Morales Gets Chance to Prove He Belongs

April 20, 2009 | 11:42 pm | 4  

PHOENIX – Franklin Morales made a statement in the third game of the season.

Now, the Rockies need him to expound upon it.

Morales wants everyone to understand he’s ready to pitch in the big leagues. He wants to erase the memories of the nightmare of last April. He wants to make others aware that he really was having some back problems a year ago, and that’s not just a convenient excuse of justify the disappointment that was his 2008 season.

He took a step in that direction when he opened the season in the Rockies rotation, and debuted in Game 3 with six strong innings and against the Arizona Diamondbacks, allowing just one run in the Rockies 9-2 win at Chase Field back on April 8.

Tuesday night, 13 days later, after a stay-sharp appearance at Triple-A Colorado Springs necessitated by the Rockies excessive number of early season off days, Morales returns to the Rockies big-league rotation with the team in need of a big-time effort.

After winning four of their first five games this season, the Rockies have fallen into a funk. A 6-3 loss to Arizona on Monday night was their seventh loss in eight games. It was the fourth time in six games that they have scored three or fewer runs. More concerning, it left them winless and outscored 33-13 in the past four games of this six-game road trip.

That’s why the Rockies so badly need someone to step up and provide that one big moment that can lift them out of the fog, much like Arizona received in the fifth inning on Monday night when Miguel Montero turned a hanging first-pitch changeup from Jason Marquis into a three-run home run that provided the 6-1 breathing room Arizona needed to hang on for only its third victory in its last nine games.

During the Rockies recent slide there have been times that one big play might have turned the momentum in their direction, but the big play became a big letdown.

In that fifth inning on Monday, for instance, after Arizona had taken a 3-1 lead when Brad Hawpe kicked a Chad Tracy single, allowing Augie Ojeda to score from first, Marquis walked Mark Reynolds, and then had a chance to escape. He got Chris Young to ground a ball to shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. Tulowitzki, however, hurried a throw that went on the outfield side of second base, Clint Barmes making a brilliant bare-handed grab, but his one-hop throw to first was a tad late to get an inning-ending double play.

Next pitch, Montero unloaded.

The Rockies? They were 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position. They couldn’t even get Todd Helton home after a leadoff double in the fourth. Garrett Atkins and Brad Hawpe both grounded to second and Tulowitzki struck out looking on three pitches.

In Sunday’s 14-2 loss to the Dodgers, the game fell apart in a seven-run fifth that was ignited when Matt Kemp greeted reliever Matt Belisle with a grand slam. Saturday, not only did Aaron Cook give up three home runs, equaling a career-worst, but the managed just one hit – a Brad Hawpe triple – in 10 at-bats with a runner in scoring position in that 9-5 loss.

Friday night, the bullpen saw a  3-0 lead turned into a 4-3 loss when Belisle failed to retire any of the three batters he faced after taking over to start the seventh, and left-hander Alan Embree replaced him and served up a three-run double to Andre Ethier, the lone lefty in the Dodgers  starting lineup.

Get the point.

There has been a stumble by the starting pitching. There has been a failure by the bullpen. There have been defensive blips. And there has been offensive efforts from the offense.

Tuesday, Morales gets a chance to exorcise those demons. And it all starts with him throwing strikes. Back problems notwithstanding, his undoing a year ago came with 99 walks and only 92 strikeouts in 125 2/3 innings between the Rockies and Triple-A Colorado Springs.

He only walked one batter in his six innings against Arizona back on April 8, but did send up at least a caution flare in his effort at Colorado Springs last week when he allowed only two hits but did walk five in six innings. The positive was he showed composure and didn’t let those walks turn into runs. The bottom line, however, was he pitched at 89 miles per hour, only twice hitting 91.

He was, however, good enough to earn a recall to the big leagues.

Now, however, he knows he has to be better to keep the rotation job he wants.

The Rockies to have an alternative in right-hander Jason Hammel, who they acquired from Tampa Bay on the final weekend of the spring. Hammel is going through a get-acquainted spell and working in the bullpen for now, but after a shaky debut at Coors Field, he has shown the 95-mile-per-hour fastball and mid-70 curveball that had the Rockies so interested in adding him with back-to-back two-inning shutout efforts.

Like Morales, Hammel has let it be known he would like to start.

For now, however, the ball is in Morales’ hand.

The challenge is for Morales to maintain his spot this year, not throw it away like he did last April.

4 Comments »

  • Carl | April 21, 2009 | 8:31 am

    Have they lost confidence already? They seem like they are pressing already. It seems like they are waiting for the other shoe to drop. Have they had any comebacks yet this season? They seem dead as soon as they get down a run or two.

  • Karl | April 21, 2009 | 8:52 am

    I agree the life just doesnt seem there and they look like it is someone else’s fault for not swinging the bat. Nothing irritates me as a fan more than to have the bat left on their shoulder’s as they hope for a walk it seems. Swing the bat please and take accountability for your out. You are going to get out 70-75% of the time, might as well swing for it to give yourself a shot. They have been maddening to watch the last week.

    I still think the rotation and the bullpen will bring them through this and this is just a quirky week hitting wise. The hitting will come around, but each team member and coach needs to look in the mirror and ask themselves, what can I do better and then go and do it.

  • gleich | April 21, 2009 | 10:56 am

    Trace-

    Any idea what they’re calling the injury to Speier? Or is that just hocus pocus to make room for Morales?

  • ian olson | April 21, 2009 | 11:00 am

    I thought things were going to be different this season. It looks a lot like ’08. I am not looking forward to a repeat.

    Maybe it’s time for Hurdle (and please take Apodaca) to go. You can’t keep hoping things will turn around when everything is going bad. These are the same things that were supposed to change from the previous year. It might be a cop out, but they need to do something before they are out of it.