DENVER -- When Rockies fans took a peek at the lineup for Friday's series opener against the Dodgers, they saw a cornerstone of the offense absent: left fielder Carlos Gonzalez.
Manager Walt Weiss said he recently decided Gonzalez could use a day off to catch his breath and Friday looked like a smart choice. Gonzalez, a left-handed batter, has hit just .227 in his career against Dodgers southpaw Clayton Kershaw, who started the series opener for Los Angeles.
"He's been playing well," Weiss said. "He's been grinding. It's been a long time since he had a day, so I felt like it was his time."
This is only Gonzalez's third game off this year, the last coming in an April 23 home game against the Braves. In his place, switch-hitter Eric Young started in left field and hit leadoff.
Two-hole causes consistent problems for Rockies
DENVER -- The two-hole in the Rockies' lineup seems to inexplicably zap many hitters of their success this season.
No. 2 hitters have batted .241 this season for Colorado. Only the pitcher's No. 9 spot is less successful. The oddity is each of the hitters that rotate into that spot are considerably better at some other place in the order. Jordan Pacheco, sharing time at first base with Todd Helton, has been the best by far in the two-hole, hitting .344 with a .400 on-base percentage in seven games.
However, Pacheco doesn't play all the time. In an effort to take advantage of the versatility on the roster, manager Walt Weiss has used many different lineup combinations. The tradeoff is instability in the second spot.
"I think it's more of a floating spot," Weiss said. "We run a number of different lineups out there, and a lot of it just depends on who's playing that day."
Dexter Fowler, placed in the spot Friday night against the Dodgers, entered hitting .250 with a .333 on-base percentage in 20 games in the second spot, but .294 and .419 in 27 games as a leadoff hitter. Fowler usually hits second when Eric Young, Jr., is in the lineup at leadoff -- as he was Friday, with left fielder Carlos Gonzalez taking the night off.
The original second hitter, Josh Rutledge, is now at Triple-A Colorado Springs. He hit .222 and got on base at a .269 clip in 18 games in the second spot, but had .314 and .400 marks in nine games in the No. 7 slot. Rutledge's replacement at second base has a similar story. DJ LeMahieu is at .154 and .214 in three games at No. 2, but .462 and .563 in four games at No. 8.
Nolan Arenado is at .250 and .333 in four games at No. 2, but .268 and .286 at 10 games in the six spot. He'll take either over the seventh spot, where he is hitting .185 with a .228 on-base percentage.
Hitting coach Dante Bichette said the Rockies are not asking any of the hitters to change their style in the two-hole.
"It's one of those interesting spots in the lineup, because there are so many views on what makes a good two-hole hitter," Bichette said. "There are guys that think speed. A lot of guys say on-base percentage. A lot of guys feel like a high-strikeout guy is good for second, because there are not a lot of double plays, and a lot of guys feel the opposite, that they need a contact hitter.
"Whatever identity they bring to the two-hole, we want them to be able to succeed there as if they hit anywhere else in the lineup. What they do anywhere else, do there. The guys that have been there are all capable of getting it done there."
Rockies seek improvement with runners on base
DENVER -- The opportunities were there, but the runs didn't follow. That was the story of the Rockies' series against the Astros earlier this week, as Colorado left 38 runners on base, dropping three of four games in the Interleague series.
The hits were there, just not at the right time. While this scoring drought -- Colorado scored 12 runs in four games -- can largely be credited to the cyclical nature of baseball, third baseman Nolan Arenado said Colorado can bolster its run production.
"I think as a team we need to have more quality at-bats," Arenado said. "I know personally I need to have more quality at-bats and I believe it will come, it takes time. We may play the Astros, and everyone says how they're not a good team, but they pitched well against us, and we couldn't find a way and we need to find a way if we want to win."
Colorado started the year as one of the hottest-hitting teams in baseball, scoring 141 runs in 27 games, or 5.2 runs per game. Entering Friday's opener against Los Angeles, that has dropped to 4.3 runs per game -- not a steep decline, but still evidence of a recent offensive slump.
Hitting coach Donte Bichette compared it to the slumps nearly every Major League hitter weathers at some point every season. He said this is nothing more than a temporary issue.
"We can survive the storm, because what you're looking at is the long haul," Bichette said. "There are streaks, and I don't know how many times we've lined out with guys in scoring position in the last week.
"You've got to look at the overall. You wouldn't take a week out of a guy's career or a week out of a guy's year, would you? You'd look at what kind of year he had. We're pretty good with runners in scoring position."
The Rockies are hitting an efficient .284 with runners in scoring position and .257 with two out. So even with the offensive frustration against Houston, Bichette's hitters have driven in runs at a steady rate.
The good news is that Colorado is spraying the ball across the field to put runners on base, knocking out the first step in the run-scoring process.
"It's one thing to not get anybody on base," said left fielder Eric Young. "It's another to be able to have opportunities, just got to take advantage."
Rockies hope Rutledge finds comfort level in Minors
DENVER -- The Rockies' instructions for second baseman Josh Rutledge, sent down to Triple-A Colorado Springs on May 22, were simple: Play and relax.
Entering Friday, Rutledge was batting .240 with three doubles, a home run and four RBIs in six Minor League games. The Rockies want him to work on playing second base, since he was a shortstop last year. Because of the need to give other players time off, Rutledge played short Thursday and will do so again Friday for Colorado Springs.
Manager Walt Weiss expects Rutledge to find his comfort level.
"It helps to be able to slow down a bit," Weiss said. "There's always pressure in this league, I don't care who you are. That's built into the game. There's no question the second year is a difficult year. That's why they have a name for it [the sophomore slump]. It's a tough year, and a lot of guys have had to deal with that.
"'Rut's' going to be a really good Major League player for a long time. It's an opportunity to catch his breath right now."
Rockies hope Lopez's outing is blip on radar
DENVER -- When Rockies manager Walt Weiss put reliever Wilton Lopez into Thursday night's game with no outs and runners on second and third, he hoped the righty would induce a double play.
Instead, the Astros smacked back-to-back homers to left field, scoring four runs and putting the Astros in prime position for a 7-5 win. It was an uncharacteristic outing for Lopez, a proven reliever who has posted an ERA under 3.00 for each of the past three seasons and relies on ground balls to earn most of his outs.
The solution for returning to his 2012 form -- when he finished with a 2.17 ERA -- is simple, according to Weiss.
"He's just got to be himself, use his two-seamer, pitch to the bottom of the zone with that thing," Weiss said. "That's how he's had a lot of success in this league and that's the formula for him."
Catcher Yorvit Torrealba said after Thursday's game that Lopez "might have just been trying to do to much." Lopez left a cutter hanging over the plate for the first homer to Chris Carter and a changeup high in the zone for the second one to Matt Dominguez.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Ian McCue is an associate reporter for MLB.com. Read Harding's 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.