Rockies still adjusting to four-man rotation

Rockies still adjusting to four-man rotation

DENVER -- The last two games brought out the best and the worst of the Rockies' new and unusual pitching plan, with four starters on a 75-pitch limit and a "piggy-back" starter behind the guy who throws in the beginning.

On Monday, Jeff Francis threw a solid four innings and Josh Roenicke was equally good in two innings behind him. Then the late bullpen -- a strength that often goes unused because too many games spin out of control in the early going -- closed down a 4-2 victory.

But on Tuesday, starter Christian Friedrich was competitive, but Guillermo Moscoso was awful in giving up eight runs in 1 2/3 innings of a 12-5 loss.

Neither was a definitive referendum on the system, manager Jim Tracy said.

"Because of the position that we're in, it's very easy to embrace the fact that all bets are off -- we're 17 games under .500, not five over or three over," Tracy said. "If, in fact, we were five over or four over or three over or in a lead in the division, I don't think this would be received very well. I completely understand that. That's not the case."

This would not be a discussion had the Rockies' starters not pitched at an all-time porous pace. They have a 6.38 ERA, which would shatter the old Major League starter-worst: 6.19 by the 1999 Rockies.

Rockies pitchers who have started boast some rough ERAs -- Francis is at 10.80 in two starts, Friedrich 11.64 in four starts, Jeremy Guthrie, now a bullpen piggy-back pitcher, is 9.53 in five appearances, and Moscoso is 11.88 in five games, including two starts. Lefty Josh Outman, who will start Thursday's finale of the four-game set, is at a high-but-manageable 4.63 in six games, including two starts.

Exactly how far the Rockies go with this rotation is anyone's guess. The notion that Coors Field has taken a dramatic swing back toward the offense, combined with team's attempt to break in multiple young starters, led the club to think outside of the box.

But does this mean that the Rockies have determined they can't win playing at Coors with a conventional rotation? It worked for them in postseason years of 1995 (when the park swung even further to the offense), 2007 and 2009. A normal rotation spearheaded a club record-low ERA of 4.22 in 2010.

Or, in the end, will this be simply a teaching tool for younger starters? It will give prized prospect Friedrich and, whenever they are promoted, Drew Pomeranz and Tyler Chatwood, more starting opportunities and chances to learn for when they are pitching out of a regular five-man rotation in future years.

The next move could be to extend the pitch counts, if the starter is doing well. Francis needed just 66 pitches to get through five innings, but was removed because he was scheduled to start again in three days. However, the Rockies are in a stretch without a day off before the All-Star break. After the break, it's possible that days the team is idle could offer more flexibility.

"As we go forward with this, is this something from a bounce-back standpoint that the number becomes a little higher than 75?" Tracy said. "[If] they show the capability of pounding the strike zone, as a result of that, do you go a little bit further, bearing in mind that three days later they have to be back out there? Once we do that with someone, how do they bounce back with the additional pitches that they throw?

"These are all things that we have to allow to evolve. I don't have definitive answers to all those things until I see them play out between the lines. The bottom line with all this, with as many young arms that we have, what's in their best interest and also what's in the best interest of giving the club a chance to be very successful. It's a day-to-day type thing."