Reliever gives up homer vs. Cubs in ninth but thinks he'll hit groove soon
By Owen Perkins
DENVER -- Arguably the highest priority in the Rockies' offseason was building a bullet-proof bullpen. Through the first five games of the season, their attention to that facet of their game was clearly paying off. The Rockies went into Sunday's finale with a 0.98 ERA from their relievers, recording two wins and two saves in three save opportunities.
In Sunday's 6-5 loss to the Cubs, the 'pen came back to earth, registering its first loss as closer LaTroy Hawkins faced former teammate Dexter Fowler with two outs and two strikes in the top of the ninth, a pitch away from victory and a second consecutive series win to open the season.
Hawkins left an 0-2 slider up in the zone, and Fowler drove it up into the right-field stands for a two-run game-winner.
"It wasn't a slider, it was a cement mixer," Hawkins said. "That's what we call them when they don't do what they're supposed to do. When you make terrible pitches like that, that's what big leaguers do to you."
It was Hawkins' second blown save of the season, though the team picked him up and gave him a win after his first blown save in the season's second game in Milwaukee.
"All I had to do was get two outs," Hawkins lamented. "Cardinal sin -- I walked the leadoff hitter. That's something I've lived by my whole career, not walking the leadoff hitter, not walking guys. And like they say, he came back to score."
Hawkins, 42, has announced this will be his final big league season, and he is a well-respected veteran in the clubhouse. For a club that follows his lead, a couple of blown saves couldn't shake their confidence in a pitcher with 1,003 appearances under his belt.
"It's tough," Sunday starter Jordan Lyles admitted. "We had two outs with the lead, but it's baseball. I've got all the confidence in LaTroy when he's out there. I want him closing the game when it's on the line."
Prior to Fowler's homer, the bullpen had pitched 11 2/3 scoreless innings during the Cubs series.
"The guys that came in before me, they did an unbelievable job," Hawkins said. "I just couldn't get ahead of the hitter, and then the one I did get ahead of, I gave up a home run to."
Hawkins hasn't hit his groove yet this season, but he's been around long enough to know he's close.
"I'm just searching right now," Hawkins said. "It will come. Since the end of Spring Training, I've been searching, trying to get a feel, a good grip on the ball. Sometimes I've got a good feel, sometimes I don't. I'm just not there just yet. It'll get there. But in the process, I can't have the ball get up in the zone."
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.