For the Rockies to contend, pitchers without significant big-league experience, like Friedrich (1-1), must become stalwarts. But with inevitable days of hard lessons like Saturday, it's beginning to look like a tall order to expect that maturation in time for the Rockies to push for the postseason.
It's not only Friedrich, but Juan Nicasio (2-1, 4.37 ERA), whose rookie season last year was shortened by a broken neck, Alex White (0-3, 5.09), who began the year at Triple-A Colorado Springs, and even left-hander Drew Pomeranz, who is at Colorado Springs working on his delivery.
This youthful group should include Jhoulys Chacin (0-3, 7.30) in his second full season, but he pitched poorly through right shoulder pain and has landed on the disabled list.
By no means blameless for Saturday was a veteran-laden lineup that made Justin Vargas (5-3) look dominant for seven innings a day after being shut out and held to two hits by former Rockies pitcher Kevin Millwood. Their lack of production during the 1-3 homestand, on the heels of a low-scoring, 2-6 road trip has raised much ire among the faithful. Cheering for Jordan Pacheco's RBI single was part sarcasm. Wilin Rosario followed that with a two-run shot for his sixth homer of the season.
But, back to starting pitching.
The Rockies have rotation veterans in Jeremy Guthrie (2-1, 4.85), who will start Sunday as the Rockies try to avert being swept, and Jamie Moyer (2-3, 4.20), but they're around to eat innings and feed wisdom.
Fans screaming for change have the names of manager Jim Tracy and pitching coach Bob Apodaca on the tips of their tongues. But as go the young pitchers, so go the Rockies (15-24). Tracy, almost defiantly because he senses skepticism, has said several times the pitchers can make enough growth to make this season memorable.
The step between prospect and front-of-the-rotation stalwart often takes longer at altitude. Of course, Friedrich, the team's top Draft choice in 2008 out of Eastern Kentucky, believes that's just what will happen, Saturday's struggles notwithstanding.
"Absolutely, I think all of us have the talent to do it," said Friedrich, whose walks doubled the number he issued in starts at San Diego and San Francisco, when he yielded two earned runs and struck out 17 in 13 innings pitched. "We all have the talent. The young guys we have in the 'pen, too. That's why we're here. We're supposed to do the job just like everybody else.
"I've had outings worse than this [in the Minors]. Obviously, this is a bigger stage, so it hurts the ego a little bit. As soon as you leave the field, you try to forget about it and you remember the things that you can fix and get better at. That's all I'm going to worry about."
The inconsistency of youth had Tracy wearing a look of disgust and speaking with exasperation in his voice, but still preaching patience.
"His first time out here at Coors Field, there would be an information-gathering opportunity today," Tracy said of Friedrich. "What you didn't see today that you saw in his first two starts was he didn't command his curveball. His fastball command wasn't like it's been in his first two starts."
Friedrich thought he had a strikeout against second-inning leadoff man Jesus Montero, but plate umpire Paul Schreiber disagreed. Kyle Seager followed with his fifth homer of the season on a 2-1 pitch.
The back-breaking inning was the second, when Friedrich struck out Vargas and Dustin Ackley, but yielded Casper Wells' double. Friedrich broke Ichiro Suzuki's bat, but the result was a dribbling, infield single. Montero and Seager added RBI singles for a 4-0 lead.
"You go through that with young people," Tracy said. "We had two out, nobody on, two strikeouts and they still ended up putting two more points on the board."
Vargas added an RBI single after Brendan Ryan's double in the fourth, and the Mariners sent up nine hitters in the sixth to make the game a blowout. The Mariners, last in the American League West, entered hitting .244 on the road, but looked way more potent Saturday.
"Probably for him, it's got to be a little frustrating, because it seemed like if you made a mistake we, for the most part, put the barrel on it or found a hole or something," Ryan said. "That's not going to happen every time he pitches."
Unlike on the road, Friedrich couldn't throw early fastballs for strikes and breaking pitches were non-factors.
"It was just about locating the strike zone, and I couldn't do that today," Friedrich said.
Struggling Rockies relief pitchers Esmil Rogers and Rex Brothers relinquished a run apiece, although the run off Brothers was unearned because catcher Rosario committed his fifth passed ball of the season.
Vargas gave up one hit through five innings and held the Rockies to three runs and five hits in seven frames.
Michael Cuddyer went 0-for-4 and is 0-for-13 this homestand. Carlos Gonzalez is 3-for-15, Troy Tulowitzki 3-for-12 and Todd Helton, who did not play Saturday, 1-for-7. With an offense like that, pitchers are taking turns looking good.
"I think he obviously caught us at a good time," Cuddyer said of Vargas. "He's a good pitcher, don't get me wrong. But we're not swinging the bats very well. A lot of us are cold at the same time."