Whenever a team has terrible starting pitching sooner or later someone will write a column on how they should start the game with their closer on the mound to let the game settle into its groove, and then bring in a pitcher designed to go three or four innings. It is one theory on how to solve the issue of bad starting pitching. Most starting pitchers are bad because they give up runs when facing a line-up for a second or third time.
The Rockies weren’t getting good starting pitching and their starters weren’t going deep into games, so they did something equally as radical as starting the game with a closer. The Rockies ended their struggles to find a fifth starter by going to a four man rotation and then capping the starter at 75 pitches. In order to have this work and then still effectively use a bullpen that has been one of the best in baseball the Rockies have a second pitcher also on a rotation who will come in after the starter and throw 50 pitches. It is an odd experiment, but the Rockies weren’t winning the in the conventional manner which put them in the perfect position to do something radical.
Over the last two nights I have seen the experiment work and fail. In the first of the Rockies four game series against the Nationals Jeff Francis gave up two runs over five innings and then got out of the game before anymore damage was done. The second pitcher was able to shutdown the Nationals during his 50 pitches and when that was over the bullpen lined up so that the Nats were facing the same back end they would have been had a starter gone seven on his own.
Last evening did not go the Rockies way. Christian Friedrich wasn’t able to make it through the fifth inning and gave up four runs in the process, but when he left the Nationals only had a one run lead. Guillermo Moscoso was the second pitcher that evening and he was not on his game. He ended up giving up 8 runs over 1 2/3 innings, but the Rockies couldn’t take him out of the game, because with their experiment they cannot ask the next days starter to go deep into the ball game because his pitch count is already set at 75. Last night Moscoso had nothing and it was very clear from the moment he entered the game, but because of the Rockies four man rotation he had to take his lumps.
The Rockies experiment may not work. It is after all an experiment, but at least they are trying something. As a Nationals fan I had to watch a lot of bad starting pitching in 2009, but the only move the Nationals ever made to fix the rotation was to bring in Livan Hernandez for eight starts at the end of the year. The Nats rotation that season was so bad that Livan earned himself a contract for the next season by putting up a 5.36 ERA. It was a bad year and the Nationals had to watch promising rookies Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler get injured.
One other young pitcher looked good before he made it to that second or third time through the order, and now Craig Stammen is a long reliever on the Nationals. Perhaps if the Nationals went with a rotation of Lannan, Zimmermann, Detwiler, Stammen in 2009 and piggy backed Martis, Mock, and Martin behind them then maybe Zimmermann wouldn’t have needed TJS and Detwiler wouldn’t have injured his hip. At the very least the Nationals would have been doing something to try and avoid a second straight 100 loss season. Remember history may be written by the winners but it is made by the innovations of the losers. The Rockies couldn’t win doing things by the book so they are making their own book, and if this works baseball could be very different in a few years.