Rockies carrying five dependable starters

Rox have five dependable starters

DENVER -- As the Rockies take a final tour through their starting rotation in the season's last five games, they've got the opportunity to record a couple special achievements.

Heading into Wednesday's action, The Rockies could clinch the National League Wild Card as early as Thursday, but they are reluctant to talk about it. Call it superstition or just good manners, but the Rockies won't count those chickens until they're hatched and healthy.

"Until we get there, I'm not even going to address it," manager Jim Tracy said regarding the challenge of taking his solid five-man rotation and turning it into a four-man crew. "It's a moot point as far as I'm concerned. We're not in yet. When we get in, I promise you we'll have things to talk about."

But regardless of how the season ends up, the Rockies' other special opportunity is the potential to finish the season with five starters having 10 or more wins. The last time an NL team achieved that feat was in 2005, when both Houston and St. Louis had five starters in double digits.

Oh, and by the way, the Astros and Cardinals met in the NLCS in '05.

If Jason Hammel (9-8) can earn a win in his final start Wednesday night, he'll join Jorge De La Rosa (16-9), Jason Marquis (15-12), Ubaldo Jimenez (14-12) and Aaron Cook (10-6) in the formidable five.

Narrowing that field to four playoff starters is no easy task, and they've each made strong cases their last time out. Though nobody needs to be told to follow Tracy's lead in avoiding jinx talk, the Rockies have to balance ongoing evaluations with the immediate task of winning the Wild Card.

Marquis' six innings Tuesday salvaged a troublesome three games where the Rockies were unable to win in a game he started. His clutch performance helped Colorado take a big step toward extending its season.

"I don't try to make statements, I try to go out there and give my team the best chance to win," Marquis said after the Rockies' walk-off win Tuesday. "Every time I take the ball, I do that. I've hit a few struggles here in my last couple starts. I've worked real hard to straighten those out. I'm where I need to be right now. I'm glad we got out of here with a win."

Opening Day starter Cook also answered some big questions with his five innings of shutout ball last weekend after five weeks on the disabled list, and for years now, the de facto policy is when Cook can pitch, you give him the ball.

"I'm not worried about that," Cook said about making the playoff roster. "I'm worried about going out and keeping us in games. Tracy will decide when the playoff roster comes. We got to make the playoffs first before we worry about any other decisions."

With Marquis pacing the staff and the league through much of the season and De La Rosa having a second half to rival any NL pitcher, Hammel could be struggling to hang in the mix despite going 9-5 since May 24th. He has doubled his previous season high for innings pitched, and Tracy sounded a shade less sure with regard to Hammel continuing at his pace into October, despite his remarkable durability all season long.

"Jason Hammel has done a tremendous job in the second half of the season of establishing himself and being a guy that you look forward to every fifth day," Tracy said. "If you go back and look at the number of Major League innings that he's pitched vs. where he's at right now, I'm sorry if it's right, wrong or otherwise, but these are other things that weigh into decisions sometimes as far as making pitching decisions. This guy's out there a ways beyond where he's ever been in the past."

Rockies relievers used Tuesday night give a good indication of the cream of Tracy's bullpen crop. He used Matt Daley, Rafael Betancourt, Huston Street, Jose Contreras, Joe Beimel and Matt Belisle, with Franklin Morales warming up when the Rockies won on Chris Iannetta's walk-off homer.

"There has been nothing with regard to Franklin that has been done by design," Tracy said, indicating matchups have simply dictated calling other relievers in from the 'pen over the past four days. "He was warming up, he was going to pitch the 12th inning last night. There were just strategic decisions that I made where I felt that our best interests were to go in a different direction."

Figure Morales to be in the mix, but the Rockies ruled out another southpaw, veteran Alan Embree, from rejoining the club for the final five games. Embree has been rehabbing from a broken leg after he was drilled by a line drive while pitching in July, and he has made a tremendous effort to get back by the end of the season. His arm is strong, but mobility remains too questionable for Tracy to feel comfortable activating him.

"I cannot begin to tell you how much we laud his effort to this point in trying to do the things he's been doing to get back," Tracy said. "Alan Embree is a guy I hold in very high regard, and with his competitive nature, and the type of teammate he is with these guys, I know that's not the way he's interested in going out."

Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.