Rox fall to Braves as big lead slips away

Rox fall to Braves as big lead slips away

Rox fall to Braves as big lead slips away
DENVER -- Saturday's loss to the Braves left the Rockies with a sour taste that even an hour of hard rain couldn't wash away. For the second night in a row, the Rockies staked themselves to a big first-inning lead against the Braves, only to blow it in the sixth and ultimately fall, 13-9.

"That's the worst game of the year for us," manager Jim Tracy said. "From the sixth inning on, we didn't pitch at all. We had a 6-0 lead after two innings ... and once we went to our bullpen, no one that we ran out there threw with any consistency whatsoever. When you've scored 17 runs in the first two games of the series and you haven't won one, it gives you a pretty good idea of where we're failing."

The Rockies are not unique in their dependence upon better pitching to get them to .500 baseball and beyond. But with a relatively young staff, long on potential and short on experience, the Rockies are relying on a faster learning curve than they've seen through the first month of the season. The starting pitching has averaged fewer than six innings an outing, putting an enormous burden on the bullpen.

Enter Jamie Moyer, making his 634th career start in his 23rd year in the Major Leagues at 49. With two members of the Opening Day rotation on the disabled list or demoted to the Minors, Moyer provides an experienced edge to a rotation whose two other current members account for a combined 48 years in age and 26 big league starts.

Moyer cruised through the first four innings without allowing an earned run, though Michael Bourn scored on the second error of the third inning, with one error coming on a routine grounder to Troy Tulowitzki at short and the second coming on a routine fly to Carlos Gonzalez in left. Moyer still managed to get through the first four innings on 51 pitches, a good sign for an overworked bullpen.

"My approach is always to get quick outs," Moyer said. "They strung a couple hits together, and then I made some mistakes in the sixth inning."

Moyer's downfall came quickly in the fifth and sixth innings. His success against hitters tends to fall as he gets deeper into games, with his opponents' average against climbing roughly 100 points after his first 45 pitches. He gave up three hits in the fifth, with runs scoring on Chipper Jones' double to center and a Brian McCann single to right. He opened the sixth yielding back-to-back home runs to Matt Diaz and Jason Heyward. After giving up a third straight hit, Tracy pulled the plug and went to his bullpen.

"The wheels fell off," Moyer said. "Solo home runs usually don't beat you, but they just chipped away and they chipped away. I couldn't get an out in the sixth."

Though Moyer didn't have an answer for the abrupt change, an exchange he had with Jones shed a little light on at least one theory. With Jones on second and McCann at the plate in the fifth, Moyer had some words for Jones from the mound.

"He woke a sleeping giant tonight," Jones said. "He started chirping and it went all downhill from there. He accused me of relaying a sign down 6-2 with a 3-0 count to Brian McCann. I have never relayed a sign to anyone while I'm on second base.

"I don't know why he's so paranoid. But to be honest with you, every pitch he throws is 78 [mph]. So it's not like we really have to relay signs."

Having lost a five-run, first-inning lead on Friday night, the Rockies built an even bigger lead on Saturday. They put together two walks and a single to load the bases for Michael Cuddyer, who turned on an 85-mph changeup from Mike Minor and launched a drive to the left-center alley, sending the ball some 400 feet into the stands for his sixth career grand slam. It was the third slam of the Rockies' season, all coming on the current homestand.

The Rockies added a pair in the second when Moyer and Marco Scutaro hit back-to-back, one-out singles to left and Gonzalez plated them both with a double to center. They added runs in the fifth and seventh, courtesy of rookie catcher Wilin Rosario, who homered twice for his first multi-homer game.

Gonzalez was 4-for-4 with a walk, doing his part for an offense that has scored three runs or fewer eight times and more than five runs 10 times this season.

"We have to have a balance," Gonzalez said. "We need to score runs and hold the other team. There's a lot of baseball left, but it's definitely painful to see the way we've been losing games, especially when we're scoring a lot of runs."

The Rockies' relievers entered the game with a 7-5 record and a 3.97 ERA, compared to 5-8 and 5.37 for the starters. But Saturday was a black night for the bullpen. After Moyer entered the sixth up by five, the Rockies finished the seventh trailing by four.

Esmil Rogers relieved Moyer in the sixth, and gave up five runs on three hits, three walks (one intentional), a hit batsman, a wild pitch and a throwing error in 1 1/3 innings, elevating his ERA by nearly three runs to 8.36.

"With Esmil, it's back and forth," Tracy said. "A good day, a bad day, a good day, another bad day. Which guy's coming? Which guy's going to show up? That's what we have to sort out and get to the point where we know a consistent guy's going to show up on a regular basis. That's where we're failing, right?

"And it's not just him. We're dealing with this somewhat collectively, in that there's been some gross inconsistency [from] starting pitching and at times in the bullpen. The whole thing has to get itself squared away."

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