Patience to play into Rockies' lineup
Smith could start to help force Happ to lower pitches
DENVER -- Saturday's postponement of Game 3 of the National League Division Series gave Rockies manager Jim Tracy time to think. And the Phillies' decision to start J.A. Happ on Sunday forced him to think harder.
It's not that it would have been easy facing Phillies veteran right-hander Pedro Martinez on Saturday. But the Rockies could have gone with their left-handed-dominant lineup. And Martinez would have been pitching for just the second time since Sept. 19, and first since Sept. 30.
Happ, a rookie, presents more of a challenge.
The Rockies' next run off him will be their first. He pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings of relief against them in Colorado's April 10 home opener, a 10-3 Rockies victory. Making even more of an impression on Tracy was Happ's start Aug. 5 at Citizens Bank Park -- a 7-0, four-hit shutout.
Right-handers hit .253 off Happ, as opposed to .216 for left-handers. That points to third baseman Garrett Atkins and outfielder Ryan Spilborghs getting starts, instead of Ian Stewart and Brad Hawpe. However, Tracy noted that the type of swing, and not necessarily which side of the batter's box, is the biggest issue in facing Happ.
"It's one of the things I was thinking about when we did some throwing the ball around and a little hitting in the cage," Tracy said. "I just remember how he was able to get us to chase balls high, out of the zone. He would make us swing at a high pitch, then throw the ball higher and we'd swing at that. I remember what he did against us well."
The key will be trying to make Happ lower his pitches. It will require patience. It could even bring into play another left-handed hitter, outfielder Seth Smith, who hit .293 with a .378 on-base percentage during the regular season. Smith struck out in his only at-bat against Happ during the regular season. But in Game 2, Smith, as a pinch-hitter, knocked a line drive off Happ's leg that drove the southpaw from the game.
That could mean an outfield with left-handed-hitting Carlos Gonzalez (5-for-9 in the series) in center, flanked by Smith in left and Spilborghs in right. If that's the case, switch-hitting center fielder Dexter Fowler, who has started the first two games, would be valuable off the bench, especially defensively.
Or, Tracy could stick with a lineup that scratched out four runs against Cole Hamels in the Game 2 victory. Gonzalez led off, followed by Fowler, Todd Helton, Troy Tulowitzki, Atkins, catcher Yorvit Torrealba, Spilborghs and Clint Barmes before pitcher Jason Hammel.
|Gm. 1||PHI 5, COL 1||Wrap||Video|
|Gm. 2||COL 5, PHI 4||Wrap||Video|
|Gm. 3||PHI 6, COL 5||Wrap||Video|
|Gm. 4||PHI 5, COL 4||Wrap||Video|
Another key will be Tracy's early strategy.
After seeing the Rockies not score until the ninth inning of a 5-1 loss in Game 1, Tracy went aggressive early.
Gonzalez reached on a single, then stole second -- he was picked off by Hamels, but made it to second when first baseman Ryan Howard double-clutched his throw. Tracy had Fowler, who had struggled from the leadoff position, bunt Gonzalez to third. Gonzalez would score on Helton's fielder's-choice bouncer.
"Dexter had a real good situational at-bat, and it gave him the opportunity to feel good about himself," Tracy said.
Fowler had two more good situational at-bats that resulted in sacrifice flies. Tracy also noted that he wanted to play for a run early because it was a day game, and creeping shadows could have threatened players' ability to hit in the middle innings.
Shadows won't be a problem on Sunday night. The Rockies will be at home in front of their crowd, so Tracy isn't necessarily wed to a small-ball strategy.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.