Scottsdale, Ariz. -- It’s always exciting to watch the Rockies offense fire on all cylinders, but what’s even more exciting is when the pitching staff can combine for a shutout. And that’s exactly what happened against the Diamondbacks on Sunday, an interesting -- if not flat-out tough -- one for the organization on the heels of Jhoulys Chacin's release. While the Rockies notched 11 hits and six runs, the pitching staff had the Diamondbacks off balance all day long.
Kyle Kendrick has been a bright spot for the pitching staff so far this spring, and continued his dominance by throwing four innings of two-hit ball while getting seven ground outs. Inducing grounders will be key for Kendrick, as he was brought onto the Rockies for one thing and one thing only: eating innings.
"Kendrick did a nice job, very efficient. He's a sergeant out there," manager Walt Weiss told reporters after the game. That kind of efficiency -- the result of keeping the ball low and making batters hit the ball into the dirt as opposed to going for the strikeout -- will reduce pitch counts and will help avoid the fly ball that can turn into a nightmare quickly in Colorado.
What happened next was even more impressive.
Even the much-maligned Rockies bullpen made Arizona’s regular season starters look like they were minor league players in their first spring training. Rafael Betancourt, who took a line drive to the face in his last appearance, seemed unphased and struck out two of the three batters he faced. "Raffy was Raffy, pinpoint control," Weiss quipped. Betancourt is hoping for a bullpen spot, and he’s looked very good since his return from Tommy John surgery and the ensuing rehab, striking out six over 4⅔ innings this spring.
LaTroy Hawkins and Rex Brothers followed Betancourt, both throwing an inning each and surrendering one hit apiece. Brothers had a rough 2014 and struggled with command but will look to bounce back in 2015 under new pitching coach Steve Foster. Hawkins is still slotted for the closer role, but if Brothers can regain his form, it’s possible the lefty could see a few save opportunities this season.
Boone Logan came on in the eighth inning and looked nearly perfect, striking out two of three batters he faced. Logan is still somewhat of a question mark in 2015. He’s coming off season-ending elbow surgery that capped off a miserable 2014 in which he finished the year with an ERA close to 7.00 over 25 innings. Logan has two years left on a $16.5 million contract and the Rockies hope he can get results like he did prior to 2014.
Newly acquired relief pitcher John Axford came in to finish things off and picked up right where Logan left, retiring all three batters he faced. Axford, who is another question mark, was a former closer for the Brewers and could also compete for a handful of saves in the closer role.
The Rockies starting pitching staff is perhaps the biggest question mark of all, especially after what transpired off the field on Sunday.
"It was a tough day for us -- for me -- having to have that conversation with Jhoulys," Weiss said. That said, Chacin was let go for a reason: the Rockies feel they're better off without him.
"We still have a handful of guys fighting for a spot," Weiss added.
Seeing one of the guys who already has a spot, Kendrick, do what he was brought to Colorado to do is definitely encouraging. Not only that, but seeing the bullpen able keep the Arizona bats in check also makes the starting pitching situation seem a little less worrisome.
It's still pretty terrifying, though. One spring game isn't going to change that, but it's good to see things moving in the right direction.