DENVER—The Colorado Rockies gave rookie pitcher German Marquez a tough task in his first major league start of the year. As if facing the Nationals, considered one of the best teams in the National League, wasn’t hard enough, inclement weather delayed the start of the game 66 minutes. Now, an hour might not seem like all that much, but baseball players are somewhat peculiar creatures of habit. Only last week, we saw when a minute’s transgression prompted accusations of disrespect. An hour might throw a player out of rhythm as much as if an average Joe was told Starbucks was out of joe.
Once you get past the delay, you’ve got to factor in the weather itself. Back on April 23, 2013, a little over four years ago as of this week, the Rockies played the coldest game in franchise history at a 23 degrees. Another dramatic string of weather happened in early 2015, when, not counting cancellations or suspensions, there were over 22 hours of rain delays with three months of baseball left to play. As recently as two weeks ago, wind blew hot dog wrappers and baseballs with equal ease at Coors Field to the detriment of fans and players alike. Comedian Ron White once summed it up well by saying, “It isn’t that the wind is blowing, it’s what the wind is blowing.”
On Tuesday, with the rain/snow stuff swirling around, Coors Field and its affect on baseballs and players seemed to behave differently. Early on in the game, it seemed each ball hit by the Nationals just managed to squeak a soggy half step out of range of a Rockies fielder. When the Rockies came up to hit, the thud of well struck balls betrayed their eventual outcome. Two would-be homers in the first inning by Charlie Blackmon and DJ LeMahieu died on the warning track. On Sunday, they probably would have ended up in the stands.
Given the circumstances, the weather was an additional challenge for the young Marquez. He said, “It’s been a little bit of time since I felt that type of weather.” During a difficult second inning, where Marquez gave up five runs, Rockies manager Bud Black observed “[Marquez had] two outs on three pitches, then he walked the pitcher. He got two strikes on a number of hitters and couldn’t put them away.” Marquez, though he allowed twelve base runners and eight runs, was able to settle down some and gutted through four innings when many pitchers might have been pulled after the initial outburst.
Yet perhaps Marquez learned to weather the storm. Black didn’t make excuses during the post-game press conference, as he observed, “It was a baseball game that was played under conditions that aren’t baseball-type weather, but it’s part of what we do. Both teams are in the same circumstance so whoever outhit the other side, whoever made pitches, whoever made plays was going to win the game today, and they got us.”
Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez echoed those sentiments in an interview with MLB.com where he said, “One of the things I always tell myself when I have to play in conditions like this early in the year: the same things you're feeling at the plate is the same way the pitcher is feeling. They're going to make a lot of mistakes because it's kind of hard to feel the ball out there."
I imagine things weren’t always sunny for Black in San Diego, where a wild temperature swing might merely drop the temperature to a balmy 60 degrees over the course of a season. But with experience as a pitcher in a variety of environments, Black’s temperament may be vital in ushering along a young team still new to making these adjustments. There may even be some additional benefit that bad weather can provide. Gonzalez said, “When it's cold and windy like it was tonight, the ballpark plays pretty fair." Though the weather may lead to more mistakes, if young pitchers like Marquez limit those mistakes, they may not be punished as severely as they would on a normal day at altitude in Denver.
As the season plays out, Marquez and other young Rockies pitchers will keep gaining experience. As they mature into a more veteran mindset, it will increase the probability that they will perform better, regardless of the quality of the opponent or the weather. Maybe then, the Rockies as a team will no longer ebb and flow like a leaf at the mercy of the wind.