Tag Archives: Carlos Gonzalez

Curse of the short starts continues

If these starts get any shorter, they’re going to have to come up with another name for them. Maybe mini-starts, in the spirit of miniskirts and minicomputers.

For example, the relief pitcher who started Friday’s game for the Rockies actually went deeper than the starter who began Saturday’s, although that’s not saying much.

The Rocks were already leading the National League in innings pitched by a bullpen, so they didn’t really need a freak injury to a starting pitcher one day after pitching a game by committee. But that’s what happened.

Juan Nicasio strained his left knee trying to field Elian Herrera’s single up the middle with two out in the second inning Saturday. He had to come out, leaving the bullpen to add 7 1/3 innings to the nine it pitched Friday and the league-leading 173 1/3 it had pitched through 51 games coming in. In fact, that total didn’t include Josh Outman’s 3 1/3 Friday, since he was technically a starter for a day.

“There it is and you’ve got to deal with it again,” manager Jim Tracy said. “It’s not something that you dwell a whole lot about. I think the dwelling part comes afterwards. You sit down at your desk and you start thinking about tomorrow already and where are things going to go and how will you handle it if it doesn’t present itself in the way that you want it to.

“But we’re hopeful that Alex White goes out there (Sunday) and pitches the best game he’s pitched since he put a Rockies uniform on, because I personally feel he’s getting closer to doing that. We’ll see what happens, but I’m very hopeful that we get a very solid start from Alex White tomorrow and he gives us a chance to win the series.”

The Rocks made pitching largely irrelevant by scoring 53 runs in the first five games of the current homestand, winning all five and pulling within seven games of .500. Saturday, the Dodgers’ Aaron Harang baffled them, giving up one run in six innings, so Nicasio’s short start doomed them.

Carlos Gonzalez, who had driven in 11 runs over his previous six games, came up with the bases loaded and one out in the fifth, lifted a harmless foul pop fly to Herrera off the third base line and slammed his bat to the ground in disgust. When Michael Cuddyer followed with a ground ball to second, the Rocks’ best opportunity was gone in a game they ended up losing 6-2.

“It was just frustration of the moment,” said Gonzalez, who leads the Rocks in pretty much every offensive category. “It was a pitch out of the strike zone. Obviously I make a wrong swing. I should have taken that pitch and taken it to a deeper count and just wait for my pitch and when it shows up, put a good barrel on it. But I did the opposite thing in that situation.”

Friday, the Rocks won the series opener against the National League West leaders by pounding Dodgers pitching for 13 runs. But they pitched the entire game out of the bullpen after releasing 49-year-old Jamie Moyer earlier in the week. They used Outman, Carlos Torres, Adam Ottavino, Matt Belisle and Esmil Rogers.

Saturday, they sent Torres down and recalled Rex Brothers, which gave them one more fresh arm. When Nicasio departed, Tracy went to Josh Roenicke, Matt Reynolds, Brothers and Rogers again. Roenicke, Reynolds and Brothers each pitched at least two innings, so they are probably unavailable today, barring an emergency. The club would also probably like to avoid calling on Rogers, who has pitched two days in a row.

“You come in here tomorrow morning and you sit down with your pitching people and we try to sort out who’s available and who’s not available,” Tracy said. “You don’t like to have too many days like that, but tomorrow morning will be one of those mornings.”

Nicasio said he wants to make his next start, but Tracy said the club would know more about his condition Sunday. As Nicasio left the clubhouse Saturday, he was limping noticeably.

“Seeing Nicasio only pitching one inning is not going to help a lot,” CarGo said. “But injuries are a part of the game, so all we can do is just hope he can get better and just get him back soon.”

The Rocks can still take the series and make it six out of seven on the homestand by winning today. But after consecutive starts of 3 1/3 and 1 2/3 innings, they’ll need White to give them more than a mini-start.


Rockies’ dilemma: Hope or change?

Sunday’s in-game conversation on Twitter was all about the Rockies needing to do something dramatic to get out of a funk that dropped them to 15-25 on the season as the lowly Seattle Mariners completed a three-game sweep with a 6-4 victory at Coors Field.

Fire somebody. Rewrite the lineup. Something.

The post-game conversation in the clubhouse was all about the Rockies as currently constituted needing to get it together in a hurry.

“There’s no Lombardi speech you can give,” said veteran Jason Giambi. “We’ve just got to try to win one game and make it that simple. I mean, we can’t play any worse than we have. We need to pick it up and win tomorrow. And then win the next day. I think we can’t get ahead of ourselves.”

Manager Jim Tracy was more succinct:

“Obviously, we’re in a rut, and we have to dig ourselves out,” he said. “That’s what we have to do. We’ve got 122 chances to do it.”

That would be the number of games remaining on the schedule. So there’s plenty of time, but the trend is not their friend. The Rocks were 12-12 on May 2. Since then, they are 3-13.

Todd Helton, who saw his batting average fall to .219 on Sunday, stood at home plate in the bottom of the ninth with the tying runs on base and two out. He struck out for the third consecutive time to end the game. I asked him afterward what the strike three pitch was.

“A fastball right down the middle,” he said. “It was about the only pitch I saw all day that I felt like I was on. I was waiting to hear a sound and I never did.”

Tracy said it was just a slump, like the one right fielder Michael Cuddyer was in (0-for-13 on the homestand) before breaking out with a single and two doubles Sunday. But when you’re three months from your 39th birthday, as Helton is, every slump comes with additional questions: Is this it? Remember Dale Murphy? Should the Rocks be anticipating the end by moving somebody else into the No. 5 hole in the lineup?

Then again, the No. 4 hitter isn’t doing much better, and he’s only 27. Nearly two months into the season, Troy Tulowitzki has four homers and 16 RBI.

“I don’t think Troy’s in a very good place right now offensively,” Tracy said of his shortstop, who came up with two on and one out in the ninth, just before Helton, and hit a harmless ground ball to third.

The Rocks got three-hit days from Carlos Gonzalez and Cuddyer but did not benefit from any compounding effect because they were separated in the lineup by the combined 0-for-8 of Tulo and Helton. CarGo and Cuddyer never came up in the same inning.

Hence my own modest proposal, Cuddyer’s recent slump notwithstanding: Move Tulo and Helton down in the order until they get their swings back. Move Cuddyer into the No. 4 hole and Tyler Colvin into the No. 5 hole, at least against right-handers, as long as he’s hitting well.

“It’s just hard to smile right now,” said Gonzalez, who had a single, double and home run out of the No. 3 hole to increase his team-leading totals to eight jacks and 32 RBI.

“It doesn’t matter what you do out there. Not being able to win is difficult. It’s tough for me, it’s tough for everyone else in this clubhouse. We’re a talented team but we’re just not playing really good baseball. We need to start playing better defensively. We’re making little mistakes that cost runs. At the end of the game, that’s when you see the difference. All those runs that we give away, that costs you at the end of the game.”

Sunday, it was a botched defense against a stolen base attempt in the first inning. With Mariners leadoff man Dustin Ackley on third, cleanup man Kyle Seager on first and two out, Seager took off for second. Rookie catcher Wilin Rosario let loose with a wild throw to the shortstop side of the bag. Ackley broke from third. Second baseman Marco Scutaro came off the bag to spear the errant throw, then let loose a wild throw of his own back to the plate. It sailed wide of Rosario and Seattle had its first run. The Mariners plated another two-out run with a walk and a single before the Rocks finally escaped the top of the first, trailing 2-0.

When I asked Gonzalez what else he was referring to, he pointed out the team’s usual problems playing fundamental baseball.

“If there’s a guy on second base, we can’t be making big swings instead of just moving the runner,” he said. “That’s a free run for us. We always push the pedal at the end, but we’re going to fall short if we don’t do that early in the game. We had a couple opportunities with a runner on second and if you don’t get that guy to third base with no outs, you’re making it a lot more difficult for the guy right next to you. It’s always going to be that way if you don’t play smart baseball. That’s what I mean saying we need to play better baseball.”

Two cases Sunday fit his description. Cuddyer singled and stole second leading off the bottom of the second. Rosario followed with a big swing strikeout and Cuddyer never advanced beyond second. Eric Young Jr. singled and stole second leading off the fifth. Scutaro pulled a ground ball to short and Young had to stay put. He never advanced beyond second, either. Find a way to small-ball those runners home and the two runs the Rocks scored in the ninth are enough to tie it.

Which brings us to the starting pitching, the Rockies’ black hole so far. It let them down again Sunday. Away from Coors Field, veteran Jeremy Guthrie has been all general manager Dan O’Dowd hoped he would be (2-0, 1.86 ERA) when he acquired him from Baltimore last winter. At Coors Field, after Sunday’s outing, he is 0-2 with a 9.92 ERA.

Everybody knows about the challenges of pitching at high altitude, so I asked Guthrie if Coors Field presents problems for him.

“I haven’t pitched very well here so I can’t necessarily judge it by the field,” he said. “I just know I haven’t executed nearly enough pitches when I’ve pitched here, both falling behind guys and making poor pitches ahead in the count.”

Not sure if he understood the question, I asked if it’s harder to execute his pitches at Coors.

“It doesn’t seem any harder,” he said. “I mean, I haven’t done it as consistently as I have in the past, but I don’t know that it’s inherently any more difficult to do it here than it would be at another mound. It’s pretty much the same game.”

Many of the fixes that unhappy fans want wouldn’t necessarily change anything immediately. Fire Tracy, fire O’Dowd, fire pitching coach Bob Apodaca. It is the players on this year’s roster that are putting up the season’s dreary numbers, and you can’t fire them; at least, not all of them.

When O’Dowd fired Clint Hurdle in 2009, it was just six games later in the year (they were 18-28). But it was Hurdle’s eighth season at the helm and O’Dowd decided his voice had grown stale in the clubhouse. Tracy is in just his fourth season and there is no sign the front office has similar fears about him.

Firing Apodaca would suggest management believes the team’s pitching woes track back to the pitching coach. Fans tend to give coaches much more responsibility for players’ performances than team officials, who know just how often players pay attention to coaches and just how often they don’t. Still, if the club decides unhappy fans need a gesture, Apodaca might be the sacrificial lamb. The Rocks do have the worst team ERA in the National League.

Blaming O’Dowd makes the most sense because he assembled the roster that has performed so poorly so far. But front office firings seldom occur during the season and it’s only fair to point out that O’Dowd also built the Rockies teams that went to the playoffs two out of the past five seasons.

So for now, it’s on the players O’Dowd assembled. At 38, can Helton bounce back? At 27, will Tulowitzki ever learn to play within himself? Will some combination of young starting pitchers figure it out as the season goes on?

“We’re not playing well,” Helton said. “You’re obviously going to put more pressure on yourself to go out and win some games. We just need to start playing a little better. There’s no other way to put it.”

Hope is winning the argument now because there’s not that much of significance you can change during the season. But if hope doesn’t pan out, change is coming.


Rockies’ pitching staff in disarray

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.