Pitching isn't the first thing to come to mind -- at least, not in 2014 -- when you think about the Colorado Rockies. Nor should it be; the Rockies finished the season with a HOO-BOY-THAT-SURE-IS-TERRIBLE 88 ERA+, one of the worst marks ever posted in a single season by a franchise that is known for being horrendous on the mound.
That doesn't mean there weren't some bright spots. A young trade acquisition immediately cemented his spot in the Rockies' rotation by putting together a string of good outings and even a great one here and there, as you'll see below. A struggling reliever found his old form in one magical inning during an improbable series in San Francisco. And, a rookie hurler made an immediate impact upon his arrival in the big leagues, then gave the Rockies one of their best starts ever later on for good measure.
Here are the nominees for Rockies Pitching Performance of the Year, in chronological order:
1) May 5: Lyles pitches into the 9th
Jordan Lyles became the first Rockies pitcher to pitch into the ninth inning in 2014 on May 5, allowing only two runs in eight complete frames in Colorado's 8-2 win over Texas. The outing on its own might have been fairly ordinary; Lyles finished with a game score of 66 and allowed eight runners to reach base. But the then-23-year-old right-hander had been fighting to show he belonged in a big league rotation up to that point, and this performance essentially proved that once and for all.
With the win, Lyles improved to 4-0 with a 2.62 ERA. His numbers didn't stay that shiny all season, but he was one of few Rockies starters who kept the team in the game just about every time out.
2) June 11: Matzek dazzles in debut
Tyler Matzek had been steadily improving since being sent home to work with his childhood pitching coach during a disastrous 2011 season. The 2009 first-round draft pick wasn't exactly beating the door down at any of his minor league stops, but he did enough to crack an injury-depleted and just plain awful Rockies rotation in 2014. Rockies fans everywhere are glad he did.
Matzek's big league debut gave us a taste of what we might see (and in some cases, already have seen) in the future. The now-24-year-old southpaw was absolutely brilliant against the Braves at Coors Field, tossing seven innings of two-run ball while striking out seven batters -- and, perhaps most surprisingly, walking none. His effort also allowed Colorado to break a long losing skid and gave it the momentum to begin a winning one. Matzek didn't finish the year with the best numbers on the surface, but his first taste of major league exposure surpassed anyone's wildest expectations considering the bumpy road he took to get to the highest level. And the best part? He wasn't done.
3) June 14: Brothers' immaculate inning
Rex Brothers was flat-out awful in 2014. Some of that is strictly related to luck, but the once-dominant left-hander also struggled with a hitch in his delivery and appeared to lack confidence in the majority of his outings, particularly when he pitched at Coors Field. None of that applied during the Rockies' now-infamous three-game sweep of the Giants in San Francisco in June. Among the myriad of memorable moments from that improbable series was the 26-year-old Tennessee native becoming the 17th lefty in big league history to accomplish an immaculate inning, striking out Michael Morse, Brandon Crawford and Gregor Blanco on nine pitches.
4) Sept. 5: Matzek shuts out Padres
Is it irrational of me to love a guy who finished with a 4.05 ERA this much? I personally don't think so, but what do I know? Anyway, here's an excerpt from the game recap that night. It tells you all you need to know:
Matzek is the first Rockies pitcher to toss a shutout at Coors Field since Jhoulys Chacin did it in May of 2011, and he's just the 18th hurler in franchise history to accomplish the feat regardless of venue. Friday marked the ninth instance in which a Colorado pitcher threw nine or more scoreless innings while allowing three or fewer hits.
The four baserunners allowed by Matzek is tied for the fourth-fewest total by a Rockies pitcher in an effort of nine or more innings.
TL;DR version: Tyler Matzek had one of the best pitching performances in the history of the franchise on Friday. We're not worthy.
This concludes the Rockies' nominees for the 2014 SB Nation MLB awards. Vote on this one below (I think it's an easy choice, but I might have a slight bias due to my tendency to fawn over Matzek), and don't forget to check back later today, when we'll unveil the winner from each category.