DENVER -- The Rockies' unusual pitching strategy of four starters with a limit around 75 pitches was supposed to protect young pitchers from facing a lineup a third time, especially at Coors Field. But rookie left-hander Christian Friedrich's work before Tuesday night made him a seemingly safe gamble.This time, however, the third time did Friedrich and the Rockies harm. During the fifth inning, Rockies manager Jim Tracy let Friedrich have a third shot at the Pirates' batting order, even though Friedrich had begun the inning by issuing two galling walks to the bottom of the order. Friedrich would not make it through the fifth -- which saw the Pirates score four key runs in a 6-2 victory at Coors Field in front of 42,574. Friedrich (5-7) is following a common rookie pattern of steps forward, like his victory over the Phillies Friday night, followed by step backs like Tuesday night. He took a 2-1 lead into the fifth, but opened the frame with walks to No. 7 hitter Michael McKenry and struggling No. 8 hitter Clint Barmes -- who has walked just five times in 276 plate appearances -- to begin his demise. "It's dealing with adversity," Friedrich said. "You've got to try to find a way to learn from it. That's what I'm trying to do with every outing, take the positive and make it a lesson. Not constantly having mistake after mistake." Rockies hitters had plenty of chances to overcome Friedrich's struggles. They left the bases loaded three times, including in the bottom of the ninth, and also had a runner at third with no outs in the fourth and didn't bring him home. "When you strand 13 guys, more than likely the outcome's not going to be favorable," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said. Rockies pitchers entered Tuesday yielding a .310 batting average and .382 on-base percentage the third time through, but Friedrich's numbers were a much better .257 and .316. But the walks made Friedrich vulnerable to the rallies that have riddled Rockies pitching all season. "Mentally, I thought I was in a good spot," Friedrich said. "I didn't feel any different. I was trying to get some good tempo, but maybe it was a little bit slower. As the game goes on, tempo needs to be picked up a little on my part. "After they give you a run or two, you've got to put up some shutdown innings. That's another thing I have to work on." After the walks, winning pitcher Erik Bedard (5-10) added a sacrifice bunt to give the lineup a third look at Friedrich. Alex Presley grounded out, but Drew Sutton, National League batting leader Andrew McCutchen -- who had hit the longest home run of the season at Coors (442 feet) in his previous at-bat -- and Casey McGehee each singled to chase Friedrich after 83 pitches, with the Rockies trailing, 5-2.
Tracy said he didn't consider removing Friedrich earlier because fatigue or the pitch count weren't factors."If the balls are being smoked, that's one thing," Tracy said. "There wasn't much taking place from a serious damage standpoint beyond the fact he set the inning up with non-strikes. "There's a hurdle that he has to get over, being able to fix himself in midstream." The beginning was promising. Friedrich handled the first inning in six pitches, and the only run off him before the fifth was McCutchen's rocket-like shot, which nearly hit an ice cream stand on the left-field concourse. Friedrich said it was a poorly executed slider that McCutchen "punished, like he should." "That was one of the better ones I've hit," McCutchen said. "He threw a slider, and I put a pretty good swing on it." No harm in that: McCutchen went 2-for-4, and has pounded nearly everyone while improving his National League-leading batting average to .374. "Can I sit here and say that when I saw him at 18 or 19 years of age he would hit with this kind of power? Maybe that was hanging in the balance," said Tracy, who was managing the Pirates in 2006, when McCutchen first appeared in Spring Training. "But all the other things that you see, there was no question that this guy was going to be a very talented player. "If anything similar to that occurs between now and the third of October, you have an incredibly viable candidate for the Most Valuable Player Award in the National League." Friedrich gave up five earned runs on six hits in 4 2/3 innings before giving way to solid relief work. Matt Reynolds, Adam Ottavino (two innings), Mike Ekstrom and Carlos Torres held the Pirates to one run -- which came on McKenry's eighth-inning double -- and three hits. The Rockies had four shots at big innings against Bedard, but did little with them. Jordan Pacheco grounded to short with the bases loaded to end the first. Carlos Gonzalez came up with two on and no outs in the third, but grounded into a double play. The Rockies would manage a run in the third when left fielder Presley dropped Michael Cuddyer's line drive, but nothing more. Wilin Rosario walked to open the fourth and Josh Rutledge tripled him home -- his fourth RBI in five games since being promoted from Double-A Tulsa. But Friedrich and Eric Young Jr. took called third strikes, and Marco Scutaro flied to center. Bedard walked the final two batters he faced, Dexter Fowler (2-for-4) and Gonzalez, in the seventh, but reliever Jared Hughes forced Cuddyer to fly to deep center. In the ninth, Juan Cruz walked Marco Scutaro and Fowler with two outs. Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan walked Cuddyer, but struck out pinch-hitter Tyler Colvin to earn his 25th save.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.