DENVER -- It wasn't as exciting as the first home win of the last season the Colorado Rockies started 4-0, but boy was it pretty to watch. After about the fourth inning, that is.
Second-year starter Tyler Matzek struggled to find the strike zone in his 2015 debut, but strong defense, timely hitting and another dominant performance by the bullpen ensured the Rockies would send more than 49,000 fans happy on Opening Day at Coors Field. Matzek walked three batters, hit Chicago Cubs slugger Anthony Rizzo twice and threw just 40 of 84 pitches for strikes in four innings of work.
His teammates recognized he was off and stepped up their game accordingly.
"We knew Tyler was battling, so if we could just lock it down on defense for him and make a good play, he'd really appreciate it," second baseman DJ LeMahieu said after the game.
LeMahieu combined with shortstop Troy Tulowitzki for a key inning-ending force out in the second, but it was third baseman Nolan Arenado's slick play and quick decision that really kept Matzek out of trouble. Arenado backhanded a grounder that took a bad bounce off the bat of Mike Olt and fired home to force Jorge Soler out at the plate, starting the process of holding the Cubs to just one run after they loaded the bases with no outs.
The Rockies relied on their defense again in the fifth when Matzek allowed the first two batters of the inning to reach base before being pulled in favor of Christian Bergman. Ever the strike-thrower, Bergman induced a pair of grounders -- one of which was a key double play -- to keep the game tied.
Matzek didn't pitch well, but his two-out double in the second inning allowed the Rockies to take an early lead when LeMahieu singled in the starting pitcher. It was the first of three hits for LeMahieu, who thrived hitting an uncoventional ninth in the lineup.
"Hitting nine-hole in Little League, everyone makes you feel good by saying you're the second leadoff hitter," LeMahieu quipped. "With Corey [Dickerson] hitting behind you, you get pitched a little different."
It worked out for LeMahieu, who got pitches to hit and didn't miss them.
Meanwhile, the Rockies' bullpen ensured the Cubs would no longer get the type of opportunities they had against Matzek. Bergman, Brooks Brown, Rafael Betancourt and Boone Logan combined for five scoreless innings, striking out three batters and walking just one. Colorado's bullpen has allowed just two earned runs -- both against LaTroy Hawkins on Wednesday -- in 14⅔ innings. The unit has notched 14 strikeouts and walked just one batter during that time.
Too many more outings like the one Matzek had on Friday might not allow the bullpen to stay as sharp as it has been, but there's no doubt that the unit differs night-and-day from the 2014 version. Throwing strikes -- as Bergman, Brooks Brown and Rafael Betancourt, among others, are wont to do -- only helps, especially with Gold Glovers all over the infield.
Relief pitching and defense aren't exactly Dante Bichette clobbering a walk-off homer in extra innings to christen Coors Field and simultaneously spark a 4-0 start en route to a postseason berth, but they're equally as effective. If the Rockies, 20 years later, continue to execute those two key facets of the game at a high level, who knows what will be in store.
- Drew Stubbs struck out in both of his plate appearances and Charlie Blackmon went down swinging in his first at-bat after entering the game in a double switch. The Rockies' center field tandem is now a combined 2-for-19 with 10 strikeouts in the early going. Small sample size applies, but both players were trendy picks for negative regression prior to the start of the season, so there should be at least some concern directed their way.
- The Rockies entered the game leading the league in doubles and added a couple more, but in a cruel twist of fate, they were thrown out twice trying to stretch singles.
- Justin Morneau hit a host of balls on the screws during the season-opening series in Milwaukee but had just one hit to show for it. Things finally went his way on Friday, when he launched an opposite-field home run in his first plate appearance after taking over for Wilin Rosario at first base.