Tuesday Rockpile: Bent on the bruised bullpen

Chat: Chat with Buster Olney - SportsNation - ESPN
Buster Olney held a chat Monday on ESPN.com, which Rowbot holly96 highlighted in yesterday's Rockpile comments.  The biggest highlight:

I had a longtime evaluator tell me last night that the Rockies are two middle relievers away from being the best team in the NL — they’ve got a deep lineup (since Tulowitzki started hitting), a solid rotation (Aaron Cook could be the pitcher of the month in the NL), an excellent bench, and Huston Street has settled in as closer.

I'm sure the boys at TrueBlueLA would take exception to that evaluation, but for those of you pining for national respect, there you go.  This spring, that didn't appear to be the glaring weakness.  Jason Grilli had a poor stint and was jettisoned prematurely (he has a 2.16 ERA in 8.1 IP in Texas), Manuel Corpas has been injured and inconsistent, and then of course there's that Tommy John demon.

The bullpen does need help.  Only Huston Street and Alan Embree are holdovers from Opening Day. As currently constructed, the battle-of-the-bullpen-type games are the ones that place the Rockies are in most peril.  Check out these numbers:

2.02.  2.01.  2.29.  3.68.  3.52.

4.60.  4.91.  10.13.  7.08.  1.39.

The top line are the ERAs of the first five Dodgers used in the bullpen last night, with the Rockies' respective line.  Was there any reason to suspect we could pull it out?  Our pen certainly performed better than expected, allowing just two runs in five plus innings - on a 2-run HR that was a decent pitch by Joel Peralta, on his 39th pitch to boot.  The loss was in fact completely on the offense - the bullpen absolutely did their job.

Even then, their performance was ulcer-inducing after a flat scary weekend in Oakland.  Only Peralta had a perfect inning last night, and a Dodger reached scoring position in every inning except Peralta's perfect 11th.

Unfortunately, the bullpen's issues cannot be just contained within the bullpen.  Jim Tracy has already shown a preference not to lean on his pen, which means the innings have to get picked up somewhere - the starters.  The Rockies' most abused starting pitcher in 2008 was Ubaldo Jimenez, ranked 44th in Baseball Prospectus' Pitcher Abuse Points.  Given that he didn't miss a start, that is a notably low ranking.

Jimenez is higher up the list this year, 7th most abused in 2009.  In fact, he's one slot above Tim Lincecum, by far and away last year's abuse king, and we know how much Bruce Bochy is going to have to lean on him for the Giants' playoff aspirations.  Jason Marquis is 27th and Aaron Cook slips into the top 60.

I'm not sounding an alarm, but it is something to monitor.  Jimenez has proved durable and elastic in his career, but that wiry frame may not hold up if leaned on too heavily.  He has thrown over 100 pitches in 15 of his 16 starts (he tossed 91 in the other) and has thrown almost 44 IP in six June starts.  It's not Roy Halladay-esque, but Jimenez also doesn't have the long-term evidence he can withstand such dependency.

So who can help save the day and be one of those two middle relievers?  There are no relief prospects busting down the door from the minors, but Tracy Ringolsby reports that Manuel Corpas is playing catch.  He hasn't thrown a bullpen session yet, though he could in the next few days.  As of now, there's no timetable for his return, and I wouldn't depend on him being able to pitch through a bone chip.

Franklin Morales has pitched well recently in AAA (2-1, 1.47 ERA last 3 starts).  Thomas Harding reports that Morales is being considered for a bullpen spot, and Troy Renck confirms.  Since the rotation is the team's strength overall, there's no reason to disrupt it for Morales, who still hasn't done anything to prove he can outperform Jorge de la Rosa.

There are no current rumors connected to the Rockies and acquiring a reliever outside the organization, but the bullpen as currently constructed is the biggest threat to derailing the Rockies' post-season dreams.

 

Other Rockies Notes

For now, Atkins first choice to play third:  The Player of the Week honors for Ian Stewart only go so far.  He has struggled lately, so Garrett Atkins is our starting third baseman once again.  It will be at least a chance to showcase Atkins, whom the Mets have called about.

Spilborghs finds longball success off left-handers:  Spilly shows why he would be starting against left handed starters.  Given the glut of talented outfielders on the roster, that probably should be where he gets 90+% of his starts.

Tracy thriving in third managerial stint - FOX Sports on MSN
Tracy Ringolsby brings some national attention to Jim Tracy's influence on the Rockies in his latest FOXSports piece.

Troy Renck posted his latest Mailbag in which he states "it would be the upset of the century if Tracy doesn't land the job full time [in 2010] given how the Rockies have responded under his watch."  That might be a bit premature and dramatic, but he's probably right.

Saunders: Dealing Dan now holds aces:  Patrick Saunders touches on many thoughts, one of which being the Matt Holliday trade, which he calls a "masterstroke."

 

Off the Map Notes

Using HITf/x to measure skill -- The Hardball Times:  The Hardball Times' Peter Jensen just posted an in depth article on how to use HITf/x to measure a hitter's skill.  I highly recommend the read if it's a lazy day.  Also, Brad Hawpe makes the list as the 10th "luckiest" MLB hitter, while Aaron Cook is MLB's 7th most "unlucky" starter.

A Minor Slugfest | FanGraphs Baseball
The Mariners and Padres can't hit, but their High-A clubs can.  The two teams combined for 51 runs on 58 hits in a single game.

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