Tag Archives: Jeremy Guthrie

Rockies sign a pitcher not freaked out by Coors Field

In their never-ending quest for a veteran starter who can eat innings and provide leadership, the Rockies traded for Jeremy Guthrie a little more than a year ago. The move was a disaster on many levels.

Guthrie went 3-9 with a 6.35 earned-run average before being unceremoniously shipped off to Kansas City at mid-season. The Rockies paid a reported $7.1 million of his $8.2 million salary for this embarrassing performance.

Worse, Guthrie visibly freaked out trying to pitch at Coors Field, doffing his cap to the crowd sarcastically after one brutal outing and suggesting to the outside world that the Rocks’ home ballpark can drive a normal pitcher crazy. Or, at least semi-normal in Guthrie’s case.

In effect, the Rockies traded Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom, whom they shipped to Baltimore for Guthrie, for broken-down Jonathan Sanchez, whom they received from Kansas City as a consolation prize when they got rid of him. Hammel was good, if fragile, for the Orioles, starting 20 games and going 8-6 with a 3.43 ERA. Sanchez was even worse than Guthrie for the Rocks, going 0-3 with a 9.53 ERA.

So when the Rocks went back out on the market a year later still looking for a veteran starter, they were a bit hamstrung. To pay major dollars to a starter who had never pitched in Colorado was now a verb. They did not want to be Guthried again. When I asked reliever Matt Belisle, who has thrived at Coors Field, how you can tell if a pitcher has what it takes mentally to pitch there, he said candidly that there’s no way to know until he does it. Not very comforting in a game in which every contract is fully guaranteed.

So the Rocks passed on the expensive free agent pitchers and seemed prepared to enter the season with what they had until Seattle obligingly released Jon Garland near the end of spring training. It was a little puzzling considering that in four spring starts for the Mariners, he’d given up three runs and 10 hits in 12 innings for a 2.25 ERA. If those results weren’t good enough, it’s not exactly clear why Seattle signed him in the first place.

“I was actually a little surprised, but then again, there’s more than just baseball, there is a business going on and they have to value certain things and certain moves that they’re going to make,” Garland said on the Dave Logan Show. “You know what, it came down to them making that decision and there’s no hard feelings there. Things work out for a reason and Colorado was able to pick me up and give me an opportunity.”

A first-round draft pick by the Cubs (tenth overall) in 1997, Garland is a 6-foot-6-inch, 210-pound horse who has taken the ball every fifth day for most of his career. He has made at least 32 starts in a season nine times.

In eight seasons with the White Sox — this just in: the Cubs made a bad trade — he won 92 games, including back-to-back 18-win seasons. Since then, he’s bounced around, always earning double-digit wins — 14 for the Angels in 2008, 11 for the Diamondbacks and Dodgers in 2009, 14 for the Padres in 2010 — before suffering a shoulder injury in 2011. He had surgery and was out of baseball in 2012, which is why he had to begin the tryout process all over again this spring. Still, he certainly looked healthy in his spring work for Seattle.

“The arm’s doing good,” he said. “I had the surgery in 2011 and took all of 2012 off to rehab and get it stronger. Being in the position I was in, pretty much already throwing a career, that was kind of a luxury that some guys don’t have. But so far this spring, everything’s been really good. It’s been responding well. It’s been bouncing back really well after games. To me, that was the biggest key coming in. I knew it was strong and I knew we were going to be fine, it was just how would it respond after a game, after throwing four, five, six innings and being ready for the next bullpen and the next game. And it’s done really well.”

Garland has thrown at least 190 innings in nine seasons, 200 or more in six. In his lone start for the Rocks in Scottsdale, he threw six innings and gave up one run. At 33, if his shoulder is sound, he should have plenty left in the tank.

“I want to make all my starts and I want to give the team a chance to win every time I’m on the field,” he said. “If I can get to the 200-inning mark, I think that would be a good accomplishment because that means you’re staying out on the field and the manager thinks you’re pitching well enough to give the team a chance to win.”

OK, fine, but what about the elephant in the room? What about Coors Field?

“I think that’s the biggest problem starting pitchers (have) coming in there, is they start to worry about it,” he said. “Is the ball going to carry? What’s going to happen here? My overall feeling is if you keep the ball down and you throw strikes and you work quick, you’re going to get outs regardless of what stadium you’re in.

“I think the biggest thing is just try and maintain that hydration there in Colorado because you don’t really bounce back as strong. But I think overall just the fact that people go in there and they hear so many bad things, I mean, I’ve played in parks that played smaller than that and the ball’s carried just as good. So, like I said, if you keep the ball down and you throw strikes, it doesn’t matter where you’re at, you’re going to get outs.”

Unlike Guthrie, who had never started a game at Coors Field until the Rockies acquired him, Garland actually has a little experience with the barnyard on Blake Street. He’s started three games there — one in 2009 as a member of the Diamondbacks and two in 2010 as a member of the Padres. In the first, he pitched seven innings and gave up three runs. In the second, he pitched six innings and gave up four runs. In the third, he pitched seven innings and gave up three runs, two of them earned. Overall, that’s an ERA of 4.05, very respectable for the ballpark sometimes mistaken for a pinball machine.

If it weren’t for the shoulder issue, you might question whether Garland should be subjected to the pitch counts the Rocks imposed last season in an effort to keep their pitchers healthy. Reportedly, last year’s 75-pitch count will be relaxed to 90 or thereabouts this season. Garland threw 102 in each of his first two starts at Coors, 86 in the third.

On the other hand, he wasn’t pitching there regularly in those days and there is the matter of recovery he mentioned — starters don’t tend to bounce back quite as quickly at high elevation. Coming off major shoulder surgery, Garland is a health risk, which is probably why he was available to Colorado in the first place.

Familiar with Rockies personnel from his stints pitching for Arizona, Los Angeles and San Diego, Garland believes the club will be formidable offensively so long as its two cornerstones, Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki, stay healthy.

“As an opposing pitcher coming in and facing a lot of these guys, when they’re healthy and they’re right, it’s a damaging lineup,” he said.

“You have to be careful up and down that lineup and you have to makes sure to get the guys at the top of the lineup out. Otherwise, you can be in big trouble each and every inning. But I think the biggest key for this lineup is keeping Carlos Gonzalez and Tulo healthy. You keep those two guys healthy, everybody around them becomes better players. They start seeing better pitches, they start getting a little more selective, getting on base a little bit more and it all kind of gets rolling from there.”

However it works out, the Garland acquisition is thoroughly low-risk for the Rocks. His one-year deal is worth $500,000, so if he flames out, it’s not a big financial hit. A younger former first-round pick, Drew Pomeranz, is waiting in the wings just in case.

Garland’s experience pitching at Coors Field means it won’t be a complete shock to his system, as it was to Guthrie’s. And his history as a volume innings-eater suggests that if his repaired shoulder holds up, he just might be that stable veteran the Rocks have been looking for.


How to pitch at Coors Field

Jeremy Guthrie might be this season’s highest-profile meltdown of a pitcher new to Coors Field, but he’s not exactly the lone ranger:

Guillermo Moscoso had an earned-run average of 3.38 last season for Oakland, mostly as a starter. Obtained by the Rockies with Josh Outman in exchange for outfielder Seth Smith, his ERA was 8.23 in two big league stints before being returned to the minor leagues. It was 11.21 at Coors; 2.79 elsewhere.

Outman had a 3.70 ERA for the A’s last season. In his first year with the Rocks, that number is 9.00. He, too, has been returned to the minors.

Tyler Chatwood, obtained from the Angels for catcher Chris Iannetta, had an ERA of 4.75 in the American League as a 21-year-old. At 22, for the Rocks, his ERA is 7.62. Like the others, he is now a minor leaguer.

So it seems worth getting some insight into the specific difficulties pitchers face making their pitches in the less-dense air a mile above sea level. Unfortunately, when you go looking for big league hurlers who found a way to succeed at Coors and are willing to talk about it, you find it’s a pretty small group.

No one has taken the mound more often for the Rockies over the past three seasons than reliever Matt Belisle. He led the team in appearances two years ago with 76 and again last year with 74. This season he leads with 45 through 88 games, one back of the league leader, Shawn Camp of the Cubs. In a year in which the Rocks were determined to get Belisle’s appearances below 70, he’s on a pace for 83.

He also leads the club in earned-run average at 2.25, a number that was 1.88 before he was charged with two runs Saturday night against the Phillies. The previous two seasons he compiled ERAs of 2.93 (2010) and 3.25 (2011) — microscopic by Rockies standards. His splits this year are 2.92 at Coors and 1.54 elsewhere.

He wasn’t feeling great Saturday night after giving up two extra-base hits down the right field line in the ninth, but he was accommodating, as always. I started by asking if there are pitches he eliminates from his repertoire at altitude or pitches he relies on more at sea level.

“I guess the answer to that question is yes,” he said. “Do I eliminate? No. I know what happens to the spin or the bite, so to speak, on my off-speed pitches here compared to other places. The break size is going to be different. Sometimes the speed is different. So I’ve had to learn how to adapt my sights, my vision of where I’m releasing the ball, to make sure that I compensate for the lack of bite. So I guess what I’m trying to say is when we leave here, my rotation seems a little tighter and I get better snap on my pitches.

“All that means is I have to adapt and focus more on locating here and when I do mix speeds, to make sure that the arm speed’s there and the approach is extremely aggressive. When you’re feeling good with your spin, sometimes you can get away with sort of flipping one in there. You can’t do that here. That kind of got me in trouble tonight, actually.

“So I think it’s just an adaptability of focus. Is it a change? Yes. How significant it is I think is up to the person.”

Although Rockies pitchers tend to avoid talking about the effects of altitude publicly for fear of sounding like they’re making excuses, they do discuss it frequently among themselves. Complicating those discussions is the fact that altitude seems to act differently on each pitcher and each pitch. There are few rules that work for everybody.

“We’ve all talked about it in here,” Belisle said. “Some people have their arsenal change in similar fashions and some are a little different. So I think it’s up to the individual to really acknowledge what you have and what’s going on and just really focus on (keeping the ball) lower and understanding that the break will be a little different.

“Five out of seven of the guys in the bullpen may say their curve ball suffers, but two of them may say, ‘Actually my curve ball’s great; it’s my slider that has problems.’

“But that’s the same phenomenon as one guy can throw the exact same baseball and it feels like a bowling ball and the other guy, it feels light. It’s what he can do with the snap. So there is a change. It’s just something you have to adapt to.”

The modern emphasis on radar guns and computerized strike zones on television may give fans the impression that pitching is science, but it’s much more art. From one outing to another, a pitcher’s feel of his pitches may change dramatically. Altitude adds yet another variable.

Breaking pitches are more vulnerable because, lacking the velocity of the fastball, they sit up begging to be crushed if they lack their customary snap. But the lighter air can also affect the downward plane of the sinker, or two-seam fastball, leaving it, like the breaking ball, sitting up too high in the strike zone.

“It could be all of them, but I think everybody’s more affected with the breaking balls, the off-speed pitches,” Belisle said. “The fastball/sinker does change a little bit as well. Sometimes it may run instead of really corkscrew down.

“Then when you go on the road, you’ve got to kind of make sure and re-set because all of a sudden the bite’s a little more, so the same pitch that was a strike for my curve ball may be a ball if I’m throwing it at the exact same release point, so I’ve got to kind of change that.”

So you have a different release point at altitude than you do at sea level?

“Yeah, because my sight has to change. We’re talking very small.”

Is that a mechanical adjustment?

“Well, not so much a mechanical adjustment as it is the timing of when I release the pitch, when I say it’s a different release point.”

So it’s the same arm slot, but you may have to release the ball a little earlier or a little later?

“Correct. I may have to get rid of the ball a little later in Colorado and not even think about it so much on the road. But if I’m here for a week and then go on the road, while I’m playing catch, I’ll get a feel of, OK, that one was a strike in Colorado but now it’s a ball because it bit a lot more.”

So the pitch that was a strike in Colorado ends up in the dirt at sea level because of the added break?

“Right. But my biggest thing is, it’s not a crutch. It’s not an excuse. It’s just, it is what it is. It’s a condition that we have to work with. The same thing if you get a ball that the rub is really bad or if you’ve got a wet ball that day.

“There’s plenty of things that are thrown at us to try to gain inconsistency in this game. I don’t think we need to allow any of this to be an excuse or a crutch because we’re here long enough to where we can adapt to it. It’s significant, it is something there, but you just have to really be on top of yourself to work on it every day, understand what you need to do.”

I asked if Belisle has noticed fellow pitchers who have trouble dealing psychologically with these constant adjustments.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I know we all talk about it. I know anybody who’s new that comes over here in the past four years that I’ve been here, we talk about it and address it. But that’s up to the individual. We as teammates need to make sure we’re not using anything as an excuse, but whatever cards you’re dealt, whatever you feel that day, you’ve got to figure out and adapt how you’re going to get the guy out because you sure as heck can.

“Maybe some people can use it as a negative, but I try to look at it as an opportunity. If I can become so adept at understanding what my pitches are doing, make those adjustments here and then go on the road and feel like I’ve got even more snap with better, nasty, slow-speed pitches, and then we come here and I can adapt to that again, where a visiting team comes in and really has a tough time because they don’t play here, I feel like that’s an opportunity for me to learn myself better and really take it as a mental challenge to be tougher, because I will not allow excuses. So I look at it more as an opportunity. It’s a fight, but it’s an opportunity.”

I pointed out the dramatic deterioration in the numbers of all four potential starters — Guthrie, Moscoso, Outman and Chatwood — brought in from other organizations this year. These were adequate major league pitchers last season who suddenly can’t get anybody out, I said.

“Yeah. I don’t know what to tell you,” Belisle said. “I mean, pitching’s not easy, period. But all I can say is acknowledge that with most people there is a change in your stuff. And we all have to adapt and be on top of that. You have to do that to the best of your ability and look at it as an opportunity and do not use it as an excuse.”

You can see where the need for constant adjustments in release point would seem like a nightmare from an organizational point of view. The goal of many pitching coaches is to get their charges to find the right delivery mechanics and then repeat them over and over until they become second nature. If you’re constantly fiddling with your release point depending on where you’re pitching, that consistency of repetition is impossible to achieve.

Many fans point to opposing pitchers who come to Colorado and dominate in a single outing — say, C.J. Wilson of the Angels before the All-Star break or Cole Hamels of the Phillies on Sunday. But pitching at Coors once a year is very different from pitching there on a regular basis. Mike Hampton succeeded for half a season before crashing. Ubaldo Jimenez had a sensational first half in 2010 (15-1, 2.20), wilted in the second half (4-7, 3.80) and has not been the same since. It’s not clear if the wear is more mental or physical.

At the All-Star game, Wilson said he basically eliminated his two-seam fastball in his lone start here because he had more confidence in the lateral movement of his cutter than the downward movement of his sinker at altitude. But in a park that puts such a premium on keeping the ball down, the Rocks as an organization can hardly afford to eliminate the two-seamer from the staff repertoire.

Still, as Guthrie demonstrated Saturday night, it can take an inning to get a feel for the release point that keeps the ball down and one bad inning at Coors can be all it takes to ruin a start.

It’s also probably easier for relievers such as Belisle to make those constant adjustments since each outing is so much shorter than it is for starters. This is one of the reasons for the Rockies’ recent pitch limits on starters — to make their focus more like that of a reliever.

It’s not clear whether the failure of any Rockies starter to sustain success over a career is a function of the extra physical effort required to make balls move at altitude, the potential for injury created by constantly changing release points or the mental strain of the battle.

But Belisle’s description of his mental approach suggests that perhaps the most important attribute of a pitcher donning a Rockies uniform is mental discipline — the ability to view pitching at altitude as a challenge rather than a conspiracy to ruin his numbers. Consciously or subconsciously, the pitchers who have failed here most spectacularly seemed to blame altitude, not themselves, for their issues. Belisle, by contrast, has been a better pitcher here than he was during his previous stint in Cincinnati.

This remains the essential dilemma of big-league baseball a mile high. The effects of altitude are real; any honest pitcher will tell you that. To succeed here, a pitcher has to adjust for those effects and adjust back at sea level without resorting to the defense mechanism of blaming all those changes when things go wrong. It’s a tough psychological line to walk, and it’s tougher still to predict how any particular pitcher will deal with it before he gets here. Twenty years in, the Rocks remain a long way from a solution.


The latest Coors Field casualty

If you happened to be among the 35,151 people who paid (or managed a ticket from someone who had) to see the Rockies play the Phillies on Saturday night, you saw the most recent version of the species of baseball player known as the Coors Field casualty.

Jeremy Guthrie has joined a small but distinguished group of pitchers (and one manager) who were driven to distraction and ultimately defeated by Coors Field, or by the altitude at which it sits. Each retreated into his own defensive bubble, refusing to acknowledge the elephant in the ballpark because they couldn’t accept their inability to overcome it.

Keep in mind Guthrie was acquired over the offseason to be the veteran leader of the pitching staff. Looking over his previous three seasons, Rockies management saw a horse who never missed a start, threw 200 or more innings every year, pitched for lousy teams in Baltimore and never complained. What they got was the opposite — a head case who can’t show leadership to the Rocks’ young pitchers because he can’t get out of his own way.

One sarcastic gesture — tipping his cap to the crowd as one of his early exits was accompanied by a symphony of boos — offered all the insight necessary into the psychological shield he has raised to protect himself from what no doubt seem like the slings and arrows of some strange and foreign planet.

Following his ninth loss in 12 decisions Saturday night, when he gave up four runs, all in the first inning, and came out in the fifth, this was Guthrie’s post-game session with the inquiring minds:

Q: So what’s your diagnosis? What happened in the first inning?

A: Just a, you know, got behind to (Carlos) Ruiz and he took a good hack and, you know, a three-run homer.

Q: That’s it? What about the hits that led up to that?

A: You know, the fastball away, 1-0 count, off the plate a little bit, (Chase Utley) did a nice job to punch in (Shane) Victorino. Victorino was a fastball up in the zone, 0-2, tried to elevate it, got it at his letters but he did a nice job and hit it into the gap. I walked (Ryan) Howard, I think it was on five pitches, got behind him. I think that’s all the hits. I think that’s all the results of the first inning.

Q: Especially after the first inning, you were able to keep it under control after that, do you feel like you have a pretty good pattern, at least here at home?

A: I think so. I mean, I’ve got the longest scoreless streak of my career at Coors, so there’s a lot of positives to build on. It’s a career low in runs allowed in a start as well. So there’s positives to build on and you’ve got to take what you can and go for it.

Q: At this point is it trying to just build on something like that, considering how it’s gone so far?

A: Yeah. You always find the positives and try to build on ’em. That’s what I try to do. That’s the kind of person I am and if it works out I’m pleased; if it doesn’t, I’ll keep that same attitude in baseball and in life.

Q: Jeremy, was it self-evident to you from the first inning what you needed to adjust or did anybody have a chat with you between the first and second?

A: No, no chat. It came down to one pitch, really. Three-one. The Utley pitch wasn’t a mistake. It was where I was trying to go. The Victorino pitch was where I was trying to throw it. The walk is not what I was trying to do. I look at it every at-bat, every pitch. You look at four runs and you just think the world’s coming to an end, but it really came down to one big pitch, to Ruiz, to one of the best hitters in the league right now.

When the brief group session was over, I asked Guthrie if I could ask him a couple of further questions, one-on-one.

“No,” he said. “Thank you.” And then he hightailed it out of the clubhouse.

Now, granted, this refusal could well be because of my personal charm. Guthrie would not be the first athlete who, given a choice, declined an opportunity to spend any more time than necessary answering my questions. But he also gave me a flashback to the most famous Coors Field casualty of the Rockies’ first 20 years, who gave me a similar response when I tried to talk to him one-on-one about pitching here.

In 2001, Mike Hampton got the biggest contract ever given to a pitcher at the time — eight years, $121 million. He’s the poster boy of Coors Field casualties. The Rockies broke the bank to sign him after coming off consecutive (pre-humidor) seasons in which their starters pitched to earned-run averages of 6.19 and 5.59, numbers that might sound familiar if you’ve followed this year’s team, whose starters are currently at 6.06.

Hampton had gone 37-12 over the previous two seasons for the Astros and Mets. He was a power sinker ball pitcher, exactly what their home launch pad seemed to demand. So the Rocks overpaid in a big way to snare the top free agent pitcher of the year.

His first start was awe-inspiring. He threw 8 1/3 innings of five-hit, shutout ball at Coors Field against the Cardinals. On June 10, when he beat the Cardinals again, he was 9-2 with a 2.98 ERA and a National League All-Star for the second time.

From there, it went downhill in a hurry. By the end of July, he had lost six of his previous seven decisions and the ERA had swelled to 4.97. His jaw tightened in post-game interviews. He retreated to formulaic answers, just as Guthrie has, reciting his pitches in a bland monotone the way a golfer recites his shots. This pitch missed, that pitch got too much of the plate. He denied any larger issues. The competitor in him would not allow him to acknowledge them, at least not publicly.

He finished the season with a record of 14-13 and an ERA of 5.41. For a pitcher who had put up ERAs of 2.90 and 3.14 the two previous seasons, it was impossible to accept. He couldn’t have suddenly forgotten how to pitch. It had to be the park. The park or the altitude; either way, this $%&* place!

By his second year, Hampton was such a mess that his road ERA exceeded his Coors Field ERA, which is not the case for Guthrie. At sea level, Guthrie has been the guy the Rocks traded for — actually a little better than the guy they traded for — pitching to an ERA of 3.67. True, he’s only 2-4, but he’s used to pitching pretty well and losing; it happened all the time with the Orioles.

But in Colorado he’s now 1-5 with an ERA of 9.23. In body language and impassive post-game postmortems, he seems to be all but shouting, Get me outta here!

For Hampton, the splits didn’t matter as much as the general deterioration. The harder he gripped the ball, the more he tried to force it to do what he wanted, the less it did. Again, this was pre-humidor, when many pitchers attributed the absence of break in their pitches to the feel of the baseball, which they said was slick as a billiard ball.

Relatively successful hurlers at Coors — the few, the proud — adjust to the reduced movement of their pitches in the less-dense air at altitude, and then adjust back when they go to sea level. By the end of his second and final season with the Rockies — he went 7-15 with a 6.15 ERA — Hampton wanted nothing but to follow Bob Seger’s advice and get out of Denver. The Rocks obliged, but the financial burden of his fully guaranteed contract — and those they took on in exchange for it — haunted them for years.

The original Coors Field casualty was Greg Harris, a breaking ball specialist, and he didn’t even pitch at Coors Field. The Rocks were playing at Mile High Stadium during their inaugural season when they traded for two Padres starters — Harris and Bruce Hurst. Harris had burst on the scene as a reliever in his early years in San Diego, his out pitch a devastating 12-to-6 curve ball.

The Padres converted him into a starter in 1991. He was 10-9 with a 3.67 ERA when the Rocks traded for him on July 26, 1993. After his arrival, he went 1-8 with a 6.50 ERA. His curve no longer broke; it just spun up to the plate with a little sign on it that said, “Hit me!”

The following season, 1994, he went 3-12 with a 6.55 ERA. When the season was over, the Rocks released him. He was 30 and he was done. The Twins gave him a shot the following year. He went 0-5, 8.82 and called it a career.

Another Coors Field casualty was not a pitcher at all. Manager Jim Leyland quit on the Rocks in 1999, walking away from the final two years of his contract. The club lost 90 games that year and Leyland decided he couldn’t manage in a place where he didn’t recognize the game.

We now add Guthrie to the list. Jason Hammel, the starter for whom he was traded, is 8-6 for the Orioles with a 3.54 ERA. Indignant fans want general manager Dan O’Dowd fired for making such a terrible trade. Of course, Hammel was 7-13 with a 4.76 ERA last season for Colorado. If you don’t think altitude has a lot to do with both Hammel’s sudden improvement and Guthrie’s sudden deterioration, you haven’t been tracking this thing as long as the Rockies have.

For most of the past 20 years, Rocks management has declined to discuss the challenges of pitching at altitude in any detail. Acknowledge it, they figure, and you’ve given your pitchers a built-in excuse if they perform poorly. This year, they have acknowledged it in perhaps the most explicit way yet, switching to a four-man starting rotation with a limited pitch count.

O’Dowd admitted to season-ticket holders that the organization still hasn’t solved the riddle of pitching here. He also told them that starters who pitch a normal workload for three years at altitude tend to suffer debilitating injuries. The limited pitch count is an effort to prevent their pitchers from destroying themselves.

On the bright side, pitching successfully here is not impossible. In the next post on this blog, a conversation with someone who’s done it.


The Rockies’ desperate gambit

No one can say for certain who originated the popular aphorism, “Desperate times call for desperate measures,” although it goes back at least to the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, referring to people who were desperately ill.

Yup, the same dude who wrote the Hippocratic Oath, the one promising to do no harm, which is perhaps an oath baseball managers should also take, not that they can help themselves.

The Hippocratic Oath, by the way, was sworn to Apollo, Greek god of the sun. Just saying.

Perhaps the most succinct form of the sentiment comes from the Latin: “extremis malis extrema remedia.” Google Translate turns this into “the evils of the remedies,” which brings us to the Rockies.

I probably don’t need to explain why these are desperate times for the Rocks. Their starting pitching is as bad as it has ever been, going all the way back to the pre-humidor days when baseball games in the thin air a mile above sea level produced football scores and Rockies fans prayed for late field goals when Dante Bichette or Vinny Castilla came to bat with a couple of men on base.

This season’s early injury to Jhoulys Chacin, last year’s winningest starter, certainly didn’t help. Neither did the unexplained regression of rookie Drew Pomeranz, prize of the Ubaldo Jimenez trade. Nor the continued setbacks during rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery of Jorge De La Rosa, who has yet to pitch an inning of big-league ball this season after blowing out his elbow a year ago. That’s three starters the Rocks hoped to have in their rotation by now, and none of them is.

But by far the biggest disappointment has been Jeremy Guthrie, acquired over the winter in what right now looks like one of the worst trades in club history. The Rocks exchanged inconsistent starter Jason Hammel and reliever Matt Lindstrom for Guthrie. In Hammel’s most recent outing for Baltimore, he threw a one-hit, complete-game shutout over the Braves to improve his record to 7-2 and his earned-run average to 2.87.

Frankly, no screams of anguish filled my inbox when general manager Dan O’Dowd traded him following a 7-13, 4.76 campaign for the Rocks last season, but in retrospect he has become Rockies fans’ all-time favorite pitcher. This is mostly because of Guthrie, who has been, in a word, horrendous.

Following his latest horror show — according to one Twitter wag, it is now the Rockies Horror Pitching Show, derived from the old camp classic, the Rocky Horror Picture Show — Guthrie was summoned to manager Jim Tracy’s office on Tuesday in Philadelphia and informed he was being dropped from the starting rotation. A record of 3-6 and an ERA of 7.02 will often have that effect.

Rather than replace Guthrie with the next in line of the usual suspects, Tracy made a startling announcement. For the time being, the Rocks will operate with a rotation of four starters, not five, and each will be limited to about 75 pitches per start, owing to the fact that each will be pitching next on three days of rest rather than four.

This, then, is the Rockies’ desperate measure.

I texted Tracy in Philly this morning to see if he’d like to talk about it and he replied with a friendly personal note that also included this:

“Not much to say about it. As you and I have discussed in the past, we play in a very unique place and we’re just trying something different and we’ll see where it goes.”

Let me say at the outset that in the abstract, I am almost always in favor of trying something different. Baseball in particular has a tendency toward Orwell’s groupthink that I find maddening. A pitcher throws an eight-inning shutout, completely dominant, and the manager pulls him in favor of his “closer” in the ninth, who promptly blows it. I mention this only because the Cubs do it about once a week, or nearly every time Ryan Dempster pitches. But I digress.

So, in the abstract, I love the idea the Rocks are doing something that makes baseball fans everywhere scratch their heads. I mean, seriously, why not? What, exactly, do they have to lose? They already have the worst pitching in the game.

Unfortunately, decisions in baseball, like decisions in pretty much every other sphere of human activity, are not made in the abstract. They are made in the particular, the practical, the concrete, not to bring up the playing surface of the Phillies stadium that preceded the current one.

So let’s examine the particulars of the Rockies’ new plan. It has two basic elements. One is the four-man rotation, as opposed to the conventional five. The other is the 75-pitch limit, as opposed to the conventional (and mostly unspoken) 100-125, depending on the pitcher and circumstances. (The Mets’ Johan Santana was permitted to throw 134 against the Cardinals on June 1, mostly because he was throwing a no-hitter, but he had to convince his manager to let him finish.)

Baseball’s transition from the four-man to the five-man starting rotation is, frankly, a bit mysterious. It happened during my lifetime. In a remarkably short space of time, every team followed, like a troop of Pavlovian dogs.

I recall as if it were yesterday the 1971 Orioles staff. Mike Cuellar started 38 games that year. Jim Palmer and Pat Dobson started 37 apiece. Dave McNally started but 30, owing, if I recall, to an injury of some kind. They comprised the last big-league pitching staff with four 20-game winners (McNally won 21).

Cuellar finished 21 of his 38 starts. Palmer was right behind him with 20 complete games. Dobson had 18; McNally, 11. Dave Leonhard, a reliever who got six spot starts, finished one of those.

The major-league leader in starts that year was the Tigers’ Mickey Lolich, with 45. Forty years later, 2011’s leaders, eight of them, started 34 games apiece.

What happened? Have pitchers grown more feeble? While football, basketball and hockey players grow ever bigger, stronger and more athletic, are baseball players shrinking into fragile flowers? Has evolution mistaken them for ballet dancers?

Or is it just that they make way more money today and the people who run ballclubs and pay the large guaranteed salaries are scared to death of destroying their massive investments through overuse?

That’s a column for another day. Suffice it to say for now that ample historical evidence demonstrates a four-man rotation is not beyond the physical capability of the human species. If one team out of thirty wants to give it a try, I say, more power to it.

(Unfortunately, the Rockies are probably the one team out of thirty for which this experiment is least advisable, owing to the additional stress on the arm of trying to make pitches break and move with less air resistance a mile above sea level, a phenomenon to which any number of hurlers has testified over the club’s twenty-year history. Again, a subject for another day.)

It is the second element of the Rocks’ desperate measure that throws me off the track into the tumbleweeds. The central problem posed by the club’s sorry starting pitching this season has been the burden on the bullpen, which already leads the National League in innings pitched.

Ineffective starters have had to come out of games early, leaving too much of the game to be pitched by relievers, which wears them out and leaves them less effective when the Rocks are actually ahead late in a game, as rare as that is these days. Rather than solve that problem, the new strategy gilds it into club policy.

If a starter must come out after 75 pitches no matter what, even when the Rocks get that rarest of all silver moonbeams, an effective start, that rare masterpiece will have to end prematurely and the bullpen will have to be called upon, even if, for a change, it isn’t really needed.

The problem here is one of simple arithmetic. When Tracy moved Guthrie to the bullpen, he designated him one of two “long” relievers — the sort that comes into a game early when the starter comes out early. The other long man in the Rocks’ bullpen is Guillermo Moscoso.

So, when Tracy pulled starter Josh Outman on Day 1 of the experiment at 72 pitches with one out in the fifth inning, he called on Moscoso, who came on to finish the fifth and pitch the sixth, acting as a bridge to the (these days) normal bullpen innings — the seventh, eighth and (if necessary) ninth. This evening, one assumes, when Tracy pulls Alex White after 75 pitches, it will be Guthrie who serves as the bridge.

And what about tomorrow? Moscoso again? Are the two long men now sentenced to pitch multiple innings every other day? Does that sound like a good idea?

Maybe the Rocks are counting on occasionally getting a really efficient start in which 75 pitches get them into the sixth and no long man is required. But in the case of such a start, why the heck would you want to remove a guy pitching so efficiently? To follow some pre-ordained plan that makes no allowance for the common-sense notion that, Hey, this dude is pitching really well! Leave him alone!

The more pitchers you use in a game, the more likely you are to use one who is ineffective that particular day. If you have a system that guarantees you’re going to use four or five every single day, the chances at least one will blow up are pretty good.

Take Tuesday, Day 1 of the experiment. Adam Ottavino has been one of the Rockies’ best relievers this season. But he happened not to have it Tuesday. The third pitcher in, he gave up three runs in one inning of work. A 4-2 deficit became a 7-2 deficit. Game over.

The last time a baseball club decided the solution to its problems lay in a committee, it was the Cubs and their college of coaches in 1961 and ’62. The manager’s job rotated among seven coaches, every one of whom had a losing record. That will be the column’s final Cubs reference. Promise.

Common sense in baseball has always suggested this: When a pitcher is going well, leave him in there. When a pitcher is going badly, take him out. All sorts of “innovations” have worked against this simple principle. Managers routinely remove pitchers now simply because they throw with the wrong arm. A left-handed batter is coming up, therefore the right-handed reliever throwing well must come out and a left-handed reliever must come on. A pitcher throwing well must come out because his turn in the lineup is coming up (National League). And so on.

In short, the fewer arbitrary rules a team has, the more likely it is to follow common sense and allow effective pitchers to keep pitching. This should be the goal.

So, what’s the alternative for the Rocks, a team in admittedly dire straits? Well, I’m sorry to say, it’s not experimental and it’s not innovative. Sometimes the simplest solution is also the right one.

Moscoso, a 28-year-old right hander from Venezuela, started 21 games for Oakland last season, finishing with a record of 8-10 and an ERA of 3.38. When the Rocks obtained him and Outman from the A’s in exchange for Seth Smith last winter, they envisioned him as a candidate for the starting rotation. Unfortunately, Moscoso was terrible in spring training and about as bad during a brief (two starts) major-league audition. A demotion back to the minor leagues followed.

Since his return in early June, he’s been getting progressively better. Including his stint in relief of Outman on Tuesday, he has now pitched 6 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings in three relief appearances. He has earned another chance to start.

With youngsters Pomeranz and Tyler Chatwood trying to get their acts together in the minor leagues and Chacin, De La Rosa and Juan Nicasio working their way back from injuries, this need not be a permanent solution. But for now, it is the obvious one: Add Moscoso to the rotation as the fifth starter, replacing Guthrie. Trade Guthrie, a mental casualty of Coors Field, as soon as possible.

That leaves a starting rotation of White, Moscoso, Outman, Jeff Francis and Christian Friedrich. If, by some miracle, one of them pitches a really good game, Tracy can leave him in there to pitch as far as he can rather than remove him for no good reason because he’s hit an arbitrary pitch limit.

And if none of them ever does, well, the Rocks are right back to where they are now, ringing that bullpen phone too early.

I empathize with Tracy’s plight. And I admire his willingness to try something different in a league where groupthink often appears to be the only thinking going on. But sometimes, when you wrestle with a problem too long, you can just out-think yourself.

At times like those, it’s sometimes a good idea to take a break and pop in a DVD of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

“You just keep thinking, Butch,” says Sundance. “That’s what you’re good at.”


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.


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.