Rockies' pitchers looking to get off to better starts

Rockies' pitchers looking to get off to better starts

DENVER -- It wouldn't be accurate to say right-hander Chad Bettis was so tired of hearing criticism of the Rockies' starting rotation during the season's first week that it inspired his solid work in Sunday afternoon's 6-3 victory over the Padres at Coors Field. He'd had enough before the season began.

"It puts a chip on our shoulder," Bettis said during Spring Training. "It's a little aggravating hearing it every day. But it's something that we've got to accept. move forward with and understand that it all relies on pitching and defense."

Even a start as good as Bettis' was on Sunday -- seven innings, two runs (one earned), six strikeouts and one walk -- it isn't enough to kill the nagging issue. The Rockies are 3-3 going into Tuesday's opener of a three-game set with the Giants at Coors Field. But just twice, Bettis on Sunday and right-hander Tyler Chatwood in 6 1/3 innings Wednesday at Arizona, has a starter completed as many as six innings.

The struggles are against the backdrop of an offense that has scored six or more runs in all but two of the games. Rookie shortstop Trevor Story owns all kinds of records with seven home runs in his first six Major League games, Carlos Gonzalez has three homers and Nolan Arenado and DJ LeMahieu two apiece, as Colorado entered Monday's play leading the Majors with 17 homers.

The story hasn't changed. Last year at home, the Rockies were third in the Majors in first-inning runs and led the Majors through three innings, but their pitchers' ERA through the first frame and through the first three were worst in the Majors.

Through six games this year, three at Arizona and three at home, the team's 7.98 ERA is highest in the game. The starters' 7.40 ERA ranks 26th of 30 teams and has meant the strong back of the bullpen has had fewer innings than long and middle relievers who have struggled.

Colorado is avoiding the finger-pointing that could easily result. After his 3 1/3-inning struggle in the home-opening loss to San Diego, disconsolate righty Jordan Lyles said the loss was "on my shoulders," but Gonzalez expressed support.

"It's good to hear that one player is trying to take all the blame, but it's not fair," Gonzalez said. "Everyone had an opportunity to change the game. Early in the game, we had the bases loaded and didn't score."

The good news is the solution is simple: get and stay ahead of hitters.

"It's an offensive park, so hitters swing early and swing often," Rockies pitching coach Steve Foster said. "But that's what the pitcher has to overcome. You turn it around by pitching to contact, not running from it."

But in two starts, lefty Jorge De La Rosa (12.46 ERA) has finished 16 of his 29 counts behind. Lyles finished just four of his 21 counts ahead in his start. Chatwood, who starts Tuesday against the Giants, showed how it should be done on Wednesday at Arizona, when he finished ahead or even against all but seven of his 29 batters.

After a rough first start last Tuesday, Bettis rebounded Sunday. He threw first-pitch strikes to 17 of the 26 hitters he faced, including nine of the last 12. It was progress.

"The emphasis is on our attitude," veteran catcher Nick Hundley said. "Go out and win games, having our pitchers win games, believing that we can beat people. We'll win games on the mound as opposed to at the plate."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, listen to podcasts and like his Facebook page. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.