The four-man rotation manager Jim Tracy has come up with for the Colorado Rockies is a double-edged sword. Each of the starters is limited to 75 pitches, whether they are doing well or not, and that can play havoc on a relief corps.
Tracy felt he had no choice when he demoted Jeremy Guthrie to the bullpen on June 19. Things may change once Jhoulys Chacin comes off the disabled list. But for right now, Jeff Francis and Co. are stuck with the current situation and earlier exits.
The left-hander allowed three runs and four hits over four innings Wednesday night in Colorado's 6-4 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers, marking the sixth straight game in which a Rockies starter didn't reach the fifth inning. The club has only one victory by a starter in its last 23 games. That was by Francis, in a 4-2 decision at Arizona on July 25.
"It might not be what we're used to, but it's the situation we're in," Francis said after his 73-pitch outing. "We just keep pitching till they take the ball away. I felt like today I could have done more, but I'll be out there again soon."
Francis is 1-3 with a 6.89 ERA over his last seven outings, a stretch in which the eight-year veteran has allowed eight home runs — including a three-run shot in the first inning to the Dodgers' Matt Kemp. The Rockies have been outscored 17-4 in the first inning during Francis' 13 starts.
"I'm happy with my preparation, but my execution at times has been pretty bad and has cost me," Francis said. "When you give up three runs in the first inning, you just try to battle as best as you can."
Carlos Torres (1-1) took over in the fifth and found himself in a bases-loaded jam with no outs on Shane Victorino's single, a walk to Mark Ellis and an infield hit by Kemp to deep shortstop. The right-hander forced in the go-ahead run with a four-pitch walk to Hanley Ramirez, but rookie third baseman Jordan Pacheco snared a scorching line drive by Andre Ethier and then started a 5-4-3 double play on a grounder by Juan Rivera.
The Dodgers extended their margin to 6-3 with two sixth-inning runs off Torres. After Matt Treanor was hit by a pitch Chad Billingsley sacrificed him to second and Victorino singled him home. The "Flyin' Hawaiian" then scored all the way from first on Ellis' single to right-center.
Billingsley (8-9) shrugged off an inside-the-park home run by Eric Young Jr. on his fourth pitch of the game to win his fourth straight start. The right-hander was charged with four runs and seven hits in 6 1-3 innings and struck out five against a starting lineup that included five rookie position players.
The switch-hitting Young sped around the bases with his first career inside-the-park homer after driving a 2-1 pitch off the fence in center field and watching the ball bounce past Kemp and back toward the infield.
"It was exciting to run around the bases," Young said. "I put a good swing on it, saw the trajectory of it, and immediately put my head down thinking it was at least going to be a double. I knew he missed it, and rounding second I saw the third base coach was waving his arms like crazy, so I knew he was going for it and I wanted to make a final stretch for it."
The Dodgers, who were 0-for-18 with runners in scoring position during the first two games of the series, grabbed a 3-2 lead in the bottom half on Kemp's 17th homer — and his first with more than one runner aboard.
"I got a good pitch to hit," Kemp said. "I really haven't been hitting too well with runners in scoring position the last couple of days, so I needed to do something to help us get the momentum going. We haven't been getting runs in the first couple of innings, so we definitely got to start putting runs on the board early and put pressure on the other team. The home run put some runs on the board early and gave Chad a little cushion."
Billingsley has a 2.02 ERA in his last four starts, after going 0-5 with a 6.21 ERA in his previous five outings and landing on the disabled list because of elbow pain. He has never won more than four consecutive starts during his seven-year career.
Ronald Belisario relieved Billingsley with runners at first and second and gave up a single by Young. Ethier, who won his first gold Glove last season without committing en error, misplayed the ball — allowing DJ LeMahieu to score and trim the Dodgers' lead to 6-4. But Belisario pitched a hitless eighth and Kenley Jansen got three outs for his 22nd save in 28 attempts