Ubaldo Jimenez began struggling in Los Angeles last weekend when he was blown out of the fifth inning with seven runs on his line. His troubles continued, as the Dodgers visited Coors Field and knocked him out of the game after he allowed six runs on eight hits in four innings.
"The consistency isn't there, the fastball command isn't there," manager Clint Hurdle said. "There was a little bit of a stretch in the second and third inning where there were some sequences that were sharp and clean. You look at the first inning and he got two outs with a runner on second. The fourth inning he got two outs and one runner on. He ended up giving up six runs.
"He's not where he needs to be. He's not hitting his spots, not commanding the secondary stuff either, so it's a battle for him right now."
The Dodgers did most of their damage in a four-run first inning, collecting five straight two-out hits off Jimenez as the fireballer found too much of the plate in his effort to regain the command that eluded him in his previous outing. Jimenez threw 91 pitches, coming up short in what Hurdle had termed a big game for Colorado's No. 2 starter.
"You saw a lot of arm-side snatches with pitches, you saw [catcher Yorvit] Torrealba backhanding balls," Hurdle noted. "We're not just missing. At times, we're missing extreme."
Jimenez was at his best bearing down against the likes of Manny Ramirez, whom he retired three straight times, including twice on strikeouts with runners in scoring position in the second and fourth innings. Colorado kept Ramirez's bat silent on an 0-for-5 evening highlighted by three consecutive strikeouts.
The Rockies showed some firepower at the plate, putting together a three-run third and a two-run fifth to climb within a run of the Dodgers. Rookie starter James McDonald lost his touch in the third, issuing back-to-back walks to Jimenez and rookie center fielder Dexter Fowler before yielding an RBI single to right from Seth Smith, giving up his third free pass of the inning to Garrett Atkins to load the bases and then serving up a 3-1 fastball to Brad Hawpe, who hit a two-run single.
The walks did McDonald in again in the fifth, putting Todd Helton on first with two outs and setting up a two-run blast into the left-field seats by Atkins, his third homer of the season, to pull the Rockies within a run.
"I felt pretty good the last week or so," Atkins said of his comfort level at the plate. "Obviously, it's not perfect but getting better, and I'm starting to barrel up more balls, so that's always a good thing."
Count Atkins among those who believe that the three one-run losses to the Dodgers are a better indicator of how competitive the teams are than the seven games separating the teams in the standings.
"I think it shows how close we are," Atkins said. "We played some good baseball the last week or so and don't have a whole lot to show for it. On the offensive side, I think we've swung the bats real well the last five games since Arizona and the first two here. We just don't have a whole lot to show for it. Guys just keep sticking with how they're swinging it and things will start to turn for us."
The brightest spot of the evening was the performance of the bullpen. Glendon Rusch, Matt Daley, Alan Embree and Matt Belisle combined for five shutout innings of one-hit ball to keep the Rockies within reach after Jimenez's departure.
"We went through the rough patch," Embree said. "Hopefully, we're getting a little bit of stability. We were one run short. The bullpen was going to give guys a shot to win."
And perhaps shining brightest among the relievers Saturday night was Daley, who made his big league debut in the seventh inning, trying to keep a one-run deficit intact. He was aided by a beautiful catch at the right-field wall by Fowler.
The first batter Daley faced, catcher Russell Martin, launched a drive into the right-center alley, and Fowler tracked it down, covering extensive ground and catching the ball against the fence in front of the Rockies' bullpen.
"Those are things you're going to see, because this kid can flat out go get the baseball," Hurdle said of Fowler's defensive flash. "If it looks easy, that's just because he's a special talent. That's what special talents do, they make hard plays look easy."
Daley walked Matt Kemp and hit Casey Blake before striking out reliever Ramon Troncoso to emerge unscathed and to keep the one-run margin tantalizingly within reach.
"I definitely didn't write it up that way, but as long as no runs score, I'll take it every time," Daley said.
Though the third straight loss and 10th of the past 12 ends up feeling like another lump to take, Colorado can see progress in the midst of the struggles.
"One hit for five innings out of our bullpen, we'll take that any time we can get it," Hurdle said. "We worked our backside off the second half of the game to stay in the game and have a chance to win the game. We kept inching our way back in. We just got to find a way to go ahead and string some things together."
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.