No Relief in Sight: Bullpen Sidetracks Rockies' Hopes
The Rockies' bullpen was thrown a curve from the beginning.
First, Scott Oberg, their most consistent reliever in recent years, was sidelined at the start of spring training because of a recurrence of blood clots in his right biceps area, which led to surgery earlier this week.
Then, veteran closer Wade Davis, after three appearances, went on the injured list with a shoulder strain, sidelining him until Sept. 12, after which he made two ineffective appearances and was released.
Now, the Rockies have had the pleasant surprise of Daniel Bard, who had not pitched in the big leagues in seven years and had been out of uniform the past two years, suddenly rediscovering the strike zone and rejuvenating his career at the age of 35, becoming the closer and converting each of his six save opportunities.
But even that doesn't offset the otherwise struggles of even the healthy arms of the bullpen, beginning with right-handers Jairo Diaz and Carlos Estevez.
"Those two guys were a big part of our bullpen last year," said manager Bud Black. "They were very consistent performers all season."
Consistent as in:
-- Estevez led the Rockies with 71 appearances, compiling a 3.75 ERA, second lowest on the staff among pitchers with at least 15 appearances to the 2.25 ERA of Oberg, striking out 81 batters in 72 innings.
-- Diaz appeared in 56 games a year ago, went 5-for-6 in save situations last September, when he was given the chance to close games, compiling a 3.07 from July 25 until the end of the season.
This year, Black said, "it's been tough sledding for both guys. ... It looks to me that those guys have been missing with their fastball in critical situations."
Now, it's not like they are alone on the fragile limb.
After a win in San Francisco on Monday night, the Rockies had a hope of a late rally to claim a post-season berth. But then came back-to-back disappointments on Tuesday and Wednesday, and the Rockies were on the verge of official elimination from the post-season battle.
And both times the bullpen was at the core of the problem.
On Tuesday, Kyle Freeland departed with the scored tied 2-2 after six innings. Diaz, however, let it all get away in the seventh. Pinch-hitter Alex Dickerson turned a 2-1 pitch from Diaz into a game-tying home run to open the inning.
Joey Bart followed with a ground-rule double, and one out later, Austin Slater singled, Bart moving to third, prompting Black to bring in newcomer AJ Ramos to relieve Diaz. Brandon Belt greeted Ramos with a run-scoring double to give the Giants a 5-2 lead en route to a 7-2 victory.
And then on Wednesday, the Rockies took a 2-1 lead into the fifth. Starting pitcher Ryan Castellani gave up a game-tying sacrifice fly to Brandon Crawford with one out, and after a two-out walk of Evan Longoria, Yency Almonte was hailed from the bullpen.
Almonte promptly served up a three-run home run, giving the Giants a 5-2 lead, before getting out of the inning.
It has been that kind of year for the Rockies bullpen. The Rockies relievers have the highest percentage of inherited runners scored among NL teams, second highest ERA, and third worst winning percentage.