Friday Rockpile: An Opening Day fail for the ages

by 24USATVMarch 29, 2024, 4 p.m. 19
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The Rockies are 17-15 on Opening Day, but that 15th loss will go down in infamy.

It’s not every Opening Day that a team gets destroyed 16-1. After all, there have been two other Opening Days in the last 134 years where teams have done worse.

At first, it wasn’t so bad. The Rockies went into the third inning down 2-1. Then came the soul-crushing, never-ending third inning where Colorado gave up the most runs (14) and hits (13) in one inning in franchise history. They also set a franchise record by facing 18 batters in one frame — that’s not just hitting around. It’s hitting around twice.

This won’t just be a blemish in the Rockies record book, but in Major League Baseball’s too. The 14 runs scored in one Opening Day inning were the most in the Modern Era (since 1900) and tied for the fourth most in an inning in the Modern Era.

The Rockies should offer refunds to anyone who paid for a year’s subscription to Rockies.TV, or at least give a $16 refund for the first month.

Considering it was 16-1 with two outs in the third, I guess it could have been worse. In the end, the Rockies are now tied for third place for the biggest loss on Opening Day. That’s behind the Cleveland Infants, who got rocked by the Buffalo Bisons 23-2 in 1890 in the Players League, and the Washington Senators, who were stomped by the Yankees 19-1 in 1955.

Sure, it wasn’t as bad as when the Rockies lost to the Angels 25-1 on June 24 last season. Even in that game, the worst inning saw only 13 runs scored. While that game was a joke and signaled the Rockies were well on their way to a 100-loss season, Thursday’s snakebite was worse. Posting a historic blowout on the most optimistic day of the year is so much worse.

I tried to feel excited all day on Thursday. It was Opening Day after all. Baseball is back. I wore a purple Rockies polo to work. Even though I didn’t have the internal spark I usually have on Opening Day, I still half-heartedly put up my Rockies flag.

When the game finally started, the nostalgic joy started to creep in. When Kyle Freeland gave up a lead-off single, it started to diminish. When Lourdes Gurriel Jr. homered in the first, it deflated. Thanks to back-to-back doubles from Brendan Rodgers and Ryan McMahon, the Rockies got a run back in the first. Maybe it would be ok.

Freeland, who had a sold Spring Training with more velocity, seemed like he was just tossing BP. He surrendered two doubles, five singles and a walk for eight runs before being pulled after recording only one out. His 18 four-seam fastballs averaged 92.3 mph, up 3.5 mph from the same pitch last season. His 14 sinkers averaged 92.1 mph, up 3.4 mph from 2023. The velocity was there. The location and variation weren’t.

In his third Opening Day start, Freeland left too many pitches right over the plate. Of his 49 pitches, 36.7% were four-seam fastballs and 28.6% were sinkers. He leaned too much into the heat and not enough on his slider (16.3%), knuckle curve (14.3%) and changeup (4.1%). In 2 1/3 innings, he gave up 10 runs on 10 hits with one walk and two strikeouts for a 38.57 ERA. Not a good start in a season where the Rockies need Freeland to be the ace.

When Freeland was pulled, Anthony Molina came in to make his MLB debut and the Diamondbacks just kept the hit parade going. Molina, the 22-year-old RHP who the Rockies grabbed in the Rule 5 Draft from Tampa Bay in December, gave up a single, single, walk, single, single, double, sac fly, and another single. By the time he left the mound, it was 16-1. Molina was charged with six runs on six hits with one walk and recorded one out. After his first appearance, he has a 162.00 ERA. That’s not a typo. It’s 162.00.

The offense wasn’t much better. The Rockies posted four hits total. They walked three times and struck out six. They hit into one double play, left six men on base and went 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position.

The lone bright side came from the post-Molina bullpen. In his Rockies debut, Jalen Beeks was the hero who ended the third inning. He threw two more scoreless, hitless innings and recorded two strikeouts. Victor Vodnik added two more scoreless innings and worked out of having runners on first and second with only one out in the sixth inning. Hitting over 97 mph with his fastball and pairing it nicely with his solid curveball, Nick Mears struck out the side in the eighth. The trio’s work helped bring down the Rockies initial bullpen ERA of 162.00 to 10.70 by the end of the game.

If Opening Day is any indicator, it could be a rough year. Or, as Rockies play-by-play broadcaster Drew Goodman said when the game finally ended, “the good news is that it’s only one game.” The bad news is that there’s always tomorrow.

The best defensive player most MLB fans don’t know, Logan Gilbert’s standout skill and more ‘Sliders’ | The Athletic ($)

At least one story has something good about the Rockies. It’s cool to see famed baseball writer Tyler Kepner giving Brendon Doyle some love on a national stage. Kepner compares the Colorado second-year center fielder, who earned a Gold Glove in his rookie season, to an “indie band with a cult following” who will be performing all across the country this summer.

Renck: Rockies owner Dick Monfort knows only way to quiet critics is “win all the time and that’s what we need to do” | Denver Post ($)

Before the 2023 season, Dick Monfort said the Rockies could be .500. They went on to post the worst record in 31 years as an organization. This column has the same kind of head-scratching, evidence-lacking vibe since Monfort shares numerous thoughts on how much he wants to win.

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