It was a beautiful day in Denver Friday afternoon for the Rockies' home opener, with the Cubs the opponent: Partly cloudy, with temperatures near 60, the warmest so far in the young season for a Cubs game.
That provided some hope that the Cubs could get their bats untracked and score some runs. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case and the Rockies defeated the Cubs 5-1. The Colorado win made their record 4-0, the first time in 20 years they've been undefeated after four games. They made the playoffs that year (1995). Somehow, I don't think that'll be the case in 2015.
Travis Wood struggled through 4⅔ innings, although he appeared he might get out of the fifth allowing just one run. Unfortunately, a perfectly-placed double down the left-field line by Troy Tulowitzki scored a pair of runs and that was enough for Joe Maddon. Wood was lifted after a 90-pitch outing that didn't give many positives for Wood's future. Give Tulo credit; after all, he is one of the best hitters in the game.
Matt Szczur, getting the start in left field against lefty Tyler Matzek, figured prominently in the first two runs of the game. He misplayed a catchable ball in the second inning that could have been ruled an error and instead went for a double by Matzek, who eventually scored on a single by ex-Cub DJ LeMahieu. It wasn't necessarily an easy play, but defense is supposed to be Szczur's strong point and if he's not going to make plays like that he might be headed back to Triple-A Iowa when a certain player is called up later this month.
Szczur then hit a sacrifice fly in the third to plate the Cubs' first run and later recorded his first career big-league stolen base. He had to steal that base twice, because his first successful attempt was ruled "no play" after batter interference on Welington Castillo. Can you tell this wasn't a good day for the Cubs?
Justin Grimm was placed on the disabled list Friday with what the team terms "right forearm inflammation" (sounds like the NHL's "upper-body injury," doesn't it?). Brian Schlitter, recalled from Iowa to replace him, didn't do well. His second pitch was launched for an opposite-field homer by Justin Morneau. The Rockies added a second sixth-inning run off Schlitter.
It's fun, though ultimately silly, to talk about various "paces" that players or teams are on this early in the year. With just one run scored Friday afternoon and a total of three in three games, the Cubs are now on "pace" to score 162 runs this year. Of course, they will eventually get the bats untracked and score more and win some games... right? Right?
One good thing that came out of this game was the Cubs working counts and taking pitches. It resulted in four walks -- and Anthony Rizzo getting hit by pitches twice -- but the Cubs simply could not take advantage of all the baserunners. They left nine men on base and were just 1-for-9 with RISP. Eventually, you'd think, hits will start falling with all these runners on base. The simple fact that the Cubs are drawing more walks (seven in three games) is definitely a good thing.
Edwin Jackson got his first work of the 2015 season in the role he's likely to have -- pitching in games that appear out of reach, with the Cubs either hopelessly trailing or far ahead. Friday, he came in with the Cubs down four runs and looked... well, actually, pretty decent. His velocity was good as he hit 95 a couple times and he threw two scoreless innings. That included a harmless single, a walk and a runner reaching on a Starlin Castro error. Jackson threw 31 pitches (18 strikes) -- reasonably efficient for two innings. He could be very useful in this role, saving the rest of the pen.
Len & JD discussed on the telecast how possibly coming in from the bullpen might prevent Jackson from "overthinking" as he might do with four days between starts. They might be on to something. One appearance isn't going to make a season for Jackson, but this one was a good outing in a hitter's park in which he had a 13.09 ERA and 2.318 WHIP in five prior starts covering 22 innings.
The Cubs continue the series in Colorado Saturday evening, game time 7:10 CT. Jason Hammel will face Kyle Kendrick.