In related news, Brawndo has what plants crave, the week has been an overall improvement for the hitting but not for the pitching, and I'm now on break, so if I want to be lazy, I damn well will be lazy. But since my dedication to bringing the best sarcasm to all you Rowbots outweighs my considerable sense of inertia, I will do my best to scrape together a flavour of the week's Sporting Contests and other sundry Occurrences of Some Note.
What's gone on in Ye Olde Lande o'Purple as Spring Training enters its fourth week? For a start, Chris "Oh So" Dreamy Iannetta has impressed mightily on the big stage, but Team USA did a bellyflop with a mercy-rule-shortened 11-1 loss against Puerto Rico last night, and tonight tries to stave off a second straight embarrassing elimination against tournament darlings the Dutch. (Before the Dutch shockingly eliminated powerhouse Dominican Republic, another of our friends, one Ubaldo Jimenez, set a Classic strikeout record against them with 10 punchouts).
We've also now completed the triumvirate of cliched spring training puff pieces ( "best shape of my life" and "yes-we-miss-Holliday-but-we-feel-confident" already accounted for) with the story of who's developed a cutter, as that has been admirably fulfilled by my imaginary schnookums, one Gregory Adam Reynolds. (For the record, I did call it). If this would just pair with his sinker and his sense of control (I'll resist) then it could go a long way towards clearing up the back of the rotation mess that is suddenly brewing on our hands.
JDLR has apparently stopped taking his shrink seriously, Greg Smith is dying of the Spanish influenza, * Jason Hirsh is a melted candy bar, Franklin Morales is not to be trusted, and Jason Marquis got bombarded by the Mariners' AAA lineup (which, considering their major league lineup won 61 games last year, is not a feather for his cap). In short, the rotation beyond Cook and Jimenez is suddenly in a state of flux, and one of the chief questions moving forward will be how that shapes up. If you take Hurdle seriously, Marquis and JDLR seemingly have their rotation spots backed up by Fort Knox-esque security, because after all, we wouldn't want to hold anyone accountable for results, now would we?
All right, it IS spring training. I'll leave off the snark until a 10-run disaster makes Hurdle realise he needs to make a change, 10 games too late. ** In short, the fifth-starter battle still has no clear winner. Time to take a look at this week's results.
* Slight exaggeration
** UNJINX UNJINX UNJINX
March 9: OFF
March 10: OAK 7 @ COL 14. 4-7
Nobody needs to guess what the big story of this game was. While it's a two-hour drive south from Phoenix to Tucson, and established MLB stars don't have to pay their dues on long, hot bus rides if they don't want to, Matt Holliday made sure that he made the trip to catch up with the guys he calls "my friends until I die." Matt was warmly welcomed back by the Hi Corbett faithful, signing some autographs and receiving a standing ovation; it's a shame that the A's and Rockies play each other in Oakland this year. Welcoming Big Daddy back to Coors will be a bittersweet moment, that's for sure. And for the record, Tulo's in support of it. His quote? "Maybe we can convince him to come back in free agency. I miss him." (While probably said with tongue somewhat in cheek, this does have a ring of truth. And also impossibility. There's a minor impediment named Scott Boras. Oh well).
As for the game itself, the Rockies finally discovered what you do when you're standing at the plate with a bat. They poured on 14 runs, led by 3 RBI performances from Spilly and Seth Smith, 2 from Sal :-C Fasano, and 4 from Yorvit; in short, it was a good day for catchers and outfielders. Garrett Atkins and Matt Murton each collected two hits and scored two runs, Tulo scored three runs, and Ian Stewart had a pinch-hit single. There doesn't seem to be much more he can do to force himself into the lineup, so let's just hope we don't have to suffer with Venison too long if he isn't hitting.
Unfortunately, JDLR lasted only one out and hacked up five runs to the A's, ensuring that the big onslaught was necessary before the Rockies came up to bat the first time. This prompted Patrick Saunders at the Post to speculate that the experiment was going horribly wrong, and for Hurdle to reassure JDLR that, remember, you just keep on doin' what you're doin'. But for the rest of us, it was time to get JDLR back to the shrink on the double, and hope for better results; Matt Daley (2 innings, 0 hits, 0 runs, 2 Ks) and Ryan Speier (2 innings, 2 hits, 0 runs, 3 strikeouts) helped pick up some of the slack. Brandon Hynick and Samuel Deduno allowed a run apiece, but the Rockies collected their fourth Cactus League win thanks to the bats.
March 11: COL 5 @ CLE 0. 5-7
Aaron Cook has apparently served notice that he plans on being every bit the pitcher that showed up for his '08 All-Star campaign, and that's great, as long as it's the first half (11-6, 3.57) and not the second (5-3, 4.71). Cook scattered 3 hits and 7 strikeouts through five spotless innings, and now sports a spring ERA of 1.93; however, most abnormally, he allowed 7 flyouts to only 1 grounder. Manny Corpas, JHOULYS CHACEEEEEN, and Shane Lindsay completed the blanking of the Tribe bats, allowing only two hits between them in four innings. The Machine also struck out a pair.
The Rox were powered offensively by Dan Ortmeier (3-4, 1 RBI) Matt Murton (2-3) and Christian Colonel, Ryan Spilborghs, and :-C, who collected an RBI apiece. Perhaps the most noteworthy event was Edwin Bellorin attempting to steal a base, and succeeding. Since none of Yorvit, CDI, :-C, or Bellorin are your prototypical speed demons, let's just hope that this means Hurdle has a twitchy trigger finger and this isn't the start of some brilliant new strategy. Yet the Rockies picked up their fifth straight win. Zomg.
March 12: COL 6 @ LAA 4. 6-7
In pocketing their sixth straight victory, the Rockies enjoyed a far more satisfying outcome than the last time Franklin Morales and John Lackey faced off (go refresh your memory if you really have to, I ain't doin' it for you). Frankie's outing wasn't blemish-free, as he allowed four hits and two runs in four innings, but it was a damn sight better than the pasting the Angels applied to him last time they had a look. Frankie also picked off two Angels and did not come to pieces after he balked, which was a significant accomplishment. Huston Street pitched a scoreless inning to succeed in getting his ERA under 20, but Jason Hirsh was dismal yet again, allowing three hits and two runs in two innings (although one was unearned, it was thanks to his own throwing error). It looks more and more as if he'll be ticketed for the Springs once the season starts, and let's hope that Bucky, who has turned out to be our only valuable piece from the Jennings deal, gets back fast. We want our lemur.
Offensively, Ian Stewart was back to submitting his application for the whoopass club, as he cranked a three-run homer off John "Fuggo" Lackey and finished up with a tidy 4 RBI. Dan Ortmeier, who looks fairly useful for a former Giant, also hit his second spring homer, and Clint Barmes contributed the sixth run with an RBI single. On a not-so-encouraging note, Carlos Gonzalez went 0-3, although he did walk once and managed to avoid striking out, but is now batting .150 for the spring. Eck. Still, a win is a win, and it's nice to get a measure of revenge on the Angels for last week.
March 13: SF 7 @ COL 3. 6-8.
All good things must come to an end, particularly winning streaks, but it's always extra annoying when they do so in extra innings against a division rival. Greg Reynolds had a serviceable outing, allowing six hits and three runs in four innings, but it all came in the third, as he used double plays to escape baserunners in both the first and second frames. (No report on how the cutter helped out). Juan Morillo, Manny, the Dragonslayer, and Randy Flores combined to not be too offensive, each allowing one hit, and the game went into the 10th tied at three. Whereupon Steven Register took it upon himself to prevent a tie (like kissing your sister, amirite?) by allowing six hits and four runs, including a leadoff homer, to end the game swiftly in San Francisco's favour. He was not helped by the second of two errors from Chris Nelson, who seems to have inherited EY2's early fielding fail.
Offensively, there was nothing much to write home about, as the Rockies got an RBI apiece from the Toddfather, Spilly, and Dex. It was a cavalcade of LOB FAIL (the usual Rockies modus operandi, in short) as CarGo, Spilly, Ortmeier, Stewart, and Seth Smith each left runners on with 2 outs, 8 in total. Still working on the speed game, Spilly and EY2 each swiped a bag, but that was about it. Irritating way to lose a streak. Tomorrow would be more irritating, never fear.
March 14: Rainiers 10 @ COL 5. 6-9.
On Pi Day, the Rockies did get pied, and they didn't have the benefit of taking it in the kisser from a major league team. The Mariners' Tacoma squad took it to them for the tune of 17 runs on 10 hits, 9 of the former and 5 of the latter given up by Jason Marquis; his spring ERA abruptly ballooned to 7.94. Matters were not helped by Jason Grilli, back from the WBC, getting nicely crisped for three hits and two runs in his only inning of work, which Cedrick Bowers outdid in fail by allowing three runs while only getting one out. (Take that, Grilli). Ryan Speier, competing for one of the bullpen spots opened up by Bucky's absence, continued to keep his spring ERA at a nice even 0.00, walking one and allowing a hit but striking out a pair.
Since the scrubs are playing a lot more (funny, I seem to recall Hurdle saying it would be the other way around) it was the scrubs who collected the runs; Barmes was the only projected regular with an RBI. Pods, :-C, Matt Miller, and Bellorin got the other four, but Dex went 3-for-4 at the top of the lineup, leading to further hope that he'd be ready to patrol center field on Blake Street around midseason or so. Helton and Hawpe did start, but neither got a hit; since they were facing lefties, this is a noteworthy but miniscule-sample-size event. A loss. Irritating. Yurk.
March 15: COL 9 @ LAD 5. 7-9
The Rockies got back on the winning track with JDLR's best outing of the spring, a three-inning, one-hit, no-run, two-strikeout performance; apparently he's been listening to his shrink again. Matt Belisle allowed a run in two frames of work, but Brandon Hynick was the one to absorb the damage of the Blue bats, as he yakked up four in just 1.2 innings. He also allowed six hits and didn't strike anyone out, so it didn't appear as if he was missing many bats. While he has enjoyed remarkable success at AA, Hynick is the kind of soft-tosser who may start to lose his lustre as he moves to higher levels and faces better competition, so it's worth remarking on. Maybe another season down in Tulsa or the Springs will help straighten him out, but we've already got a surfeit of 4th/5th starter types and really need someone to stand out in a crowded field.
Spilly cranked his first spring homer in his first at-bat, and apparently came close to a second in his second, later adding a sac fly to finish with 2 RBI. He's looking good in the top spot, with a .310 spring average and 3 stolen bases, so if he can keep this up, then we won't miss Willy T's speed (which was about his only redeeming quality, offensively). Spilly's always had some pop in his bat and isn't one of the guys who needs to figure out to steal first before he'll be unstoppable, so hopefully he's up for a full season as the catalyst. I hear actually having the leadoff guy on base is conducive to scoring runs.
JoKo, Tulo, and Quintanilla each collected RBIs with two outs (2, in Q's case) which may give hope that all our situational drills are working. I have noticed several more productive outs (groundball and sac fly RBIs) and once the hitting restrictions are off, the offense does appear to be rounding into form. A win is a win and hopefully JDLR (aka Hamlet) won't be back to debating to pitch well or not to pitch well, that is the question. We could, you know, use a little consistency here. Also, although they scored nine runs, they left 11 guys on base, so the margin could have been a lot wider than it was.
What's to Worry? The pitching is again positioning itself to be the cause of many desperate grabs for defibrillators and oxygen masks, as the starting rotation looks like a bit of a big gluey mess beyond those persons not surnamed Jimenez or Cook. Of course, since signing guys who COULD be good but usually AREN'T is generally our plan for brilliant attack, there you have it. Marquis will probably be good for double-digit wins and a high-4 ERA (maybe higher, maybe lower, depending on how his success at Coors Field in a limited sample size translates) but you can't count on JDLR for successive good innings, much less successive good outings, so maybe he'll start to establish a little.... what was that word? Oh yeah. Consistency.
Also, despite Hurdle saying the starters would play more, we've seen a lot of Colonel, Fasano, Podsednik, Quintanilla, etc. Hopefully that's planning to change soon, as games have been underway for almost a month and it's definitely time to get the regulars acclimated to playing more than every three days for four or five innings. Of course, there's striking the balance between getting them their reps and wearing them out, but still.
What's to Like? The offense does appear to be cohering nicely, which is a welcome change from the general futility of last week. Tulo is also starting to find his stroke, as he went 2-4/2 RBI today, but in all honesty, he tore up the place last spring and then went MIA for April, so I'm pretty convinced of the worthlessness of spring stats in measuring his progress. He was able to come back and rake at a consistent clip during the second half of last year, and I think he'll be just fine. I mean, when Clint Hurdle is personally supplying you with inspirational literature, what can go wrong?
What's on Tap? JHOULYS CHACIN will start against the D-backs tomorrow, as Aaron Cook will get in his work in a B-game so the Snakes don't start getting familiar with him (yeah, like that's going to make much difference... they've faced him how many times, now?) But Rockies fans will appreciate the chance to see the Machine in action (or at least hear him, as FSN Rocky Mountain doesn't start televising games until March 22 against Cleveland) and a good outing would be satisfying on multiple levels. The Rockies then play the Royals (AUGH!!) on Tuesday, and to judge from recent Rockies/Royals games, it will be absolutely excruciating and end in some kind of inventive loss. They're off on Wednesday before taking on the Dodgers again on Thursday, the Rangers at home on Friday, the Rangers on the road on Saturday, and Cleveland at home on Sunday -- the date of that tantalising first broadcast with our friends Jeff Huson and George Frazier. But it'll be spring baseball, and it'll be the Rockies, and all will be sunshine and roses.
As long as they win, that is.