Rockies manage to score 9 runs at Petco and lose

So, how did that happen?  Petco Park, normally known as the ballpark where batted balls go to die, suddenly resembled Coors Field, circa 1997, as the Rockies pounded out nine runs on fourteen hits (and, somewhat amazingly, no homers) but wound up losing 11-9 to the Padres after the Pads pounded out nine runs on eight hits in one inning.

But, hey, aside from that, the Rockies’ pitching staff gave up two runs on six hits over seven innings.  Those numbers would be good enough to win on most nights, particularly nights when Clay Hensley was doing his best to make sure that giving up Barry Bonds’ 755th homer was not enough and that everybody was welcome to score runs off him.  Hensley lasted five innings, gave up six runs on six hits and four walks … and somehow came away with the win.

Now, I’m no pitcher, but if I were, and I allowed ten baserunners to reach base in five innings and allowed six of them to score — for you math types, that’s a 10.80 ERA and 2.00 WHIP — I’d expect to hit the showers, be thankful that while I wasn’t that good, my start wasn’t disastrous and wouldn’t cause the bullpen to have to pitch seven innings and be out for the next three days, and go get ’em the next time out.  I would not, however, expect a W next to my name in the box score.  Unfortunately, that’s what happened.

Up until that point, Elmer Dessens, the Rockies’ latest starting pitcher, had actually been doing well.  Dessens had given up two runs, but in the top of the fifth inning the Rockies scored four and staked him to a 6-2 lead.  After walking catcher Pete LaForest to start the bottom of the fifth, Dessens struck out pinch hitter Marcus Giles and got brother Brian to fly out.  He was one out away from being in line for the win.

Then, in a flash, Geoff Blum singled, and Mike Cameron hit a three-run homer.  Still a 6-5 lead; nothing terrible.  For whatever reason, Clint Hurdle decided that he’d seen enough from Dessens (after 74 pitches) and pulled him for reliever Jeremy Affeldt.  Affeldt, with a sparkling 2.51 ERA heading into the game, should have been counted on to get Adrian Gonzalez, a fellow lefty, out… right?

But that’s not what happened.  Gonzalez singled, then moved up to second on a wild pitch.  Then, for some bizarre reason, Clint Hurdle decided to intentionally walk Khalil Greene and his .236 average.  I suppose that pitching to Terrmel Sledge, who’s batting .212, including a truly atrocious .045 average against lefties, was a decent idea, but Hurdle apparently hasn’t noticed that intentionally walking one hitter so that you can pitch to a presumably weaker hitter is never a good idea.  Naturally, Sledge doubled, scoring both runs.  Then Kevin Kouzmanoff hit an RBI single.  Then Pete LaForest — as you’ll recall, the man who led off the inning — hit his second career homer.

Hurdle finally decided that he’d seen enough of Affeldt, but only after Affeldt had given up five runs without retiring a single batter.  Matt Herges came in and promptly gave up a pair of hits to the Giles brothers, the latter of which scored a run.  Geoff Blum then mercifully flied out to put an end to the inning.

So, let’s recap: Three pitchers, thirteen batters faced, and only three outs.  Nine runs, eight hits, and two walks.  Even though the Rockies managed to get three of the runs back against Kevin Cameron — who somehow was sporting a 0.80 ERA coming in despite not being very good — they were effectively done after that fifth inning.

Obviously, the pitchers didn’t do a great job, but I think some of Clint Hurdle’s decision-making needs to be questioned here.  Hurdle probably pulled Dessens at the wrong time.  Dessens was making his first start in the majors since October 2005.  At the time he was pulled, he’d thrown 74 pitches, but even that may have been too much.  You see, Dessens started the season in Milwaukee’s bullpen.  After landing on the DL in late May (the Brewers called up Ryan Braun to take his roster spot; I’m sure they’re still happy that Dessens happened to get hurt), Dessens was on the shelf until July 17, when he made his first of three rehab starts for AAA Nashville.  In the longest of those three starts, he went five innings, but that was largely because he only threw 63 pitches.  He was activated from the DL on August 2, but didn’t pitch for Milwaukee; instead, Milwaukee optioned him back down to AAA two days later and then waived him on August 8.  Dessens pitched three innings in relief for the Sky Sox on August 10 and threw 40 pitches, his last appearance before being called up to start in place of Aaron Cook.

That give you an idea?  Expecting Dessens to go five innings was a stretch, but for a while he looked like he just might do it.  He entered the fifth having thrown 56 pitches, but he’d been solid.  On the flipside, though, we’re talking about a man whose longest outing of the year had been 63 pitches, who hadn’t faced major league hitters in almost three months, and who hadn’t pitched in two weeks before a 40-pitch outing last Friday.  It would have been understandable for Hurdle to have pulled Dessens after four, but it’s also understandable that he wanted to save his bullpen for a bit, and that he wanted to give Dessens a chance to get the win.

The walk to LaForest to lead off the fifth, though, pushed Dessens to 61 pitches.  It would have been understandable to pull him there as well; after all, he’d pitched well to that point, and the same rationales applied that did before the inning started.  Realistically, if Dessens was going to pitch into the fifth inning, he should have been lifted at the first sign of trouble.  The flipside is that Dessens struck out the next batter, and then got Brian Giles on two pitches.

At that point, he was one out away from being in line for the win, but he’d also thrown 68 pitches — more than he’d thrown all year.  The single to Blum put him at 71 pitches, and at that point Hurdle went to the mound, but evidently decided that he still had enough left to get Cameron.  But that’s not what happened, and Dessens ended up letting the Padres back in the game on Cameron’s three-run homer.  In hindsight, Hurdle left Dessens in too long.  If he was going to leave Dessens in in an attempt to let him get the win, Dessens should have been pulled at the first sign of trouble.  Whether you think that’s the walk to LaForest or the single to Blum that put runners on the corners with two out, Dessens should not have been in the game to pitch to Cameron.  Of course, Hurdle, managing with a four-run lead, evidently thought leaving Dessens in to get the win was more important than trying to control the damage.

Then came the disaster that was Jeremy Affeldt.  Affeldt came in and promptly went 3-0 on Adrian Gonzalez, the Padres’ most dangerous hitter, and then gave up a single on a 3-2 pitch.  After going 2-0 on Greene, including a wild pitch that moved Gonzalez to second, Hurdle put Greene on to pitch to Sledge.

Let’s look at that move.  Sledge, who was batting .212 coming into the game and an atrocious .045 against lefthanders, obviously didn’t pose much of a threat in Hurdle’s mind.  On the other hand, how much of a threat was Greene?  Greene entered the game hitting just .238, and while he’s batting .274 against lefties and is a decent power threat, putting him on served no real purpose.  The issue here was that Affeldt had no command, and that meant that Sledge was about as likely to hurt him as Greene was.

The other issue here was that Hurdle left Affeldt in to pitch to two more batters after Sledge doubled.  When a guy’s clearly off, as Affeldt was tonight, you try to get him out of there as soon as possible and limit the damage.  After the Sledge double, the score was still only 7-6; bringing in Herges then could have put out the fire and allowed the Rockies to rally for a run or two in the next inning, which they did.  (Never mind that Herges gave up hits to the first two batters he faced; Hurdle didn’t know he would do that.)  Leaving him in to pitch to Kouzmanoff and Laforest, though, blew up in the Rockies’ faces as that made it 10-6.

But the real issue that led to the big inning was that Hurdle gave Dessens too long of a leash.  I realize that the bullpen’s gotten a lot of work the last two games, and Hurdle needed to try his best to get five innings out of Dessens and save the bullpen a bit, but Dessens needed to be pulled at the first sign of trouble, and Hurdle did not do that.  If Hurdle was going to try to leave him in through the fifth, he should have had the bullpen up almost immediately.  He should have visited Dessens at the mound after the walk to the first batter, not when he was facing a dangerous hitter with two men on.  There is no way that Elmer Dessens should have been pitching to Mike Cameron.

Oh well.  We’ll get ’em next time.  Tomorrow night it’s Josh Fogg, our de facto number two starter.  That about sums up the state of the Rockies’ rotation right now: Josh Fogg is currently our number two starter.

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