German Marquez's short start vs. Cubs is prime example of what's hurting Rockies

German Marquez's short start vs. Cubs is prime example of what's hurting Rockies

Don’t let their 12-11 record fool you. The Rockies are staring at an early-season crisis because their young starting pitchers continue to stumble.

Sunday afternoon, in a wild 9-7 loss to the Chicago Cubs, it was German Marquez’s turn to make an early exit. He was gone after 3 ⅓ innings, having allowed six runs.

It’s part of a troubling trend that’s putting the Rockies behind the eight-ball early in games and placing enormous weight on the bullpen. Friday night, the Cubs blasted starter Jon Gray for seven runs over five innings in a 16-5 romp. Wednesday at Pittsburgh, Colorado was drubbed 10-2 when left-hander Kyle Freeland gave up five runs in just four innings.

Ever since spring training, Rockies manager Bud Black has repeatedly cautioned that his young rotation was going to experience growing pains. The pain is evident in the statistics. Colorado’s starters are 6-9 with a 4.85 ERA, 12th highest in the National League. Veteran Chad Bettis, who’s scheduled to start Monday against San Diego, has been the saving grace, going 3-0 over four starts with a 1.44 ERA.

Prior to Sunday’s loss, Black acknowledged that the Rockies don’t have a true No. 1 pitcher, but added: “Do we have five guys that I feel good about that and can give the Rockies a chance to win, if they do their thing? Absolutely.”

The problem is, Colorado starters have been hit and miss. Sunday, that was literally the case. In the first inning, Marquez got the first two Cubs hitters out on just three pitches before he drilled Cubs star third baseman Kris Bryant in the helmet with a 96.3 mph fastball. Bryant left the game with a cut to his face, but he did not suffer a concussion, the club said.

Still, Marquez appeared to get flustered as the Cubs scored three, two-out runs in the first. However, the 23-year-old right-hander said that wasn’t the case.

“Not really, I felt bad that I hit (Bryant), and I hope he’s OK, but I was still trying to execute my pitches,” said Marquez, now 1-2 with a 6.14 ERA. “But my command was just OK. Inconsistent.”

Marquez, who is still searching for an effective slider or changeup to pair with his lively fastball and excellent curve, is getting hammered by left-handed hitters to the tune of a .472 average (17-for-36). Sunday, Chicago left-handed hitters went 7-for-9 against Marquez, who said he might be throwing too many fastballs to lefties.

Black said he wasn’t worried about the early trend. “Let’s just see how that plays out as the season progresses,” he said.  “With most pitchers it’s about commanding the fastball and getting the breaking ball down. I think that’s the issue against the lefties.”

Footnotes. Circumstances, and the need to try and add juice to a stagnant offense, prompted the Rockies to make some significant outfield moves prior to Sunday’s game.

The club recalled outfielders David Dahl and Noel Cuevas from Triple-A Albuquerque,  placed outfielder Carlos González on the 10-day disabled list (retroactive to Thursday) and optioned outfielder Mike Tauchman to Triple A. Also, outfielder Gerardo Parra began serving a four-game suspension for his role in the April 11 brawl with San Diego. Gonzalez had hoped to avoid at trip to the disabled list because his strained right hamstring has  improved, but Parra’s suspension made it too risky to count on Gonzalez at this point, meaning that the Rockies’ roster would have effectively been reduced to 23 players. Dahl, playing in his first big-league game since 2016, was 1-for-4 with an RBI single Sunday. Cuevas, making his major-league debut, went 0-for-3.

Arenado out at plate in game-ending replay reversal

Arenado out at plate in game-ending replay reversal

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Chicago Cubs center fielder Albert Almora Jr., center, is congratulated by third baseman Ian Happ, left, and first baseman Anthony Rizzo after the Cubs stopped the Colorado Rockies in the ninth inning of a baseball game Sunday, April 22, 2018, in Denver. The Cubs won 9-7. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

DENVER (AP) — Nolan Arenado was initially called safe when he tried to score on a bases-loaded pitch that bounced to the backstop, then was ruled out on a video review that ended a 9-7 win for the Chicago Cubs over the Colorado Rockies on Sunday.

Cubs star Kris Bryant left in the first inning after he was hit on the head with a 96 mph pitch from German Marquez. The ball made a loud sound as it hit off the underside of the flap of his helmet, and it was not immediately clear how much direct contact it made his Bryant’s head. Cubs spokesman Peter Chase said Bryant passed tests and had no sign of a concussion.

David Dahl’s two-out walk against Brandon Morrow loaded the bases in the ninth, and Morrow bounced an 0-2 slider that ricocheted off the mitt of catcher Willson Contreras. The ball bounced to the third-base side of the plate, Contreras grabbed it after a rebound off the low, brick wall and threw a perfect strike to Morrow, who tagged Arenado on the right ankle as the foot cross the plate.

Umpire Cory Blaser signaled safe, but the call was reversed about 90 seconds later and the Cubs jogged out of their dugout to celebrate. Morrow got his fourth save.

Tommy La Stella, Kyle Schwarber and Victor Caratini hit RBI singles later in the first off Marquez (1-2). Baez’s seventh homer made it 4-0 in the second and Jason Heyward had a two-run single in the third for a 6-0 lead.

Jose Quintana (2-1) allowed four runs and eight hits in 5 1/3 innings. He struck out seven, raising his big league total to 1,004.

Trevor Story hit a two-run triple in the third on a fly ball Heyward loss in the sun, and home runs on consecutive pitches by Charlie Blackmon and Arenado cut the Rockies’ deficit to 6-4 in the fifth. Each team scored three runs in the seventh.

PARRA APPEAL

Rockies outfielder Gerardo Parra dropped his appeal and began serving a four-game suspension from his part in a bench-clearing brawl against San Diego on April 11. The Rockies cannot fill his active roster spot during the suspension but they did recalled outfielders David Dahl and Noel Cuevas from Triple-A Albuquerque and optioned outfielder Michael Tauchman to the Isotopes.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Cubs: CF Albert Almora Jr. was briefly down after making a diving catch on Arenado’s drive in the first inning. He was attended to by trainers but stayed in the game. He crashed into the wall after making a running catch of Blackmon starting the bottom of the ninth.

Rockies: OF Carlos Gonzalez was placed on the 10-day DL with a right hamstring strain, retroactive to Thursday.

UP NEXT

Cubs: LHP Tyler Chatwood (0-3, 4.60) is to open a three-game series in Cleveland on Tuesday night.

Rockies: RHP Chad Bettis (3-0, 1.44) is on the mound when the Rockies start a three-game home series against San Diego on Monday night.

More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball

Cubs say Yu Darvish meltdowns 'a concern' but 'not going to press panic button'

Cubs say Yu Darvish meltdowns 'a concern' but 'not going to press panic button'

DENVER – The Cubs aren’t exactly sure yet how to solve the curious case of Yu Darvish and his quick-to-unravel fifth innings.

But it continued to be a focus of their attention the morning after the big-ticket starter’s two-out walk of the pitcher in the fifth turned a scoreless, cruise-control outing into a five-run meltdown and loss – the third time in four starts as a Cub he’s succumbed to a similar finish in the fifth.

“It’s happened a couple times so far, which is a concern,” pitching coach Jim Hickey said. “I’m not going to press the panic button yet, but it’s certainly something that needs to be looked into and addressed.”

To that end, Darvish had a lengthy sit-down with pitching strategist Mike Borzello Sunday morning as manager Joe Maddon preached patience.

Catcher Willson Contreras said he thought Darvish got “too comfortable” with two outs Saturday. Darvish disagreed but offered no explanation other than losing his rhythm and taking responsibility to fix it. Hickey suggested that trying too hard not to walk the pitcher might have caused the command problem in that at-bat but had no theory Sunday for why such things are leading to meltdowns.

“If it happened on numerous occasions I might have a theory,” Hickey said. “But it’s happened a couple of times, and is it a coincidence or not? I don’t know.”

Contreras was pointed in his comments Saturday night about what went wrong in the fifth but also made it clear Sunday he was not pointing a finger at his pitcher when he told reporters how that inning “got us f—d up.”

Contreras said he saw the two-out pattern earlier in the game, “but in the fifth was crucial for us. It got us f—d up.”

He was misunderstood by reporters to have said “he” in the last sentence.

Either way, he was right. And he wouldn’t have been the only one in the clubhouse with the same thought. All of which made it a world apart from the Miguel Montero comments about Jake Arrieta last year.

Incidentally, the fact Contreras didn’t start Sunday was unrelated. He and shortstop Addison Russell got the planned day off ahead of a team day off Monday after a grueling stretch.

Maddon said Saturday night he still was “getting to know” Darvish, but said Sunday that the learning process won’t involve recalling Darvish’s former personal catcher Chris Gimenez from the minors anytime soon.

“I really believe that Yu’s going to have a great season,” Maddon said. “I think he’s really good. We’ve got to get him on a normal schedule, pitching every fifth day, hopefully under more normal circumstances.”

Game-time temperatures for Darvish’s last two starts were 42 and 41 degrees – the two coldest starts of his career. Nontheless, he pitched four scoreless innings in each before unraveling in the fifth.

“He knows what he needs to do to get better or more consistent,” Maddon said. And I have some ideas, too, that I’m going to relate to him.

“But this is our team. Contreras is really good, [Victor] Caratini’s done a great job, and I love Gimenez. But I don’t think that’s the answer right now.”

Cubs' Kris Bryant leaves in 1st after getting hit in the helmet by pitch

Cubs' Kris Bryant leaves in 1st after getting hit in the helmet by pitch

Cubs slugger Kris Bryant had to leave Sunday’s game at Coors Field in the first inning after getting hit in the helmet by a pitch from Rockies starter German Marquez.

Bryant was hit for a National League-leading seventh time on a 96 mph pitch on a 1-2 count. Bryant stayed on his feet but manager Joe Maddon ran out to prevent Bryant from falling.

Bryant, the 2016 NL MVP, needed medical assistance to walk off the field.

In the meantime, hitting coach Chili Davis and assistant hitting coach Andy Haines were ejected after the beaning.

David Bote pinch-ran for Bryant and scored the first of three runs. After Bryant was beaned, the Cubs collected four consecutive singles.

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Twitter @MDGonzales

Willson Contreras and Addison Russell sit as Cubs try to win series finale at Colorado

Willson Contreras and Addison Russell sit as Cubs try to win series finale at Colorado

Willson Contreras and Addison Russell will not start Sunday as the Cubs try to win the third and final game of their three-game series against the Rockies at Coors Field.

Victor Caratini will start at catcher for the third time in place of Contreras. Russell, who is 5-for-24 with no extra base hits, will be replaced by Javier Baez at shortstop. Tommy La Stella will start at second for the third time.

Left-hander Jose Quintana, who needs three strikeouts to reach the 1,000 mark for his career, will oppose German Marquez.

Here is the Cubs lineup:

Almora Jr. CF

Baez SS

Bryant 3B

Rizzo 1B

La Stella 2B

Schwarber LF

Caratini C

Heyward RF

Quintana P

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Cubs’ David Bote treasures major league debut with family, teammates »

Yu Darvish’s fifth-inning struggles continue in Cubs’ 5-2 loss to Rockies »

Kris Bryant comfortable moving from second to third in Cubs batting order »

Tate | Make no mistake, Cubs are for real

Tate | Make no mistake, Cubs are for real

Here we are, trying to get past the spring shivers, while a genuine Chicago Cubs dynasty stalls briefly in hopes the summer sun will reset the lagging tone.

But make no mistake, the North Side rumble is real. We were first alerted to this long-awaited phenomenon in December 2015 when Jason Heyward rebuffed the Cardinals and signed an eight-year, $184-million contract with a team he recognized as (1) more vibrant and (2) boasting youthful on-field leadership.

And the Cubs have excelled despite receiving modest offensive production for such an outlandish outfield expenditure.

So, don’t be deceived by finger-numbing cold, the 2016 World Series champions should have little difficulty gaining their fourth straight playoff slot. In central Illinois’ favorite summer rivalry, the Cubs appear superior to the archrival Cardinals in seasoned pitching, at every infield position, and with money to burn.

Heady leadership has used those dollars for rotation aces like Jose Quintana (three years, $31 million) and Yu Darvish (six years, $126 million) … although, in inclement conditions, neither has as yet earned his money.

Building arms in St. Louis

But there are rumblings from the Cardinal farm system that explain why they set Mike Leake and Lance Lynn adrift. It’s all part of a greater plan.

The future for the Cardinals, if successful, will be constructed around young flamethrowers who, unlike Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha, won’t be fearful of throwing the fastball over the plate. Wainwright and Wacha have become nibblers, searching for the edges and thereby testing the bullpen by running their pitch counts toward 90 by the fifth inning.

In fact, Wacha didn’t reach the fifth inning of his first three starts before finding a compliant foe in struggling Cincinnati on Friday night.

Who knows, maybe there’ll be a day when we see:

— Carlos Martinez, now 26, the settled ace of a solid young rotation. He fanned 217 in 205 innings last year.

— Luke Weaver, 24, becoming entrenched. Despite Thursday’s frozen disaster in Chicago, he is 9-3 since 2017, and shows 137 strikeouts in 118 major league innings.

— Alex Reyes, 23, fully recovered from arm surgery after striking out 52 in 46 innings in 2016. His loss in 2017 chilled Redbird hopes from the outset. He is expected to return late next month.

— Jordan Hicks, 21, taking his 100-mph fast ball from the bullpen to the rotation. He allowed no runs in his first 11.2 major league innings.

— Jack Flaherty, 22, back from Memphis after fanning nine in five innings before being sent down.

It comes down to pitching

If you notice an emphasis on strikeouts above, that was intentional. Great pitchers record a third of their outs via whiffs. Chris Sale led the American League in 2017, recording 12 per nine innings for the Red Sox. National League stars Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Zack Grienke, Jacob deGrom, Martinez and Darvish were among those averaging more than a strikeout per inning.

The more balls are put into play, the greater chance they’ll land safely … or out of the park. From all signs, these young Cardinal pitchers have the potential to be overpowering,

“Have the potential!” That’s the key. Will they evolve? How many innings can Hicks handle? What will be the strain on his arm? Is that why they’re limiting him to the bullpen now? And will Reyes be the phenom that he appears to be?

This proposed Cardinal rotation is on the come, perhaps a figment of my imagination. It is mentioned with the understanding that reliability is critical … and the overlooked aspect of Cub success has been the ability to maintain virtually the same starting staff throughout each season.

It is a huge step, considering what Reyes has just gone through, to think the Cardinals will be so fortunate. But my contention is: Pitching wins championships, and the Cardinals have more standouts emerging than anyone else in National League.

I think.

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at [email protected]