DENVER -- Rockies manager Walt Weiss said his pitching staff is not quite in "survival mode," but rather in "protection mode."
The team's plan of limiting starters to around 100 pitches and using middle relievers capable of multiple innings has been scrutinized and even criticized, but the Rockies entered Thursday's game against the Nationals second in the National League West, two games behind the D-backs.
The bullpen has taken on a heavy innings load, and has two members on the disabled list -- closer Rafael Betancourt with a right groin issue and righty middle reliever Edgmer Escalona with right elbow inflammation. Weiss also is having to watch the workloads of dependable right-handers Adam Ottavino (0-1, 1.80 ERA in 21 games, 24 1/3 innings), who has been asked to pitch multiple innings, and Matt Belisle (4-2, 3.15 in 31 games, 34 1/3 innings).
The easy answer is for pitchers to be more economical and make their 100 pitches cover six to seven innings, instead of five. But lefty Jeff Francis, Thursday's starter, started his second game back from a left groin injury, lefty Jorge De La Rosa is being watched due to a cut finger he suffered two starts ago, and Saturday starter Tyler Chatwood has missed two starts due to a soft tissue problem in the triceps/elbow area.
"It's tough to consistently ask your bullpen to take care of four innings in a game," Weiss said. "So, it's not like we have to get seven innings, but six. Five, if you do it consistently, can pose a problem."
Weiss said the strain of this time of year is underrated.
"A lot of teams are going through the same things right now, trying to keep their pitching intact as injuries start to pop up in June," Weiss said. "For me, the dog days of the season are June and July, not August and September.
"They're the two middle months of the year. There's no end in sight. August and September, I feel like we're going to be playing for our division. To me, you've played for four months and, physically, it's a grind from that standpoint, but there's something to shoot for."
With a stretch of games in hitters' parks and some Interleague American League games, where the offensive bench is not as big a priority, the Rockies decided to go with a 13th pitcher by designating outfielder Eric Young Jr. for assignment Wednesday and calling up right-handed reliever Chris Volstad.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.