The Rockies lost a game they should have won on Sunday. Today, they won a game they probably should have lost. This is the ebb and flow of a baseball season.
Eddie Butler pretty much defined the phrase "effectively wild" in this game. In just his fifth career start, he walked six, hit a batter, allowed five hits, and threw almost exactly as many balls (46) as strikes (47); but he somehow kept the all important run category clean thanks to three very important factors
1) The ground ball
2) Angel Pagan's aggressiveness
3) Air tight defense
All but one out in Butler's first four innings of work came via the ground out. When Butler got the Giants to swing, they were hitting almost nothing but ground balls through the first four frames, and as a result, they stranded nine men on base before the game reached its midpoint. This included leaving the bases loaded twice in the first two innings.
Even three of the hits Butler allowed were on the ground. The righty did this mostly infuriating but ultimately delightful dance all day of being too wild to tempt the Giants to swing for most of the day, but incredibly effective when he did get the fish to bite. After the game, Butler gave full credit to Nick Hundley's work behind the plate and game calling.
.@Butler4Life giving plenty of love to Nick Hundley: "He was able to guide me through it." #TogetherEveryday pic.twitter.com/T5kbjByv0m— Colorado Rockies (@Rockies) April 14, 2015
Of course, this shutout also wouldn't have been possible without the contributions of Angel Pagan. Twice he came up in critical situations, and twice his over-aggressiveness at the plate squashed a San Francisco rally. The first instance came in the bottom of the second inning after Butler walk both Nori Aoki and Joe Panik to load the bases with two outs. Pagan swung at the first pitch he saw and hit a weak grounder to first to get the Rockies out of the jam.
The second instance came in the fourth with men on first and second and only one out. This time Butler walked Joe Panik on four pitches and fell behind Pagan 2-0, but on a pitch that should have been a seventh consecutive ball to set up a 3-0 count, Pagan inexplicably swung and missed giving Butler a gift strike. One pitch later, Butler was out of the inning with another zero on the board thanks to a 4-6-3 double play.
Pagan's play, which wasn't great in the field either, prompted tweets like this:
Is Pagan playing today or just taking up room?— Brian VanderBeek (@ModestoBeek) April 13, 2015
One of the reasons the game on Sunday got away from the Rockies was their sloppy defense early on. Yes, LaTroy Hawkins wasn't good yesterday, but that game never should have gotten to that point. Today, the Rockies made every play in the field they should have with ease, and even stole a hit or two with defense with like this from DJ LeMahieu:
#THIS is why we were just raving about DJ's defense again. So good, so much range. pic.twitter.com/NeagckdjHe— Colorado Rockies (@Rockies) April 13, 2015
After Butler exited, San Francisco's opportunities all but evaporated. Everybody who came out of the Colorado bullpen - If you can even call what they have at AT&T Park bullpens - was excellent. Brooks Brown, Christian Friedrich, Boone Logan, and Rafael Betancourt all didn't allow a hit, all didn't walk a batter, and all still have sparkling 0.00 ERA's.
Betancourt's one-two-three low stress ninth was especially special because it marked a complete comeback to the closer role after suffering what could have been a career ending injury in August of 2013. He looks like the Rafael Betancourt of old instead just old Rafael Betancourt like many were expecting. What a shot in the arm this has the potential to be for this pen.
Betancourt's save also means three different relievers have recorded the first three saves of the season, and with Adam Ottavino still pitching in innings other than the ninth so far, that could go to four different relievers picking up the first four saves of the season. We'll see how Weiss manages this. I personally love having Ottavino in the "fireman" role since he's so good at picking up strikeouts, but if the Rockies keep getting pitching out of the pen like this, they could have several appealing options here. Darren Holmes deserves credit for the job he's done so far in his new role as bullpen coach, specifically with all the strikes most of these guys are throwing.
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The only bad thing about today's game is that Chris Heston turned in a second consecutive solid outing for the Giants. This is a guy who spent his age 25 and 26 seasons buried in Triple-A posting mostly mediocre results. Think Christian Bergman but with more time stuck at Triple-A.
You never would have known it by the way the Rockies offense looked against him though. Seven innings, just one run, and some really impressive movement on his pitches that made three of the Rockies' best bats look foolish. Carlos Gonzalez and Nolan Arenado both hit into inning killing double plays in this game, and Troy Tulowitzki was completely fooled backing off the plate as he took strike three in his third at bat of the game.
Tulo did however knock in the only run the Rockies got off Heston in the fourth with a bullet down the left field line, and as it turned out, it was all the help the pitching staff needed.
The Rockies did end up collecting eleven hits, but for some reason it felt like less than that. Maybe it's because only two of them went for extra bases and we've gotten used to all the doubles? Anyway, it's pretty easy to score enough runs as an offense though when your pitching staff throws a shutout. Almost one year ago to the day, the Rockies also won in a shutout at AT&T Park, but paid for it with a Brett Anderson broken finger.
This link is here to remind you that early season shutout wins in AT&T park are great, but early season shutout wins in AT&T Park where the starter doesn't get injured are even better. This game doesn't mean much in the grand scheme of things, but it was nice to hand the Giants a big, fat, shutout "L" on a day they put a banner up. Hopefully that flag will be the last one they raise for at least 100 years.