As the Rockies lean on their extended roster in an effort to finish the homestand at .500, they can look forward to a rejuvenating kick start as three key members of their Opening Day club prepare to return, with two possibly arriving by Tuesday and the third potentially within 10 days.
All three figured in Triple-A Colorado Springs' victory over the Sacramento River Cats on Saturday night, with Rodrigo Lopez leading the charge in his first rehabilitation start for the Sky Sox.
Lopez picked up where he left off before hitting the disabled list with a right elbow strain, having excelled in his first three starts and posting a 1-0 record and a 1.59 ERA for the Rockies. On Saturday night, the right-hander retired the first 14 batters he faced with seven fly-ball outs, five ground-ball outs and two strikeouts. He allowed no hits and one walk, which came around to score after Lopez left the game with a 5-0 lead in the fifth inning. He threw 64 pitches, 37 for strikes.
"He did some things well, and there's some things that he needs to work on, to knock some rust off of," manager Clint Hurdle observed before Sunday's rubber match with the Royals. "He made pitches when he had to. His command was kind of in and out. He used all his pitches. It was a good step forward physically, and I think mentally also."
Lopez will pitch again for the Sky Sox on Thursday, and he is tentatively scheduled for a third rehab start on the 29th, but Hurdle emphasized that the third start is "penciled," indicating that circumstances could bring the key component of the Rockies rotation back to the parent club for a home start against the Cardinals on the 29th.
"I felt like my legs weren't that solid, kind of weak a little bit," Lopez said of his 4 2/3 innings. "I was able to make the pitches when I needed to. It was a good challenge for me, and I got through. I feel great. Hopefully my next start will be my last [rehab] start. I just want to come back as soon as possible."
LaTroy Hawkins pitched in relief for the Sky Sox Saturday, giving him the opportunity to pitch back-to-back days, a critical test the Rockies wanted to put him through before bringing him back to the Majors. Hawkins pitched a hitless inning each night, striking out four and allowing one walk over the weekend while earning the relief win on Saturday.
"Physically, I guess he felt pretty good afterwards," Hurdle said. "A little bit of fatigue in his arm, which I would have been shocked if there wasn't, because he hasn't pitched in so long and then he did go back-to-back days. He threw strikes, had command, a good curveball and a downhill plane."
The Rockies had tentatively planned on giving Hawkins two days off after his back-to-back appearances, making him likely to rejoin the roster in time to pitch Tuesday in Arizona.
Hawkins started the season as the Rockies primary setup man, but he lost his role due to ineffectiveness, posting an 0-3 record and a 8.59 ERA in nine appearances before being sidelined with right elbow inflammation. He is not likely to reprise his eighth-inning assignment immediately upon returning, but he could bolster a bullpen that has been scrambling for much of the season.
Matsui was one of the bright spots in the Rockies lineup before going on the DL two weeks into the season with lower back spasms. He was hitting .361 in nine games with five steals. One of his hits on Friday was an infield single to shortstop, and he was timed running to first at 3.85 seconds.
The Rockies have struggled to keep their head above water, going 14-21 since the first DL move April 15, and they sit seven games behind the pace in the NL West.
Dr. long ball: The Rockies have lived and died by the home run over the past week.
After a well-documented dearth of dingers at Coors Field through the season's first six weeks, the Rockies have filled their long-ball prescription with a vengeance. In their last three wins -- against Kansas City on Saturday, Arizona Wednesday, and San Francisco last Saturday -- 15 of the Rockies' 16 runs have come from homers.
Conversely, in the four losses during that span, the Rockies had no four-baggers, managing a total of only five runs.
Hot bat corner: Jeff Baker will look to get more opportunities at third base now that outfielder Ryan Spilborghs has replaced John Mabry on the roster. Mabry's four starts were all at third base, and with Steve Finley and Spilborghs primarily expected to be used in the outfield, Baker can return to the position he played before the Rockies asked him to convert to the outfield.
Of Baker's 12 starts, nine have come in the outfield and three at first base. He is hitting .353 (6-for-17) in his last seven games.
Missouri's most wanted: Taylor Buchholz's seven-inning start on Saturday night with only one unearned run allowed continued a stretch of 13 innings against the Royals and Cardinals in which the Rockies right-hander has not allowed an earned run. The two outings are by far Buchholz's most effective starts of the season, earning him a reputation as a Missouri-killer on the mound.
On tap: The Rockies return to Arizona for their fourth series with the Diamondbacks. In a rematch of Wednesday's victory, Aaron Cook (3-1, 4.40 ERA) takes on reigning Cy Young Award winner Brandon Webb (3-3, 3.57 ERA).
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.