I saw the Rockies play the Nationals last July in D.C., and the Nats were not good. The Rockies took that series easily (though it was a weekend series so, naturally, they lost on Sunday). But I knew that Washington was going to be a far more formidable opponent this season. A combination of savvy offseason moves (Gio Gonzalez) and talented prospects (Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper) had made this team a force to be reckoned with. And so they are: 11 games over .500 and comfortably leading the NL East. Random side note: how much do we love that the Phillies and Marlins are both below .500 and buried in the basement of the division??
Anyway, I digress. The matter at hand is the Rockies-Nationals game that took place last night at Coors Field. Both Strasburg and Harper were there – we have to wait till tonight for Gonzalez – and both were unable to lead their team to victory. To be fair, Strasburg was quite good. 8 strikeouts in 6 innings is nothing to shrug off. And he only allowed 6 hits. But they were meaningful hits, hits that came with runners on base. The Rockies were actually 4-for-9 with runners in scoring position, one of their best performances of the season. Now, what would happen if they could do that in every game, against pitchers who allow a lot more hits than just 6? Wishful thinking. Dexter Fowler wins the prize for hitter of the night. He hit an RBI single and a lead-off triple that turned into a run scored. In other words, the difference in the game.
Beyond the offense, the pitchers deserve substantial credit for how well this game was played. I don’t want to get too excited about Jeff Francis just yet, but I like where things are going with him. He seems to be adjusting back to Coors Field and remembering what it looks like to pitch there. His velocity is still dropping – he’ll be out-Moyering Jamie Moyer soon – but he’s mixing his pitches well enough to keep hitters off-balance and make his fastball work for him. He got Harper to strike out in the 3rd on 3 pitches, a curveball and 2 fastballs that came in at 86 and 85 mph respectively. In fact, Harper was hitless on the day, and 2 of his 3 K’s came from Francis. Despite allowing a couple of runs, Francis limited the Nats to 5 hits in 5 innings and didn’t walk anybody (though he did hit a guy twice). These are the kinds of things we need to see the rotation doing on a regular basis. 7-run innings and 6 walks in a start have got to go. Perhaps Francis can lead the charge on that. The only shameful thing about this outing was the RBI double he allowed to Strasburg. Although perhaps that’s not so shameful after all, because Strasburg somehow has FOUR doubles this season.
Francis wasn’t in long enough to get the win; that went to Josh Roenicke, on pace to be the Matt Belisle of this season with nearly as many wins as any starter we have (only Christian Friedrich, with 4, has more than Roenicke’s 3). Roenicke pitched the 6th and 7th and only allowed 2 baserunners. Belisle pitched a 1-2-3 8th and Rafael Betancourt, despite putting a couple of runners on, managed to get the save.
Jim Tracy managerial failure of the game: allowing Francis to hit for himself in the bottom of the 5th with 2 out and then replacing him with Roenicke in the top of the 6th. What? Oh well. A win is a win.
The series continues tonight at Coors Field with Gio Gonzalez going against Christian Friedrich.