Colorado Rockies left-hander Jorge De La Rosa is almost there. Almost.
De La Rosa struck out nine batters and had his best stuff for much of the five innings he lasted against the San Diego Padres on Saturday, but the command just isn't there. We haven't seen De La Rosa unable to harness what looks like explosive movement on his pitches since ... last April?
The veteran southpaw had some extra oomph on his fastball early last season, when he experienced a similar slow start to what we're seeing this year. Entering the Rockies' 4-2 loss to the Padres, De La Rosa was averaging 94.1 mph on his heater. That'll probably come down a bit after Saturday, when he mostly worked in the 92-93 range but did hit 95 a few times. But his results once again aren't matching the uptick in velocity. In 2014, De La Rosa stumbled through April with a 5.23 ERA. He's been a little worse through three starts this year, leaving Petco Park having allowed an earned run per inning pitched.
De La Rosa surrendered three runs on five hits and three walks in on Saturday in addition to the aforementioned whiffs. For the second straight start, he showed excellent swing-and-miss stuff, but much like a few of the team's younger hurlers, he had a hard time harnessing it and finding any real consistency. For now, we'll just have to enjoy his awesome strikeout rate of 14.25 per nine innings and take the other stuff in stride.
Much like last year, De La Rosa's ERA will come down once he settles into his comfort zone and gets a better feel for the movement on his pitches. Let's just hope that the Rockies are still relevant by the time that happens, which brings me to...
We've seen this before
Colorado's road offense is not-so-quietly struggling -- again. The Rockies have scored a total of 32 runs in their last 11 games away from Coors Field. That spans back to the beginning of the club's series in San Francisco last month and averages out to fewer than three runs per contest.
The Rockies haven't been getting good pitching. We know that. But it hardly matters when the offense isn't even doing enough on average to make even a 3.00 ERA count, let alone the 4.90 ERA the team has actually posted.
Two plate appearances in the ninth inning highlighted the Rockies' issues. Craig Kimbrel is among the best of the best when it comes to relief arms in baseball, so Colorado is hardly the only team to fail against him. But Carlos Gonzalez and Nick Hundley took two of the worst at-bats they could have possibly taken against the hard-throwing closer, each offering at pitches well out of the strike zone.
It's one thing for the Rockies to not be able to draw walks (update: their 5.8 percent base on balls rate ranks 28th in MLB), but it's another thing entirely to be aggressive to the point where they're also offering at 32 percent of pitches outside of the zone (eighth-highest in baseball and steadily climbing).
If that sounds familiar, it's because the Rockies drew fewer walks and swung at more pitches outside of the zone than almost every team in baseball last season, numbers that didn't jive with a contact rate that was merely middle of the road. The Rockies might not finish 21-60 on the road again this season, but if they don't tighten up their offensive approach, it's going to be another long year away from Coors Field, where balls in play simply don't fall for hits nearly as often.