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09/20/12 5:01 PM ET

Rockies building toward better Septembers

Injuries, youth have contributed to the team's struggles this season

SAN FRANCISCO -- This used to be the Rockies' time of year.

From 2007 through 2009, a three-year period bookended by playoff appearances, the Rockies went 51-33 in September. Only the Yankees, at 56-28, were better. But that magic no longer exists.

From 2010 through the 7-1 loss to the Giants on Wednesday night, the Rockies had gone 28-46. That's tied with the Red Sox for the third-worst mark over that period. Only the Pirates (27-46) and Mariners (24-50) have been worse.

The downturn started with a 1-13 finish in 2010. Before then, the Rockies were contending, but after a few close losses the team simply ran out of gas. The last two seasons, however, there wasn't a rise before the fall.

At least there were a couple of common threads in these last two crawls to the finish -- injuries and youth. This year, for example, first baseman Todd Helton, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and outfielder-first baseman Michael Cuddyer -- veterans expected to lead a contending club -- have not played a single September inning.

Veteran catcher Ramon Hernandez's season ended on Sept. 10. Jorge De La Rosa, whom the Rockies hoped would come back sooner from Tommy John left elbow surgery, threw his first pitches of the season on Thursday afternoon against the Giants.

"It's unfortunate when you start adding up the days that have been lost to some very significant people in those recent months of September," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said. "And let's be honest, [this year] I have been managing a ballclub that is loaded with rookies for over three months.

"To compare and contrast what is going on in this September versus what was going on in 2007, 2009 and 2010 [before the collapse] ... There were a lot of good things that went on leading up to those months. You had a ballclub that was playing for something very significant."

Veteran pinch-hitter Jason Giambi joined the Rockies late in the 2009 season, then the September magic seemed to be in the air, and when the balloon burst in 2010.

"[Twenty-ten] was really a letdown -- we made that push, got in the hunt, had a tough series against the Giants, and kind of knew we were out of it," said Giambi, who missed significant time this year with viral syndrome. "In 2011 without Todd in the lineup, things changed. And this year has been a struggle -- a ton of injuries, not playing to expectations, playing a lot of young players. That's not an excuse, but it is what it is.

"And everybody forgets, too, this [National League West] division got a lot better. So it's a combination of a lot of things. Trust me, I think everybody would like to play better and finish strong."

The Rockies see their young roster as one that is making key mistakes, especially against teams that are in contention. On one hand, it beats having an older roster that is merely counting the days to season's end. But losing is losing.

"We played some really good baseball in August," veteran pitcher Jeff Francis said. "But the last two weeks haven't been good. Youth is not an excuse. Everyone here is capable of winning a game, getting a big hit in a big situation, getting a key out. You can't make an excuse when you lose a few in a row."

Tracy is left hoping that losing now will lead to winning in the future if the Rockies are relevant this time of year.

"In the midst of that, there's a lot of growth that has taken place," Tracy said. "Sometimes when you go through those growth periods, there are some hard times that go along with it, some big challenges along the way."

Instead of rushing toward a playoff berth, the Rockies are hoping to run away from negative history. They've never lost more than 95 games in a season, but will need a strong finish to avoid eclipsing that mark. Also, a schedule heavy on contending teams puts them in danger of reaching the 100-loss mark.

But because he believes the team is losing because of youthful mistakes and not apathy, Tracy is not using the need to avoid making negative history as a motivator.

"You go in there and raise your voice several octaves when you see a complete lack of effort, or the suggestion that we're just going through the motions," Tracy said. "I do not sense that with this group. To heap more on their plate, you're asking for serious problems.

"Do you want to avoid it? Certainly. But if you don't play enough between the lines to avoid it, then you won't. You can have all the magical words you want, all the threatening words you can give them. But if we pick up a hit here or there, catch a ball here or there or block one here or block one there, we wouldn't be talking about this."

Rosario makes debut as Rockies' first baseman

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Rockies gave rookie Wilin Rosario, their starting catcher, his first career start at first base on Thursday afternoon against the Giants.

Jordan Pacheco, who has played first and third this year but has some history at the position, started at catcher with Jorge De La Rosa on the mound in his comeback from Tommy John surgery last year.

"The guy [Rosario] has 25 home runs," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said. "If you have the opportunity to place 25 home runs in the lineup you want to do so, instead of leaving him off to the side and waiting for one at-bat."

Tracy said it could be a way of keeping Rosario on the field when he doesn't catch. The Rockies want Rosario to overcome defensive deficiencies at catcher, but no doubt will also have to be prepared if a position change is in order.

However, there are plenty of candidates at first. Pacheco and Tyler Colvin have been playing it in the final days of this season. Injured Michael Cuddyer plays there. Of course, veteran Todd Helton is hoping to come back from hip surgery next season.

Tracy said he will discontinue using Rosario at thrid base, where he has made three appearances covering 4 2/3 innings. One was startlingly bad.

"The balls that found him and the way he reacted, it's not an option," Tracy said. "It's a compromise to that player. It's a compromise to the pitching staff."

Rockies to celebrate drawing 60 million fans

SAN FRANCISCO -- On Friday, when the D-backs come to Coors Field for the 1,582nd home game in the Rockies' 20 seasons, the club will reach a combined 60 million in paid attendance. No club has reached the mark faster.

To celebrate, the Rockies will pick at random one fan at the Coors field entrance gate before the 6:10 p.m. MT first pitch. That fan will be celebrated at the gate with pictures and video capturing the moment, and will be awarded 2013 Rockies season tickets, a commemorative Rockies jersey and a VIP seat for the game. The fan also will be introduced before the postgame fireworks show.

The Rockies own several other Major League attendance records -- single season (4,483,350 in 1993), four-game series (259,113 from July 14-17, 1994 against the Cardinals), three-game series (217,009 from June 24-26, 1994 against the Giants) and day game (80,227, on April 9, 1993 in the inaugural home game against the Expos). All of those records were established at old Mile High Stadium.

"The Rockies organization continues to be blessed with the greatest fans in baseball, and this record proves just how fortunate we are," Rockies owner, chairman and CEO Dick Monfort said in a press release. "We have enjoyed celebrating Rockies fans throughout the 2012 season, and we are honored to once again have the opportunity to celebrate a Major League record with our fans."

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.