DENVER -- The sample size is small but important. From July 5 to Monday night's opener of a four-game series with the Marlins, the Rockies posted a 2.80 ERA -- third-best in the National League.
The Rockies are trying to hold or make up ground in the NL West. After dropping some distance, mainly because of an offensive slump, the pitching is starting to matter. They went into Monday on a 4-2 run that reduced their distance from the first-place D-backs by a game, to 3 1/2, by compiling a 1.18 starter ERA -- lowest in baseball over that period. It included two wins by Juan Nicasio, one by Jhoulys Chacin and one by Tyler Chatwood, plus a strong effort in a no-decision by Jorge De La Rosa.
"It's hard to say collectively, since individually guys have their own approach, but collectively they've done really well," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "It usually comes down to commanding the strike zone, no matter who you are. If you're in bad counts, you have a hard time pitching in this league."
The Marlins entered Monday with a club-record 37 straight scoreless offensive innings, but Weiss isn't taking for granted that Miami is an easy mark, especially at Coors, where offenses are known to wake up. The Marlins put up a pair of runs in the first inning.
"There was a time this year where the Marlins were one of the hottest teams in the National League for a stretch," Weiss said. "They're a young team, and if they get confidence over the course of the series, sometimes it's hard to stop that type of momentum. It's important that we execute the game.
"Most hitters look forward to coming here. There's no doubt it's a hitters' park still. There are several hitters' parks in the National League these days."
Oswalt says he's ahead of schedule in rehab
DENVER -- Rockies right-handed pitcher Roy Oswalt believes he is ahead of schedule in his rehab from a left hamstring strain, and he hopes to throw a bullpen session this weekend in Atlanta.
Oswalt suffered the injury while covering the plate after a wild pitch on July 7, and hasn't pitched since. If he does throw the bullpen session in Atlanta, it's still not clear when he would be deemed ready to return to the Rockies' rotation, but it would be a major step.
On Monday, Oswalt did resistance training with weights, increased the pace of his running and played long-toss, using his legs for power. He thought it was a jump in intensity level from his exercise program last week.
"It's going pretty well," Oswalt said. "They're looking at me kind of funny, like it's going too fast. It's not going fast enough for me. I know they don't want to push me until it gets completely healed, but it feels great right now.
"The first time I threw, I was a little leery of putting my legs into it, but, knock on wood, I haven't really felt it the last two or three days. Give me four or five more days of stretching and doing different things, I should be able to throw a pretty decent bullpen."
Like every team in contention, the Rockies -- 3 1/2 games behind the National League West-leading D-backs and three behind the second-place Dodgers -- would like to improve the back of their rotation. That's the reason they signed Oswalt in May, but he went 0-4 with a 7.64 ERA in four starts before the injury.
The Rockies don't like giving up prospects for pitchers who could leave at season's end, and therefore are not expected to make a big trade, but in the past have made under-the-radar deals late in the year. No matter what the club does, Oswalt wants to remain on the Rockies' radar.
"That's part of the game you can't control, just control what you do on the field," Oswalt said. "If you control that, everything else takes care of itself. I want to get back out there. I hate sitting on the sidelines."
LeMahieu gets shot to be starting second baseman
DENVER -- DJ LeMahieu wants to make his turn as the Rockies' starting second baseman last.
LeMahieu began the year at Triple-A Colorado Springs, but after being called up on May 16, he supplanted Josh Rutledge as the Rockies' regular second baseman. July hasn't been as productive offensively as May and June, but LeMahieu (.268, one homer, 12 RBIs, 11 stolen bases) has played consistently above-average defense.
Not that he needed confirmation, but LeMahieu received it Monday, when the Rockies sent Rutledge to Colorado Springs for the second time this year. Jonathan Herrera will serve as the utility infielder and occasional starter, but the position will continue to be primarily LeMahieu's.
"You never take anything for granted," LeMahieu said. "I started the year in Triple-A, so I know things can change quickly."
Before Monday night's start against the Marlins, LeMahieu was hitting just .232 in July, although he is on the upswing. He started two games against the Cubs -- the team that traded him and Colorado Springs outfielder-first baseman Tyler Colvin to the Rockies for third baseman Ian Stewart in December 2011 -- and went 3-for-9 with a double.
But LeMahieu, who played more shortstop and third base than second with the Cubs, has displayed the quick hands on defense that helped lead the Cubs to select him in the second round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft out of LSU. Even more, his knack for positioning based not only on scouting reports but on how a game is progressing has helped his learning curve.
"I'm always trying to read guys' swings and know how our pitchers are pitching to hitters," LeMahieu said. "Our advance coach and Stu Cole [the third-base coach and infield coach] do a good job. But I'm always trying to read swings. That goes for all of our infielders.
"It's not fun when you're slumping, but you've got to do something to get yourself out of it. If I can make a big play defensively or steal a base, it helps the team out."
Rockies manager Walt Weiss said, "He's played aggressively, he's stolen some bases and looked for opportunities to do that. He's stolen some bases and given us some consistent, good at-bats over the past several weeks."
Rutledge optioned to Triple-A for second time
DENVER -- The disappointment of 2013 continued for Josh Rutledge, who began the year as the starting second baseman but on Monday received his second demotion to Triple-A Colorado Springs this season.
Manager Walt Weiss needed Rutledge's roster spot because the Rockies recalled left-handed pitcher Drew Pomeranz from Double-A Tulsa to start Monday night's game against the Marlins.
Last year, Rutledge hit .274 in 73 games after being called up from Tulsa to replace shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who missed most of the year with a right groin injury.
The Rockies banked on Rutledge handling the switch to second base, but sent him down to Colorado Springs on May 20. He was on and off offensively at .242, but the Rockies felt he could relax and complete the position transition under less pressure if he did it in the Minors.
The team recalled him after Tulowitzki suffered a broken rib on June 13, but between Rutledge's return and Sunday, he hit .143 in 70 at-bats and saw his playing time evaporate. DJ LeMahieu has earned the second-base job.
"We just needed Josh to get at-bats, and the way it's gone up here and the way DJ has played, it would be tough in the near future to get consistent at-bats," Weiss said. "I told Josh we still think enough about him that it's important that he gets consistent at-bats. If we didn't think of him as fitting into our future plans, then it wouldn't matter that he was not getting consistent at-bats."
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.