SAN DIEGO -- With all the talk about four-man and five-man starting rotations, pitch counts and piggybacks, the recent work of the Colorado bullpen has been lost in the shuffle.
But for manager Jim Tracy, their efforts at the end of ballgames are a big reason that the Rox are just a game under .500 since Aug. 1 after going 37-54 for the first three months of 2012.
"We've got some really good arms down there, and I think the whole body of work and the progress of it is indicative of now only our win-loss record since the first of August, but the games that we have lost, we're not getting beat 7-1, 12-3, 9-2," Tracy said.
"I don't know how many one-run games we've been in the last 10 days to two weeks, but it's a very significant number. If you're going to be a competitive team over the course of a season, as tough as those one-run losses are to take, you want to find yourselves in those games day after day."
So far in September, Tracy's relief corps has done an excellent job keeping the Rockies in games, posting its best ERA of any month in the season so far (3.11) by some six-tenths of a run. That after a season in which those arms have been taxed for some 579 innings of work coming into Sunday's game -- tops in the Majors by over 70 innings.
As the rotation has settled down and the piggy-backers established themselves more and more in those roles, the back end of the bullpen has found it easier to understand their role -- something the piggy-backers and the others believe is crucial to the turnaround.
"We've just kind of embraced our roles in everything, have a good idea of what we're going to have to get done on any given night," Matt Reynolds said. "I think anytime you get consistency that reflects on performance."
Tracy said he knew what he was getting from Matt Belisle and Rafael Betancourt at the back end of his bullpen throughout the season, but that the increased stability that arms like Rex Brothers and Josh Outman have provided has been a crucial part. He's also impressed with piggy-backer Adam Ottavino, who he calls a "great find." Ottavino is pitching to a 3.56 ERA and has struck out 72 in 73 1/3 innings this year.
For his part, Ottavino says the growing consistency of himself and his fellow relievers is just a product of more chances and experience, as their mindset hasn't changed.
"I think guys have figured out their game plan a little better," Ottavino said. "We're a group down there: we want to see everyone do well. How do you pitch this guy, how'd you feel, etc, etc. That type of camaraderie helps young guys pitch better."