Rockies break down against Cards
Sputtering offense, Vizcaino's struggles lead to first loss
ST. LOUIS -- An 8-3 loss to the Cardinals on Wednesday night looked a lot like so many of the games of the Rockies' 20-of-21 stretch that took them through the end of the regular season and through the National League playoffs. They weren't perfect, but until the end they gave themselves a chance to win.
Starting pitcher Aaron Cook (0-1) made two key mistakes -- one Rick Ankiel knocked for a leadoff homer in the fourth inning, the other a Ryan Ludwick RBI triple in the Cards' two-run fifth -- and had just seven groundball outs in six innings. He gave up four runs, but never lost touch.
The Rockies' offense went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position and left six runners in scoring position. But chiefly because of Brad Hawpe's 416-foot solo rocket shot in the fourth and his RBI double in the eighth, they entered the bottom of the eighth trailing, 4-3. They had less offense in Tuesday's season opener, when they left 11 on base but won, 2-1.
"We lost tonight, but if it had stayed 4-3 it would have been real nice to see what would've happened," said Willy Taveras, who drove in the other run on a two-out single in the seventh.
However, the first blip for the defending NL champs highlights a possible concern.
Right-handed reliever Luis Vizcaino, who struggled with an elbow problem and poor numbers in the spring, experienced a pratfall in his Rockies debut. He entered with a one-run deficit in the eighth, and in 33 pitches he gave up four runs, four hits -- including a two-run Ludwick double -- and two walks while managing just one out.
The Rockies signed him to a two-year, $7.5 million contract as the primary right-handed setup man. But they can't get much return on their investment until he returns to the proper delivery. Before Vizcaino spirals completely out of hand, manager Clint Hurdle will have him study videotape of his delivery.
"We saw steps that showed some improvement his last [Spring Training] outing," Hurdle said. "Then the velocity was all over the board tonight, from 85 to 92 [mph] or whatever, and just spinning out of his delivery something dramatic.
Vizcaino's troubles meant the Rockies had to use Taylor Buchholz for the second consecutive night. He succeeded, entering with runners at the corners and one out, and escaping with no one scoring. But Hurdle had been hoping that Buchholz and Vizcaino can alternate games whenever possible to avoid wearing down either.
For that strategy to work, the Rockies have to fix Vizcaino, who made 77 appearances for the Yankees last season, but was overused at times and experienced shoulder and back pain in September.
"It doesn't put you in position to locate your fastball or get much sink to it. It leaves it flat. More than anything else it doesn't get you in position to get you out in front to get any tilt to your slider. It puts you in a tough position to pitch."
The Rockies have yet to click offensively, but no one is running to the videotape just yet.
Any Rockies highlight tape of the night would have to include Hawpe's first home run of the season -- off Todd Wellemeyer (1-0), who gave up one run on four hits and fanned six in five innings. Hawpe had flailed at two fastballs, but Wellemeyer tried to fool him with a changeup and watched it land deep into the right-field seats.
In the eighth, Hawpe followed a single by Garrett Akins with an RBI double to right. But Cards reliever Ryan Franklin, the losing pitcher on Tuesday, forced Yorvit Torrealba into a roller to first base to end the threat. Vizcaino's struggled made the rally moot, anyhow.
"Sometimes things like that are going to happen -- the other guys are going to get outs at the right time," Hawpe said. "But over the course of 162 games, our offense is going to come through more times than not."
Cook struck out three and walked three, one intentionally. It was his first regular-season start since suffering a strained oblique muscle on Aug. 10 against the Cubs. He did throw well in Game 4 of the World Series, which the Red Sox won to complete a sweep.
On Tuesday, Cook struggled with Ankiel, who had three hits off him. He felt most of his pitches were adequate, and he threw the right pitches at the right time. But he didn't put a fastball far enough inside to Ankiel, who knew what Cook was trying to do and punished him for it. Against Ludwick, a sinker stayed up and over the plate and wound up bouncing off the center-field wall.
"It's just the bad ones I did make were in bad situations, and they were able to capitalize off them," Cook said. "I felt pretty good. I felt like I was hitting my spots."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.