joe Thatcher. Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero fires the ball to third. Third baseman Martin Prado catches it and lays his glove, wrapped around the ball, in front of the bag. This allows Blackmon to tag himself out by sliding into it. Which he does, pinning Prado’s glove against the base with his spikes and forcing him from the game with a bleeding hand. That steal attempt is the only reason Blackmon wasn’t on base for CarGo’s 457-foot rocket to right. Otherwise, he would have scored five runs instead of four.

Of course, by then it was academic. The score was 8-1. It would become 10-1 in the seventh, when Blackmon’s single to right, his fifth hit, drove in pinch-hitter Brandon Barnes, one of the alleged contenders for the center field job Blackmon wants, who had just gotten his first hit in six tries on the young season, a triple to right-center.

It didn’t look as though Blackmon would get a sixth plate appearance. The Rocks had two out and nobody on in their half of the eighth. Two batters remained before the lineup got back up to Blackmon. But LeMahieu and Barnes both walked and here came Chuck Nazty one more time.

He lifted a slicing drive down the left-field line, where nobody plays a left-handed hitter. It dropped just inside the line and presto, hit No. 6 and double No. 3.

“I didn’t even know where it went when I hit it,” Blackmon said. “So you know you’re having a good day when you just kind of hit a ball and it ends up two inches inside the line. Just one of those days.”

That drove in the last two of the Rocks’ runs in a 12-2 romp that joined a list of memorable Colorado openers including EY’s leadoff homer in the inaugural, Dante’s walkoff in Coors Field’s debut and a Clint Barmes walkoff that briefly awoke Rockies fans in 2005.

“He’ll be in there tomorrow,” Weiss said when asked about a revolving door in center field that also includes Barnes, Drew Stubbs and Corey Dickerson in the season’s early going. “I talked about it a lot this spring. Charlie did a heck of a job for us last year — the last month of the season, played really well. Those guys are all going to play. All of them bring something to the party. But Charlie’s done a great job last year and he’s off to a great start already this year.”

Through five games, Blackmon is batting .563 with a slugging percentage of .938 and an OPS . . . oh, never mind. He staked a claim to that job, though. CarGo said twice he thought Blackmon has proved he deserves to be an everyday player.

“Baseball’s funny,” Blackmon said. “As good as today was, I could be just as bad tomorrow. So I’m not going to try and get too excited about it. That’s the beauty of baseball — good or bad, you’ve got to come out the next day, completely forget what you did the day before and try and win a baseball game. So that’s kind of where I’m at right now.”

While Blackmon was becoming the first (and only other) Rockies player to put up six hits in a game since Andres Galarraga in 1995, the fifth pitcher to start a game this season, Juan Nicasio, was correcting the first four. With Jhoulys Chacin and Tyler Chatwood out with injuries, Nicasio isn’t really the fifth starter, but Weiss held him back for the home opener because he thought his familiarity with the ballpark would give him a better chance than a newcomer like Jordan Lyles to ignore the hoopla of Opening Day.

Nicasio became the first Rockies starter to see the seventh inning this season. He repeatedly threw strike one, a strategy several of his teammates had assiduously avoided in Miami. He came out after giving up one run and four hits in seven innings. He threw just 87 pitches, 64 of them strikes. In addition to his usual gas, he commanded a tough slider and even mixed in a changeup.

“Juan did a great job,” Weiss said. “It was pretty much what the doctor ordered. We needed a good start and Juan got us deep in the game. Swung the bats well, manufactured some runs early when we had to and then had some big shots. CarGo, of course, Charlie. Good day all around. Pretty much couldn’t have gone any better.”

CarGo was drilling shots into the second deck in batting practice before the game when Weiss told him he might be the first to launch a ball into the new party deck looking down on right field from high above. Gonzalez just missed, pounding a Thatcher slider off the facing of the third deck.

“Nice and easy swing, a slider hanging right down the middle, and, you know, I got all of it,” CarGo said with a smile.

“It was a tough road trip. We could have split, but that’s going to happen. It’s a long season. A lot of things are going to happen. But the one thing that you can control is just showing up the next day with the same enthusiasm. That’s what we did today, in front of a lot of people. I think there is a lot of excitement, a lot of energy, so that really helps us.”

More than 49,000 happy souls — well, most of them were happy — wandered out into LoDo afterward thinking these guys just might prove to be pretty good companions during the summer to come. This was less a contest than a party, a celebration of baseball’s return.

“I think it’s the first time I’ve seen 6-for-6,” CarGo said. “I was talking to the guys on the bench. I don’t think I ever hit 6-for-6 even in little leagues.”

It’s a long season, as someone is sure to remind you if you offer even a hint of enthusiasm over Friday’s lidlifter. Spring will turn to summer. The Broncos will get back together for another run and the Rocks will barely be half done. Anything can happen. But coming off two last-place seasons in a row, the opener was a baseball booster shot. In the bars of LoDo, the buzz was all about the Nazty.


Rockies will listen to offers for Dexter Fowler

Dan O’Dowd and I had lunch at Zi South by the ballpark today. We had the place almost to ourselves, which gave us a chance to talk a lot of baseball.

Perhaps the biggest news out of our conversation was his acknowledgement that the Rockies will listen to offers for center fielder Dexter Fowler, who regressed last season from a productive 2012 and appeared in only 119 games. That may not come as a surprise, but in light of owner Dick Monfort taking Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez off the market before it opened, at least it indicates the Rocks aren’t disconnecting the phones.

Whether Fowler spends the 2014 season in Colorado or elsewhere, O’Dowd said it will be an important one for his reputation in the industry. He also said the Rocks won’t trade him without getting appropriate value back.

O’Dowd acknowledged pursuing catchers Carlos Ruiz and Brian McCann in free agency and being outbid for both. Ruiz signed a three-year, $26 million deal with the Phillies, which works out to more than $8.5 million a year for a catcher who will be 35 when spring training opens. McCann reportedly got $85 million over five years from the Yankees, an average of $17 million per.

The Rockies made a substantial offer to McCann not merely for the obvious reasons — he’s a seven-time All-Star with power — but because the team could use a double dose of his attitude and competitiveness. But what’s reasonable financially for the Yankees is unreasonable for most other teams, and this again was the case.

Here are excerpts from our conversation:

Q: What was your game plan going into this off-season?

A: I think as an organization we feel like we’ve got a window of competitiveness with two of our best players and we were trying to figure out a way to impact those guys within our means as much as we possibly could in the positions where we felt like we could impact them.

The free agent market was not flush with impact players. We earmarked a few and up ’til now haven’t been able to get any of those done, but I think that was our overall game plan, was to try to create some versatility in our lineup but also try to create a window here to take another step.

Q: It’s been widely reported you pursued Carlos Ruiz and Brian McCann. What does that say about your view of Wilin Rosario as a catcher?

A: I think that had as much to do with what we thought his gifts were, rather than his liabilities. An average catcher here since we’ve been in existence has caught somewhere between 100 and 110 games. And this kid’s bat is pretty special, and the power is pretty special. I think he caught 102 last year — he started 102. Then you’ve got to factor in how many of those 102 did he feel really good physically hitting because of the wear and tear?

I think you’ve got to catch an average of 130 pitches here a night, and that’s not just physically but mentally, calling 130 pitches. So I think it was just a function of we could make one move and affect two different positions on the field. And notwithstanding, maybe get a defensive catcher that would be a little bit further along in his career, because it takes a long time to get good in that particular role. So we thought we might be able to help our pitching staff in that way, too, but I think it was more a function of giving him an opportunity to get more at-bats.

Q: Where else could Wilin play?

A: We think Wilin’s a really good athlete. We felt pretty comfortable that giving him enough time he could play right field. He’s got a plus arm, he’s a good enough athlete, he runs pretty well. Sure, it would have been a risk, but we’re going to have to take some risks at times to get where we want to go, and that was one risk I think everybody was willing to take if we could find the right guy.

Q: The Cardinals are reportedly signing Jhonny Peralta to play shortstop. There’s been a lot of speculation since the World Series that they would make a run at Tulo . . . 

A: There was never . . . no, I mean, Bill (Geivett) and I are always listening to clubs. That’s what we’re responsible for. The Cardinals have a pretty good model in place right now.

Q: They were not interested or they did not make a pitch?

A: How could there not be interest in that type of player? But I think their model right now is their interest is only to the extent that they could make a deal based upon their parameters to make a deal, which weren’t even close to anything that we would ever entertain to trade that type of player.

Q: So let’s talk about the starting rotation. What are you looking to do there?

A: As we sit here today, we have four starters, knock on wood health, which are (Jhoulys) Chacin, (Jorge) De La Rosa, (Tyler) Chatwood and (Juan) Nicasio. We still would love to add more depth to that.

Q: You still see Nicasio as a starter?

A: We do. He hadn’t pitched for two years. Got physically tired the second half of the year, especially his knee that he had surgery on. Didn’t get a chance to train much last winter because of the knee surgery. He throws a lot of innings for us. No doubt he has to get better, but going out on the market, we’re understanding the value of what he brings to our club.

Some of these are hope things, but (Christian) Friedrich is having a great winter. Two years ago, we were really encouraged about him being a part of our rotation for last year, and then he had an injury-riddled season. We’re really pleased by his progress physically right now.

Q: His back is OK?

A: You know, he’s totally redone his delivery, which is what we helped him with. But until he gets into the live competition with a hitter in front of him and the adrenaline flowing, if he can maintain what he’s doing within the course of the game, he’s going to be OK.

And we still haven’t given up on (Drew) Pomeranz, although I know he showed really well out of the ‘pen when we put him in there. I think we’ll keep an open mind on that.

Q: What’s your diagnosis there?

A: Well, one, he’s got to get over the hump at the major league level. He’s got to show some more toughness and competitiveness and some better secondary pitches. He started to flash that out of the ‘pen when we used him for that last three weeks of the season. It was pretty special stuff in that role. Whether he translates that into the starting rotation . . .

I think it’s another example of a kid getting rushed, never really getting the time to fully develop at the minor league level and making sure that he had stuff to go to at the big league level when things didn’t go right. That’s where we want to make sure with (Eddie) Butler and (Jonathan) Gray. We know we have two big leaguers here. We just want to make sure that they get enough minor league innings to be able to react appropriately when things don’t go right at the big league level, which is inevitable.

Q: How many is that?

A: I think they’ll determine that. Butler is obviously closer, not necessarily ability-wise, but because he’s had a full year pitching in the minor leagues. If Eddie can pick up where he left off at Double-A last year [six starts, 27.2 innings pitched, 13 hits, two earned runs, six walks, 25 strikeouts, 0.65 ERA], he should come pretty quickly, but we’ll have to see if he picks up where he left off last year. A lot of that will be dependent upon the amount of work we challenged him to do this winter and what he does with it.

Q: And where does Gray start?

A: Probably in Tulsa, too. He dominated the Cal League. [5 starts for Modesto, 24 innings pitched, 10 hits, two earned runs, six walks, 36 strikeouts, 0.75 ERA] If we didn’t shut him down, they probably would have won the Cal League there. He was unhittable. No reason to send him back to the Cal League. So he’ll be in Tulsa, too, to start the year.

Q: In retrospect, what’s your self-evaluation of the Ubaldo deal?

A: I think under the conditions we were in, knowing all the players that were involved, I don’t think Ubaldo would have pitched any better here under the circumstances, so I think we did the best that we could. Doing an autopsy on it, I think we know a little bit more about what we got that didn’t work, but I think we were being offered very similar players from every other club that was involved in the process as you look at those names unfold now throughout their careers.

But I don’t think it would have changed the fact that Ubaldo had to be moved from our situation simply because of where it had gotten to. I feel bad that it had gotten to that point. I’m not sure why, to this day, that it did. But that’s a choice he made.

Q: Alex White, what happened there, before he got hurt last year?

A: I think one of the things that we’re really beginning to bear down and understand is that a quality major league starter has tremendous balance, rhythm and timing in their delivery. I think in Alex’s case, he never really had that. He did a lot of things on effort and competitiveness, but it was very difficult for him to duplicate his delivery. I think he would have ended up being a bullpen guy for us, probably a halfway-decent one, too, depending upon how he adapted to the role. But I think in that case as a kid that came with a lot of accolades, that was rushed to the big leagues, that never really figured out his delivery and how to pitch, I think he got overwhelmed at the big league level and then, predictably with that kind of delivery, he blew out.

Q: I know you admired his competitiveness when you first got to know him. As much as the game has turned to statistical analytics, how much do intangibles like his matter?

A: It’s called the human analytics. I think human analytics are just as important as statistical analytics. Hard to measure it because there’s no statistical formula for that, but really understanding what’s inside a guy is actually more important than what comes out of a guy because that’s the only way you know if you’ve got a winning player on your hands.

Like Michael Cuddyer’s case. He’s a perfect example of a guy that gets every little bit out of whatever ability he has and does it solely related to winning that game that night. It’s problematic in the whole industry right now, trying to find those kind of guys because it starts at a very early age with the entitlement factor. So when kids get put into the game based upon what the game owes them rather than the understanding of how appreciative they are of the opportunity, it creates an uphill battle right away. So I think it’s really important in our development system that we address a lot of the issues that we are now addressing as it relates to creating that tougher player that understands how to play for his team rather than play for himself.

Q: And how do you do that?

A: It’s a grind every single night.

Q: Would you agree with my characterization that your team is, overall, certain exceptions notwithstanding, soft? Mentally soft?

A: I would agree with you that our team could be a lot tougher.

Q: So how do you go about doing that?

A: Trying to create as much as you can within the mix of players you bring in as many guys as you possibly can who emulate that, who show up every single day with that being their mindset. That’s part of the reason for bringing (LaTroy) Hawkins back here.

Q: Do you not think that your stars have to, at least one of them, have to reflect that?

A: I think these are better questions for Walt (Weiss) and Bill rather than me, but I saw, personally, tremendous growth from Tulo in that area last year. I thought he started taking on that persona a little bit more. But there’s no doubt our best players have to be the best players in every way, shape or form, both in their production and how they make other players better.

Q: Let me ask you about Dexter Fowler. What’s his status?

A: Well, I think Dexter right now has got a big year in front of him. Whether that’s with us or whether that’s with somebody else at this point in time is too hard to say. I think it’s fair to say we are more willing to listen to calls about Dexter than we might have been in the past. He has a lot to prove this year within the industry. He’s got to show up and he’s got to do that.

Q: What are the considerations in your mind as to whether he will be here?

A: Like everything else we look at with our players, is there value out there that makes us a better team in the aggregate? So the same process that would go with any player would go with Dexter.

Q: You moved CarGo to left field in part because you didn’t want the stress and space of center field affecting his offense. If Dexter were gone, would you be comfortable moving CarGo back or would you go look for another center fielder?

A: Center fielders are really hard to find. I don’t think we’d find anybody that’s got better than CarGo’s skill set anywhere. Everything comes with risks, so I think you have to measure what you’re getting back against that risk that you just mentioned before you actually did anything. As far as CarGo’s skill set, he can play any position in the outfield, and he’s had trouble staying healthy in left, too.

Q: Has anything about Dexter disappointed you?

A: Dexter’s a great kid and he knows that we all feel that way about him. But I think he’s got to get tougher. No doubt. He’s got to show up and play with an edge every day, not just when he thinks he has to. It’s got to be that edge that he brings every day. He’s got to be a passionate competitor in the game. He has to love the game. He’s got to compete because he loves the game and he loves his teammates and he wants to win. It can’t be for anything the game provides. It’s got to be for those reasons.

Q: You’ve had three disappointing seasons in a row. What would you like to say to fans that are not hurling things at you?

A: I don’t think anybody in this organization is more disappointed in the way we’ve performed than me. I’m as big a competitor as anybody. But I think there are reasons why the years happened the way that they did. I think windows open and close. It took us really a long time in ’03, ’04, ’05 and ’06 to create a window for ’07, ’08, ’09 and ’10, with ’08 being a bad year in there, but the other three being good years. And we’re working real hard to create that window again right now and hopefully have it stay open a little bit longer than the last one. There are windows in market sizes across all sports — specifically baseball more than anything, but I think hockey is a little bit similar — that open and close. I think we could have been a lot better last year if Tulo didn’t go down for that long a stretch of time, but I don’t think we still would have been good enough to win.

I think we sit here today with a team that has the chance to win more games than we lose, but I think we’ve still got a ways to go before we can say we’re going to win a World Series. A lot of things would have to go right for us, in our development of certain players and the maturation and improvement of players that we currently have at the big league level.

Q: Any sense of how active you’ll be over the next several months?

A: Well, we’ve tried to be active. We’ve been aggressive on a ton of different fronts. It’s really hard to make trades and, in this market, it’s really hard to sign free agents. So we’re going to continue to be aggressive and we’ll try to build the team in aggregate, not just necessarily add individual stars. We’re trying to add the right kind of players into the mix.


Rockies review, Part 1: Should they trade one (or more) of the big three?

So I went down to Coors Field for the Rockies’ last Saturday night game of the season because it’s usually a good time, a little wistful, a little nostalgic, mostly for summer, but sometimes for the boys who played through it, depending on how they did and what they showed you.

Of course, those aren’t the guys the Rockies are trotting out there. The sentiment and nostalgia around Todd Helton’s final homestand is covering for the absence of all the Rocks’ current stars. Saturday night, there was no Troy Tulowitzki, no Carlos Gonzalez, no Michael Cuddyer and no Dexter Fowler except for a sad pinch-hitting appearance in which he looked like a player twice his age. They’re all injured or sore or tired, to one extent or another.

Before the game, nobody even bothered to ask manager Walt Weiss why Tulowitzki wasn’t in the lineup. He hit his first home run in a month on Thursday, then another, No. 24, on Friday. He’s finally getting hot. Maybe he could help the Rocks get out of last place. It’s a modest goal, but it’s what’s left.

After Saturday night’s lay-down, in which the Rocks fielded a minor-league team playing behind a pitcher with an earned-run average of 8.59, the club has six games remaining, with two days off among them. Yet Tulo apparently needed a day off.

CarGo has not homered since July 20. He has not batted since Aug. 4. He has a finger problem.

Dex had 10 home runs on June 2. Today he has 12.

If you’ve followed this team, you are already painfully aware of all this. With the exception of Cuddyer, the Rockies’ big stars were all big starters and small finishers this season. Every one of them got hurt again. This is really the worst kind of team to be — a tease that looks good early, when everybody is strong and fresh, and then surrenders to the grind faster than anybody.

In the first half of the season, Fowler hit 10 home runs and batted .284, with an on-base percentage of .381. He stole 13 bases and was thrown out stealing three times.

In the second half, Fowler hit two home runs and batted .223, with an on-base percentage of .349. He stole six bases and was thrown out six times.

CarGo hit 25 home runs and drove in 64 runs before the All-Star break, leading the National League in the former category and putting up an OPS of .980. He stole 16 bases and was caught stealing one time.

In the second half, he hit one home run and drove in six runs. His OPS dropped to .747. He stole five bases and was caught twice.

Tulo hit 16 homers and drove in 52 runs before the All-Star break. He’s hit eight and driven in 28 since.

Tulo’s splits are actually the most remarkable because Fowler’s and CarGo’s are explained mostly by the vast difference in games played. Fowler played in 74 games before the break, 44 after. For CarGo, those numbers are 91 and 19. For Tulo, the games played are closer because his absence due to a broken rib came in the middle of the season. He played 64 before the break and 56 after, yet his power numbers have been cut in half.

So I got to thinking about a simple stat: How many games is a gamer likely to play these days? Who’s the leader in games played for each team in the Rockies’ division this season, and how many did he play? Keep in mind the season isn’t over (except, of course, for the Rockies), so these numbers are still changing daily. As of this moment (9:53 p.m. mountain on Saturday), here are the answers, according to ESPN:

  1. 155 (Hunter Pence, Giants)
  2. 152 (Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks)
  3. 150 (Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers)
  4. 145 (Will Venable, Padres)
  5. 127 (Nolan Arenado, Rockies)

If you are tempted to blame the elevation, consider this: Arenado wasn’t even on the big league roster when the Rockies came north back in April. He was called up in time to play in their 25th game. So Arenado has appeared in 127 of a possible 132 games. If he’d been with the Rocks all year, his total would likely be up there with the leaders of the other NL West teams.

So here’s the question, and I don’t know a delicate way to phrase it: Are the Rockies’ stars wimpier than their rivals’ stars?

Tulo hasn’t played in 150 games since 2009, the last time the Rocks made the playoffs. He’s played as many as 140 once in the four intervening seasons. And he’s in his prime, weeks from his 29th birthday. One would have to assume he gets more fragile, not less, from here.

CarGo has never played 150 games in a season. He played 145 once and 135 once in a six-year career. In five big-league seasons, Fowler’s high is 143.

You evaluate this team on paper as if it had all these guys on the field and it looks good. Then you join 36,005 other hopeful souls on the final Saturday night of the season at the ballpark and the outfield is Charlie Blackmon, Corey Dickerson and Charlie Culberson. The infield is D.J. LeMahieu, Jonathan Herrera, Josh Rutledge and Helton. The catcher is Jordan Pacheco.

I know, I know. It doesn’t matter anymore. They’re playing out the string. But you know what? They’re still charging for tickets and beer and parking as if they were fielding a major league product.

Can the Rockies build a contender around Tulowitzki, Gonzalez and Fowler? Or do they need one of them to be more like Hunter Pence — someone who crashes into walls, shakes it off and stays in the game . . . and plays the next day . . . and the next . . . and the next. Are the last few years too small a sample size upon which to judge the Rockies’ core, or do they have too many high-strung thoroughbreds and not enough plow horses?

The starting position players around the big three have improved and solidified this year. Wilin Rosario is the best offensive catcher the Rocks have ever had. Arenado looks like the third baseman for the next decade or more. LeMahieu has earned the first shot at the second-base job next year. Add them to Cuddyer and a healthy big three and you have a heck of an offensive team. But only for half a season, which is a really soul-sucking way to do it.

Pitching is another subject, which we’ll get to, but there’s no disputing that the rotation took a step forward this year, from zero effective starters last year to two, and sometimes three. Jhoulys Chacin and Jorge De La Rosa were two of the best starters in the league. Combined with the promise of the lineup, this team should not be in last place again.

Much as I like the big three as players when they’re healthy, I’m coming around to the idea that the Rocks need to get tougher, and that one of the big three may have to go to make it happen.


Rockies raking, rolling in early going

So let’s review the stats after the first week of the 2013 baseball season. The Colorado Rockies rank:

— 1st in the major leagues in runs scored with 39.

— 1st in the major leagues in home runs with 13.

— 1st in the major leagues in total bases with 121.

— 1st in the major leagues in RBI with 38.

— 1st in the major leagues in batting average at .333.

— 1st in the major leagues in on-base percentage at .377.

— 1st in the major leagues in slugging percentage at .588.

— And, therefore, 1st in the major leagues in OPS at .945.

Well, sure, you say, when they’re healthy, they can rake. What about the pitching?

Maybe most remarkable of all, the Rocks rank fifth in the major leagues in earned-run average at 2.80 after playing three games in the top offensive park in baseball last year (Coors Field) and three in the No. 7 offensive park (Miller Park in Milwaukee).

Individually, Michael Cuddyer ranks second in the National League in batting, at .450; Troy Tulowitzki ranks fifth, at .421. Dexter Fowler ranks second in home runs, with four; Wilin Rosario is tied for third with three. Cuddyer and Tulo are tied for third in RBI with seven.

As a result, the Rocks are 5-1 and tied for first place in the National League West.

Can all this last? Of course not. In fact, the hitting numbers should begin to moderate this week as the Rockies play six games in the pitcher-friendly ballparks of San Francisco (the No. 29 offensive park in 2012) and San Diego (No. 26).

Still, through six games a year ago, the Rocks were 2-4 and already 3 1/2 games out of first place. So you’ll forgive Carlos Gonzalez, batting .360, which ranks eighth on the team, a little smile.

“The things that we’ve been working on since spring training are working,” he said after Sunday’s 9-1 victory over the Padres completed a series sweep and extended the Rocks’ winning streak to five. “Our confidence level is good. Obviously, we have a lot of games left, but it’s always good to start this way.”

What, specifically, was he referring to?

“Well, pitchers are throwing strikes,” he said. “They have that confidence. They know if they throw strikes they’re going to go deep in the game. Pitchers, all they want to do is get a ‘W.’ That’s why they pitch every four or five days. Right now, they’re throwing strikes, they believe in the guys playing defensively behind them, and we all know if they do their job we’re going to be able to score some runs and win ballgames.”

In other words, while last year’s 75-pitch limit for starters is gone, Rockies pitchers know that given the organizational data on pitching injuries, they cannot nibble around the strike zone early in the game and expect to be on the mound long enough to get credit for a victory.

In the first six games, the Rocks’ starter has pitched at least six innings five times. The highest pitch count so far is Jhoulys Chacin’s 99 on Sunday, but the starter has thrown at least 94 pitches in four of the six games.

In four spring training starts this year, Chacin gave up 15 runs and 25 hits in 16 innings, an ERA of 8.44. In two starts since the season began, he’s given up two runs and nine hits in 13 1/3 innings, an ERA of 1.35.

Following Sunday’s win, I asked him what the main difference was.

“I think my focus,” he said. “I’ve been more focused. Just don’t worry about anything and just make my pitch. That’s something I’ve really been working on with (pitching coach) Jimmy Wright. Just try to get my rhythm when I’m pitching and make my pitches down and just get ground balls.”

Indeed, 15 of the 20 outs Chacin recorded against the Padres came on ground balls. Overall, according to baseballreference.com, of the balls hit in fair territory off Chacin, 16 were on the ground and only seven in the air.

Despite the unimpressive spring numbers, first-year manager Walt Weiss never wavered in making Chacin his Opening Day starter.

“I try not to put too much stock into spring training,” Weiss said. “It’s important to get your work in and all that stuff, find a rhythm to the game, but you don’t want to put too much stock in it. I know Jhoulys; he’s a good pitcher. He’s got a great change-up. He’s another one of those guys that seems like he’s always in control of the at-bat. It never really gets too far away from him. I have confidence in his ability.”

The Rocks have emphasized various elements of pitching over the years as they’ve tried to figure out a formula suited to Coors Field. They’ve tried big breaking balls, they’ve tried power arms, they’ve tried to emphasize lateral movement over the downward breaks that can disappear at elevation. In spring training this year, they kept it simple.

“I think they’re doing the things that we talked about this spring,” Weiss said. “Guys are less concerned about east and west and are really thinking about pitching to the bottom of the zone and putting the ball on the ground. You saw (Jon) Garland do it (Saturday) night. That’s kind of who he is, but being able to minimize damage like that with a bases-loaded, no-out situation, to give up one run, that’s really impressive. Jeff (Francis) was able to do it to a lesser extent the other day, minimize some damage. I think these guys are buying in that when you’re at the bottom of the zone and you stay in decent counts, you can be very effective.”

Oddly, the pitch count edicts from the front office that may have contributed to Jim Tracy’s resignation as manager at the end of last season have been relaxed for Weiss. Still, he hasn’t let any starter reach 100 pitches yet.

“I’m aware of it, particularly early on,” Weiss said. “And we’ve got, what, four of our starters missed a lot of time last year. So I certainly am aware of it and it’s a factor. But I haven’t had to push that button early or anything. Some of these guys have been in the 90s and I think that’s a good place to be, particularly for the guys that had some issues last year physically.”

Of the five starters, only Jorge De La Rosa, who makes his second start tonight in San Francisco, has an ERA above 3.00. Three relievers — Matt Belisle, Rafael Betancourt and Edgmer Escalona — have combined to throw 9 2/3 innings in nine appearances without giving up a run.

“And the other thing is, pretty much everybody who was out last year, they’re playing again,” CarGo pointed out. “Tulowitzki, Cuddyer, (Todd) Helton, guys who can do a lot of things offensively. We’re going to score runs. Everybody knows that. Everybody understands that this team will score runs. That’s what we’ve been doing, and the pitchers are doing a great job and that’s why we’re getting good results every day.”

Even the Rocks’ “B” lineup, which produced a 5-22 record on Sundays a year ago, is raking. Four starters — Tulowitzki, Cuddyer, Helton and Josh Rutledge — got the day off in Colorado’s first Sunday game this year. The team still produced nine runs and 15 hits, including seven hits by substitutes Eric Young Jr., (two), Jordan Pacheco (one), Reid Brignac (one) and Jonny Herrera (three).

“They’re all capable of that,” Weiss said. “A couple lineups we’ve thrown out there like that, one in Milwaukee, guys have produced. It’s a good roster. You kill two birds with one stone. You can give some guys a break and you keep the other guys involved. Regardless of who we throw out there, I think it’s a tough lineup to get through.”

It’s way too early to say much more than the Rocks have given Colorado reason for hope, but that’s a pretty good gift from a team written off before the season even began by many “experts,” both locally and nationally.

“It’s nice to get off to a good start, especially, you know, last year was a tough year,” Weiss said. “So it’s nice to put some of those demons behind us right away. We felt all spring like we have a good club. I don’t think a lot of people feel the same way on the outside, but we’re very confident in the fact that we have a good club.”


CarGo: Rockies need an ace

Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, who hit his first home run of the spring today and drove in three runs, likes the feel of Rockies camp so far this year for at least two reasons:

First, last year’s many walking wounded are back on the field.

Second, three of those returnees profile as the team’s top starting pitchers, giving the Rocks a chance to have what they lacked last year — a stopper.

“Every team needs an ace,” CarGo said this week on the Dave Logan Show. “Obviously, Jeremy (Guthrie) was that guy last year that we all were expecting and things didn’t work out well for him. That’s why he got traded.

“But as a team you always want to have that one guy that whenever you’re going to struggle, you know that guy is going to stop everything. He’s going to bring his No. 1 game. Obviously, that was not the case for us so that’s why we had the worst year in franchise history. When you’re losing, you want to have that guy who always breaks the streak and starts a new one of winning.”

So who does Gonzalez see stepping into that role this season?

“We have three really good guys, and hopefully they can all bring the A game,” he said. “That’s (Jorge) De La Rosa, who has more experience, and (Juan) Nicasio and (Jhoulys) Chacin. They have pretty good stuff, but it’s difficult when you don’t have those guys, when they’re hurt. That’s why we all feel pretty good, because we have those guys back and we all feel confident this year.”

De La Rosa, who led the Rockies in wins with 16 the last time they made the playoffs, was expected back from Tommy John surgery in June last season. Instead, he didn’t make it back until the end of September, when he made three meaningless starts long after the season was lost.

Chacin, an 11-game winner in 2011, managed only 14 starts in 2012, going 3-5, before he was sidelined by a nerve problem in his shoulder.

And Nicasio, who made a miraculous recovery from a broken neck in 2011, got in just 11 starts in 2012 before a knee injury ended his season.

Another returning mainstay is shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who appeared in only 47 games last season before a groin injury took him out of the lineup for the rest of the year. Without Tulo to protect him in the batting order, CarGo’s offensive production slipped noticeably in the second half of the season.

“For me, he’s the most important player on our team,” Gonzalez said. “He’s the leader. Not having him in the lineup hurts a lot. As the third hitter, I always want to see that guy hitting behind me because he’s really good offensively. And defensively he’s in the middle of the field; he’s the one who takes care of the whole infield. It’s a huge change when he’s in the lineup.”

Acquired by the Rockies in a trade with Oakland on Nov. 10, 2008, CarGo is already on his third Colorado manager. Clint Hurdle, the skipper when he arrived, was replaced early in the 2009 season by Jim Tracy. Tracy resigned at the end of last season and was replaced by first-time manager Walt Weiss. He’s joined by first-year hitting coach Dante Bichette, who replaced Carney Lansford.

“They played for the Rockies before,” Gonzalez said. “They know what it takes to be in a World Series and to be in the playoffs. They were great players and they’re helping a lot of young guys. Obviously, we have a lot of young guys on our team and we feel pretty comfortable where we are right now.”

Even CarGo was limited to 135 games last year by a nagging hamstring injury, so you’ll forgive him if he’s convinced that staying on the field is the key to a turnaround season in 2013.

“The No. 1 thing for me this year is just to try to stay healthy,” Gonzalez said. “My best year was in 2010 when I got almost 600 at-bats. I was in the lineup every day. That’s a huge difference. Being hurt at the end of (last) year cost me a little bit. It changed the lineup. So that’s the No. 1 thing for me.

“And then I always focus on getting better on every single aspect. This year I worked really hard on my speed, just try to get on base and just try to get that extra base every time to get more opportunities for my guys hitting behind me, especially having Tulowitzki and (Michael) Cuddyer and (Todd) Helton back. That will create more runs and that will help the team to win some more games.”

There’s been a lot of discussion since last season around the Rockies’ front office and its various unorthodox initiatives, among them installing executive Bill Geivett in the clubhouse and mandating that Tracy operate a four-man pitching rotation with limited pitch counts. Some players didn’t think much of these innovations, but Gonzalez wasn’t one of them.

“You know what, when you have a bad year and when things go wrong, you have to try a lot of different things, and that’s what the Rockies are doing,” he said. “I don’t have a problem with that. What they’re doing right now is just to help the ball club. Hopefully this year is a better year, we get to the postseason and you’re going to see a lot of different things.”

It’s early, of course, but spring is the time for optimism. Healthy for now, the Rocks are feeling better about themselves.

“The team looks great,” CarGo said. “We have a lot of good, important players back. It’s a good thing to see those guys healthy and ready to compete.”


Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you

It was probably past time for Jim Tracy to get thrown out of a game. Too bad he didn’t kick dirt over home plate or pull up first base or turn his hat around so he could go nose-to-nose with Greg Gibson. I mean, if you’re getting tossed anyway, get your money’s worth. That’s what Earl Weaver used to say.

On the precipice of a five-game losing streak, their starting pitching now in the conversation for the worst of all time, the Rockies came to bat in the bottom of the ninth Sunday trailing the Los Angeles Angels 10-7.

They got one back immediately. Tyler Colvin led off with a double to the opposite field off Scott Downs, a tough left-hander, and Marco Scutaro followed with a single to center. Colvin scored and the Rocks were within two. It was the first earned run Downs had surrendered in 24 appearances covering 20 2/3 innings this season.

Despite the sorry state of the home team, which fell to 11 games below .500 at 24-35, 37,722 fans showed up at Coors Field on a beautiful, cool afternoon, and most of them were still there. They rose to cheer a comeback that might salvage one game from the series.

Carlos Gonzalez, who had three hits, including both his 16th home run and a bunt single, drilled a shot head-high back up the middle. Downs lifted his glove, at least partly in self-defense, and the ball found it.

“He caught the ball,” Tracy said afterward.

Scutaro had started toward second and Downs realized he had a chance to double him off first. He reached into his glove even as the momentum of CarGo’s shot drove him backward. The ball fell out of his glove and hit the ground. This happens all the time at second base as pivot men try to turn the double play. The umpire calls the runner out at second, signaling that the catch was made and the ball dropped in the exchange to the throwing hand. This was not the call Gibson made.

“He called it a no catch, and I’m not going to speak any more about it,” Tracy said before speaking just a little more about it.

“I put myself in a real position to get in a heck of a lot of trouble, but personally I felt like he caught the ball. He caught the ball and was reaching for the ball because ‘Scootie’ was kind of hung out to dry. On a ball that’s hit that hard, if that ball is not caught, you see the ball hit in the glove and immediately come back out. He had possession and he was starting to fall back and he was reaching into the glove to try to take the ball and throw it to first base. That’s what I saw. That’s all I have to say about it.”

Gibson not only made the wrong call, he made it badly, failing to communicate to fans or even the runner at first base what the heck was going on. Suddenly, the Angels were picking up the ball, throwing it to second, then throwing it to first for a conventional double play while Scutaro and Gonzalez looked on in amazement.

Tracy bolted from the dugout with surprising alacrity and confronted Gibson along the first-base line, obviously stupefied. It took him maybe a minute to get tossed. The effect of the call was to leave the Rocks with two out and nobody on. Michael Cuddyer managed a two-out single, but Todd Helton’s pop out completed the Angels’ sweep (the Rocks are now 0-6 in interleague play) and extended the losing streak to five.

“You don’t want to see that, especially in the ninth inning with no outs, representing the tie run at the plate and having Cuddyer on deck and Todd,” CarGo said. “It’s frustrating. It’s even more frustrating than everything else.

“He caught the ball. It’s amazing he caught that ball. It was even harder for me to see the ball coming off the bat and I’m sure the pitcher didn’t see the ball well. And the umpire didn’t see it at all. I guess the first thing he saw was when (Downs) was doing the turn to throw the ball to first base and as soon as (Gibson) saw the ball on the ground, he called it was no catch. But I watched the replay.

“I hit the ball, I saw he caught the ball, I shut it down, and then I was looking to first base when the umpire was calling no catch. So I turn around because I was confused, I didn’t know who was going to make the call, and I didn’t see the umpire because his hand was already down. He was just standing out there. Confusion. They throw the ball to second and they throw the ball to first. There was no chance for me to get to first base. It was tough. I think it was the wrong call because he caught the ball.

“It’s a different situation, man on first, one out. With one out, we still have a chance. With two outs, you have to create a situation again. Cuddyer did a great job getting on base and it’s a tough lefty for a lefty. That’s why Todd didn’t come through and hit the ball up to third base.

“I was in shock. First I was surprised that he caught the ball. I was more surprised that he called it a double play. I leave everything to the manager. He did anything possible to make a change. What can I do about it? I just walked back to the dugout. I knew I was out because he caught the ball, but not a double play.”

This has nothing to do with the team’s basic problem, of course. The Rocks put up 13 hits and scored eight runs. Christian Friedrich lasted four innings, which was longer than three Rockies starters in the last four games, surrendering nine runs, eight of them earned, and 10 hits. The day before, Jeff Francis surrendered eight runs in 3 1/3 innings. The starting pitching is just stunningly bad.

“I actually felt great,” said Friedrich, who now carries an earned-run average of 1.80 in four road starts and 12.60 in three starts at Coors Field. “I felt better than the last start. We had a good plan, I just didn’t execute the pitches.”

The position players don’t want to hear that any more than you do, although you do feel a little sorry for Friedrich, a rookie, taking the weight for veteran pitchers who have spit the bit.

“Offensively, we did a great job,” CarGo said. “It was a bad day again for the pitchers. To score 10 runs is a lot of pressure for us, but we did everything possible. We did everything we can. We just fell short again.”

Gibson’s bad call killed the Rockies’ final hope for a comeback. The umpires were escorted off the field to a symphonic catcall chorus from the faithful.

But, hey, Gibson’s screw-up did have one redeeming quality: For one day, it gave the Rocks someone to be mad at other than themselves.