Corpas Might Need A Minor Tuneup

April 29, 2009 | 3:46 am | 27  

For three months in the second half of the 2007 season, while the Rockies were battling to earn the first World Series appearance in franchise history, Manny Corpas was among the game’s late-inning elite pitchers.

Fame, however, has been fleeting.

A month into the 2008 season, Corpas had kicked the ninth-inning duties away, and given a chance to reaffirm his role as the closer in the early days of this season, Corpas has been unable to shut the door on the doubters.

Instead, he has created even more doubts about his status when the game is on the line, creating the thought that he could even wind up back in the minor leagues, trying to reaffirm his big-league future.

He is guaranteed $7.5 million over the next three seasons, but nothing else.

He does have options, which means the Rockies wouldn’t risk losing Corpas if they decided a refresher course is necessary at Triple-A Colorado Springs – a step he skipped on his way to the big leagues initially.

He has to regain the confidence of his teammates, coaches and manager that he can be trusted with the game on the line. So far, it hasn’t happened. Corpas has been given the chances but he hasn’t been able to reward manager Clint Hurdle and Co., for the confidence.

Corpas does not deserve the full blame for the struggles that have engulfed the Rockies, but he has been a critical part of the failures, including coughing up the game-losing run in the ninth inning of Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to the San Diego Padres.

On a night on which the Rockies stranded runners in scoring position with less than two outs in the second, third, fourth, fifth, seventh, and eighth innings, and had the game-tying run on second with two out in the ninth but couldn’t get it home. Corpas was the poster boy for the futility.

Yes, Garrett Atkins grounded into the inning-ending double play with runners on first and third in the seventh, and the game-ending fielder’s choice in the ninth, and Troy Tulowitzki, after singling to ignite a game-tying two-run rally in the seventh, grounded into a bases-loaded double play to end the eighth.

But it was Corpas on the mound in the top of the ninth that keeps echoing off the memory. It was Corpas who was the victim of the first career triple for .237-hitting Nick Hundley to open the inning, and then, with one out, served up the game-deciding single to pinch-hitter Luis Rodriguez, a career .188 hitter with runners in scoring position.

Afterward, it is what Hurdle didn’t say that said so much.

Asked about Corpas’ situation, Hurdle said in light of the fact the right-hander had thrown 70 pitches to get just nine outs in the last three games, Huston Street would get the call in the ninth. And Hurdle wouldn’t make any commitments beyond that.

“It is (unsettling),’’ Hurdle said of the bullpen situation. “We have to find some answers out there late. But we know they are better than this. We have to keep battling.’’

The Rockies thought they had bullpen depth.

Now they aren’t convinced they have a ninth-inning option.

Street has given them glimpses of hopes, but not the consistency. He was given the closer job to open the season because of the efficient of his late spring – never more than 12 pitches in any of his last eight appearances. Ten days into the season, however, and Corpas was given the late-inning responsibility.

Now it’s Street, at least for a day, who is on call if the Rockies have a lead in the ninth, and Corpas who has become the bigger puzzle, a pitcher who has excelled for two brief periods in the closer role.

Both times, however, the opportunity has been a surprise. At Double-A Tulsa in 2006, he wound up with 19 saves, earning a big-league promotion, being thrown into the closer role when injuries left the job opened. And it was a one-week meltdown by Rockies all-time save leader Brian Fuentes during the final week of June in 2007 that allowed Corpas to step into that role at the big-league level.

For those final three months of 2007, Corpas was as good as the Rockies could ever hope for. He converted 19 of 20 saves.

But it was less than a month into 2008 before he had coughed the job back up, and given the chance to reclaim it in the early days of 2009, he has been unable to get the job done.

After three scoreless appearances to open the season, he has an 0-2 record and has converted one of two save situations while allowing seven runs in eight innings over eight appearances.  

He gave up a game-tying home run to Chase Utley of Philadelphia in the eighth inning at Coors Field on April 12. He coughed up the game-deciding ninth-inning single to Brad Ausmus of the Dodgers on Friday. And he served up the hit to Rodriguez in the ninth on Tuesday.

He has needed 22 or more pitches to merely get three outs in four of his last six appearances.

He has failed to provide closure that the Rockies so desperately need.

27 Comments »

  • Zach | April 29, 2009 | 7:45 am

    Tracy,
    The key issue in last night’s loss was not the ineffectiveness of Manny Corpas, it was Hurdle’s ineffective use of Manny Corpas and his bullpen. Corpas has struggled lately – including giving up a run on Sunday night, and maybe he could use some time in AAA – but that’s not what this is about. This is about Hurdle’s decision to use Manny on both Sunday and Monday in very low leverage situations, and then to bring him back for a 3rd day in a row (after throwing 48 pitches the previous two days). I’m not sure which is more inexcusable, bringing him in for the 3rd night in a row (in April) or sending him out there Monday to begin with. This loss should be all on Hurdle, not Manny.

  • Marc | April 29, 2009 | 8:07 am

    Zach – well said, its hard to understand why Manny was in the game at all last night. As Tracy noted above – with his work on Friday he threw in 4 of 5 past games.
    On Monday’s broadcast they clearly said that his pitching on Monday would take him out of the equation on Tuedsay … I missed the end of last night’s game but would be very curious to hear if the decision was discussed on air.
    I too agree that we have a potential problem with the closer role (which makes the MH trade even harder to swallow sometimes) but I think Manny had a very tired arm last night.

  • Robb (Durango, CO) | April 29, 2009 | 8:58 am

    Another one-run loss. I agree with what the earlier gentlemen wrote and I just don’t think Hurdle handles the bullpen well. His best reliever right now is Grilli and Street is coming around after a couple of bad outings. That said, Corpas is a talented pitcher and can really make a difference. Maybe it is Apodaca?

  • Bill | April 29, 2009 | 9:15 am

    Respectfully disagree. This isn’t on Hurdle.

    This is all on Corpas. This isn’t a tired arm. This is chronic. In his last six appearances he has allowed at least one hit and in five of those six appearances, he gave up two or more hits (and now four straight games of multiple hits allowed). Opponents this season are tagging him at a .395 clip – worst on the Rockies, which is saying something.

    I don’t know if it is mechanical or physical. But lefties are demolishing him. His ERA against left-handed hitters is 10.80 (with a .478 batting average) vs. 1.69 against righties – altho the light-hitting catcher who tripled last night is a righthanded hitter. The game winner was delivered by a switch hitter.

    My opinion: Reality is settling in with several young players who fans and the team thought – maybe still think – are a bit better than they actually are. One of those is Corpas. He is not a closer. He is a guy who should be thrown out there to get right-handed hitters out.

    Here are the opponents’ batting averages against Corpas by big-league season: 2006 – .286, 2007 – .224, .2008 – .296, 2009 – .395.
    The aberation? 2007. The reality: Guys hit him pretty well.

    I don’t see a prototypical closer on this team, unless Street can regain his stuff. Buch? He deserves a shot when he gets back. Short term? Maybe Grilli. By the numbers, though, (strikeouts/men on base per nine innings, Speier, when healthy, might be the most logical option.

  • Zach | April 29, 2009 | 9:22 am

    Bill – Don’t disagree that Corpas may have a tired arm. But you don’t run a tired arm out there for a 3rd night in a row and a 4th out of the last 5 in a tie ball game in the 9th. You just don’t do it.

  • Marcus | April 29, 2009 | 9:24 am

    Tracy,

    I know this might be a little out there, what do you think of De La Rosa as the Rockies closer. Maybe he could come out with the John Rocker type anger and throw mid 90′s heat left handed. I think if could go out and concetrate on one inning of work he could be pretty lethal.

  • Karl | April 29, 2009 | 9:49 am

    Marcus,

    Interesting idea and gets some thoughts rolling, but I think since he has the best ERA of the starting staff, thats no where near happening. What about the Chacin starter in the minors? Could be a Joba type of guy for the Rockies this year. Betting they won’t consider that for a few more months though

  • Marc | April 29, 2009 | 10:04 am

    Bill

    Very nice use of the numbers that would suggest that 07 is/was the exception more than the rule.
    That said – as it pertains to last night, I still don’t think he should have been in the game.
    Maybe Taylor is the answer when he gets back – or maybe Huston gets his velocity back … with all of the other issues this team has swirling around, it’s a shame that the closer role has to be added to the list.

  • Redhawk | April 29, 2009 | 10:26 am

    Corpas Fastball yesterday topped at 91 mph, and as low as 87. Good movement, but that’s just not fast enough or dominate enough.

    Tulowitzki has options too…….I’m not saying anything…just saying

  • gleich | April 29, 2009 | 10:49 am

    Amen Zach

  • ian olson | April 29, 2009 | 11:00 am

    Tracy,

    This is something I have wondered a long time, is Bob Apodaca a good pitching coach?

    Over his tenure they haven’t had very much success in developing guys and when they do there always seems to be regression. As a staff overall they haven’t been very good in his time either.

    How is he viewed around the league? Do you think he does a good job?

  • Joseph | April 29, 2009 | 11:25 am

    Good question Ian.

    Tracy,

    I’ll just ditto Ian’s question. Though I suppose it’s off topic, I’ll also ask for your take on Hurdle. Should he be blamed for the current record? Why or Why not?

    Can you even answer these questions honestly without repercussions?

  • Marc | April 29, 2009 | 11:30 am

    I won’t even pretend to speak for the Cowboy …that would be beyond foolish.

    However, when I read the last two questions I can’t help to think about relationships and employment.

  • Joseph | April 29, 2009 | 11:42 am

    Marc,

    Agreed. That’s why I put the last question in there. But, Apodaca and Hurdle are the talk of Rockies nation (is there such a thing?). Though perhaps an unreasonable luxury, it would be nice to know where the most knowledgeable baseball guy in town stands.

  • Marc | April 29, 2009 | 12:09 pm

    Joseph

    I hear you – it would be great

  • Bill | April 29, 2009 | 12:28 pm

    The question of the hour. I’d love to know Tracy’s sincere assessment as well.

    For what it’s worth – I’ve always appreciated Hurdle’s managment, his willingness to be flexible, to change a philosophy, what he can do with a bit of a bare shelf. I’ve always been one of those who felt the issue begins with available resources. I’ve heard Tracy debate that point (The Monforts $) pretty well, so I’ll leave that for another thread. One thing you can’t debate – the ’09 Rox would be better with Holliday and Fuentes.

    But I do wonder whether Hurdle is being heard – listened to – in the clubhouse like he was earlier in his tenure, what authority/clout/respect he truly carries with the players aside from benching them when they’re not performing. No way to measure that leadership. Just a theory.

  • Mike | April 29, 2009 | 12:29 pm

    Should [Hurdle] be blamed for the current record? Why or Why not?

    Would it make a difference to you? Are you wondering whether he should be fired on the basis of a month’s worth of games?

  • Mike | April 29, 2009 | 12:39 pm

    One thing you can’t debate – the ‘09 Rox would be better with Holliday and Fuentes.

    Ha! This is the internet, people debate whether the earth is an oblate spheroid.

    It would have been nice to have been able to keep Fuentes. Losing Buchholz on top of that hurt, too.

    FWIW, here’s the line this year from LF so far (according to BB-ref):

    (BA/OBP/SLG): .324 .442 .620

    I think letting Holliday go was the right decision. Obviously I’m not privy to all the info, but he didn’t seem willing to sign an extension, and if he’s like most Boras clients, he will be going for a contract that not only has a high AAV, but also extends well into his mid/late 30′s. I don’t think the Rockies will ever go for that again after the way Hampton, Walker and Helton’s contracts have worked out.

  • Mike | April 29, 2009 | 1:08 pm

    Here is something else to consider when it comes to the struggles of the pitching staff: the Rockies’ fielding does not appear to be good this season.

    They are last in the NL in DER (defensive efficiency rating), which essentially is the pct. of balls in play that are turned into outs. This is a bad thing, as the staff is also 3rd to last in strikeout pct. (% of plate appearances that are strikeouts).

    Now I don’t think DER is park-adjusted, and the size of the OF at Coors tends to mean the Rockies will always do a little worse in DER other things being equal (I don’t see home/road splits for DER anywhere).

    OTOH, I think UZR (ultimate zone rating) is park-adjusted, and the Rockies are last in the NL there, too.

    Anecdotally, one sees poor fielding as well…in just the past two games, Spilly has misplayed a 1-run single into a 2-run triple behind Hammel, and he misplayed the liner into the RF corner off Corpas last night, likely giving an extra base.

    It certainly doesn’t explain away the staff’s troubles, but it also doesn’t help a group of pitch-to-contact types.

  • Tracy Ringolsby | April 29, 2009 | 1:39 pm

    Joseph, I don’t see any reason to worry about retialiation for offering an opinion.
    Bottom line is I am not an advocate of firing people, particularly a month into a season or actually during a season. I don’t find interim managers or coaches to be successful in most case.
    I don’t have a lot of problems with Hurdle as a manager but then, as I have stated, I feel that so many things about managing are overrated. I see managers make moves that defy any logic and get away with them. I see managers making perfectly sensible moves and they don’t work. The emotions of most sports also don’t work in baseball because 162 games is a very long season. This start has been extremely disappointing but I still see talent and desire. I don’t see guys not taking part in team sessions.

  • Mark | April 29, 2009 | 1:54 pm

    Tracy, are you serious with this article???

    Corpas just pitched his 4th game in 5 nights and 3rd in a row. Also, this was a non-save situation AGAIN! Corpas has thrown 70 pitches the last 3 days. You can argue he hasnt been sharp but he has 5 K’s to 1BB and his only HR was the one to Utley.

    Hundley is batting .267 by the way and maybe the defense was the reason he got a triple and not a double. It’s not like he’s a speed demon!

    Why don’t we send Street back to the minors also. He’s given up 3 homeruns already, lost his closer job last year and was dumped by the A’s. He’s sporting a 6.75 ERA so why not?

    This was a disappointing article. I feel like you just screamed FIRE rather than give some facts.

    Corpas should have pitched last night but not for the 3rd day in a row and 4th out of 5. He should not have pitched in the blowout the other day. Hurdle misused him, plain and simple.

  • Scott | April 29, 2009 | 2:10 pm

    Here’s a question for Tracy (or Clint):

    Regardless of the number of innings pitched by Manny over the previous three days, the Rockies are 0-5 in one run games …

    GAME SITUATION:
    with Manny Corpas struggling again in the ninth inning last night, one out and the go-ahead run on third and a 3-1 count on the hitter (a hitter’s count), why didn’t Clint intentionally walk the hitter so he could back up the infield to double-play depth, and perhaps bring in a pitcher who was successful vs. Hairston?

    Manny needs to regain his ‘manitude’, the look of confidence he had in 2007. A trip south for a few weeks would help.

    OFFENSE:
    Only 19 games into the season and already 6 games back of first place LA. The Rockies are 0-5 in one-run games and 0-7 in one-and-two run games.
    Clint needs to realize that every run is critical in a game and the Rockies need to do a better job of ‘manufacturing’ runs, pushing runners into scoring position regardless of the inning. I would like to see Don Baylor’s hard work in spring training pay off. Seams we have already forgotten all the early losses in spring training due to ‘hitting behind base runners’ and taking pitchers deeper in the count which paid dividends in the second half of spring training.

    PITCHING:
    I do like Clint’s apparent ‘quicker’ trigger this year. He’s not leaving pitchers in as long as last year, when he would offer them the opportunity to work their way out of the situation or dig a deeper hole. Unfortunately, many dug a hole too deep to dig out of with our free-swinging un-disciplined offense.

    Grilli deserves a chance to close. Today, he’s the only confident pitcher on the staff.

    TRADE:
    With our excess of major-league ready outfielders, it’s time to start packaging deals for pitching!

  • Tracy Ringolsby | April 29, 2009 | 2:27 pm

    My guess on the situation with pitching to Rodriguez is you are pithcing to a marginal hitter,w ho is 5-for-43 as a pinchhitter and never driven in a run as a pinch-hitter. If you walk him you are bringing up the top of the lineup. You might think there’s a better chance of shutting down Rodriguez.

  • Tracy Ringolsby | April 29, 2009 | 2:32 pm

    Mark, I would suggest you might want to go back and re-read the article. No where did I say that he was being sent out or needed to be sent out. I just raised the possiblity that it could happen and that he does have options and that he has not pitched as well as the Rockies had hoped for and I’m sure as well as Manny would like. The problems are not just the one game. It’s been a continuation from a year ago. The velocity is missing. The location is up. There were a hand full of games, right after Street was named the closer, that Manny showed the emotion and fire of 2007 but it has turned passive again. Hopefully he will regain that but if not he is one guy the Rockies have flexiblity to try something with.

  • Joseph | April 29, 2009 | 3:46 pm

    Tracy,
    Thanks for the response. I actually agree with you. Despite the results I think Hurdle has done a pretty good job this year. He’s had his number 1 and 2 starters and his two closers blow up on him, plus a couple of surprises on the offensive side. Tough hand.

    I hope I didn’t hijack / redirect Ian’s questions about Bob Apodaca. It’s pretty easy for us to “armchair quarterback” the manager, but much more difficult to judge a pitching coach.

  • Mark | April 29, 2009 | 4:00 pm

    Tracy, just because he has options doesnt mean that you should imply it or mention it. David Wright probably has options left since he come up so young and with his slow start, maybe the Mets could think the same? I am not trying to put the two in the same category but trying to make a point that implying it could happen fuels the fire.

    I would love to see Corpas more aggressive and more dominant. I think hitters are making far too much contact. I would love to see more sinkers and more strikes thrown also. It seems that he throwing fastballs and only using the sinker as a finishing pitch.

    I think Corpas is an emotional guy and I also think that pitching him three days in a row in non-save situations is setting him up for failure. I’d rather see Corpas come in with a lead in the 8th and pitch 2 innings if he needs the work.

  • Tracy Ringolsby | April 29, 2009 | 4:36 pm

    Mark, also remember this is not something that just popped up. If you remember this is a carryover from a year ago. This has been something that has not been solved in more than a full year, which creates a concern that the problem might not just be a blip on the radar screen.