After strong performances in his first three outings, Chris Rusin had his second straight crash-and-burn start for the Rockies, allowing seven earned runs in four innings of an 8-5 lost to the Houston Astros.
Rusin's struggles, track record and the fact that the already has an option in use this season have left the door wide open for top prospect Jon Gray, who pitches for Triple-A Albuqerque tonight against El Paso. Gray has posted five quality starts in a row and has allowed three runs or less in each of his last eight starts, dropping his ERA from 10.70 to 4.76 in that span.
Meanwhile, Rusin has allowed 13 runs on 20 hits in 9⅓ innings over his last two starts, walking four, allowing four home runs and striking out five. He has raised his ERA from 1.45 to 5.14 in those two starts.
Rusin was particularly bad today in Houston, allowing seven runs on nine hits in four innings, with a pair of walks and four strikeouts.
The damage started from the outset as right fielder George Springer led off the first for Houston with a single, advanced to second on a balk and scored on Jose Altuve's single to give the Astros a 1-0 lead.
The Rockies struck back in the top of the second inning with three runs on four hits, including catcher Michael McKenry's third triple of June, to take a 3-1 lead. Houston got one back in the bottom of the inning on third baseman Luis Valbuena's 15th home run of the season.
The wheels really fell off for Rusin in the third, with an Astros rally that started with a walk issued to second baseman Jose Altuve which was followed by three straight singles that gave Houston a 4-3 lead before Valbuena's second home run, a three-run shot blew the game open, with the Astros holding a 7-3 lead through three innings of play.
A two-run home run from Carlos Gonzalez, his eighth of the season, cut the Rockies deficit to 7-5 in the fifth, but that was all the offense the Rockies could muster and Hank Conger added a solo home run for insurance to reach the game's final score of 8-5.
That Gray pitches tonight is convenient in that he can slot right into Rusin's spot in the rotation, which would come Sunday at Coors Field, if the Rockies so choose. Whether that was by coincidence or design, it certainly seems to have worked out in the Rockies' favor.
There was speculation about a promotion for Gray after Rusin's last start that saw him allow a half dozen runs on 11 hits in 5⅓ innings, but the Rockies decided to stick with the southpaw for at least one more start.
Now, it seems Gray is one more strong start tonight away from his Rockies debut, which would come at home against a Milwaukee team that is currently 17 games under .500 and owns one of the worst offenses in baseball. Aside from the Coors Field factor, that seems like a pretty soft landing in the big leagues for a top prospect.