As expected, Thursday night's game between the Rockies and the Giants contained a dominant pitching performance. Also as expected, it contained a good piece of hitting from a left-handed pitcher.
The unexpected part is that both of those things came from Chris Rusin, who saved the bullpen, shut down the Giants in relief of the re-injured Jon Gray, and even added a single in the top of the seventh for good measure. And Rusin wasn’t the only one to swing the bat well; after a rough showing in the Padres series, Rockies hitters finally showed some life, scoring three runs on seven hits en route to a 3-1 victory to open their six-game west coast road trip.
Rusin entered the game in long relief and was perfect through three innings of work before running into some trouble and handing things over to the back of the bullpen in the seventh. He struck out two, walked none, and generated six ground-ball outs. If the Rockies can string together some wins on this trip, Rusin's bullpen-saving performance tonight might be a big reason why.
From there it was the usual candidates holding the lead late, and once again they looked like studs.
Adam Ottavino inherited a bit of a sticky situation from Rusin and limited the damage to only one run; he recorded two outs in that inning and also got two outs to start the eighth inning with a couple of strikeouts on especially nasty sliders.
Mike Dunn retired Denard Span to finish the eighth, and Greg Holland came on in the ninth and was able to shut the door despite a couple of cheap hits and a walk. In a tense situation with the bases loaded and one out, Holland was able to coax a game-ending double play grounder from Eduardo Nuñez to squash the typical late threat from the Giants and record his MLB-leading sixth save of the season.
The bad news for the Rockies came in the bottom of the fourth inning. With a 2-0 lead and looking as strong as ever, Gray left with what was later confirmed to be an aggravation of the left toe injury he sustained this spring. It is not yet known whether he will miss his next start or any time beyond that, but this is certainly an issue that the Rockies do not want to linger for their top starting pitcher.
Trevor Story got the offense going when he broke out of his slump with a no-doubt home run off Giants' ace Madison Bumgarner, temporarily easing some of the concern about his slow start. But what was perhaps even more encouraging was the rally that produced a run in the sixth inning; in that frame, the offense actually strung together some hits, something that has been sorely lacking this season, and Mark Reynolds was able to grind out a tough at-bat and drive in the team's third run.
Bumgarner’s box score looks fine, but he was not as efficient as usual. The Rockies chased him with 101 pitches after six innings. He struck out eight and surrendered all three runs. Eduardo Nuñez drove in Conor Gillaspie on a sacrifice fly off of Adam Ottavino for the Giants’ only run.
With Gray's injury tonight, this team continues to feel like something of a patchwork group. That they're hanging on with a 7-4 record in this context can be viewed a number of ways. Perhaps it's a positive sign about a group that is deeper and more resilient than Rockies teams of the past. Or maybe it's a fluke and we shouldn't get our hopes up.
Let's go with the positive one. The Rockies will be back at it in San Francisco tomorrow night with Tyler Anderson on the mound.