Chi Chi notches first big league win since 2015

September 11th, 2019

DENVER -- At a time when the Rockies are all about looking forward, it’s OK to take a peek back one last time to Sept. 22, 2015 -- a date right-hander Chi Chi Gonzalez doesn’t really have to hear about again.

Gonzalez faced down a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the fifth and ended up holding the Cardinals to one run over six innings while earning his first win since the aforementioned date -- 2-1 at Coors Field on Tuesday night.

“It’s a lot of emotion,” said Gonzalez, who was with the Rangers at the time of his last win but had to endure a long comeback after Tommy John surgery. “I’m just thankful to be out here, to be performing, to be pitching, to be with this group of guys.”

Gonzalez, who threw 6 1/3 solid innings against the Dodgers in Los Angeles in his previous start only to see the Rockies lose the lead in the end, took another step in re-establishing himself as a Major Leaguer and possibly part of the Rockies’ depth picture next year. The night also featured solid work from right-handers Carlos Estevez and Jairo Diaz (second save) -- relievers who will be competing for heightened roles in 2020.

One of the reasons that the Rockies’ plunge has been so deep -- Tuesday was their fourth win in the last 21 games -- has been that manager Bud Black has turned over larger roles to lesser-experienced players. Injuries forced his hand with the starters, and the combination of closer Scott Oberg’s season-ending blood clots and some rough years from veterans has led to inexperienced relievers in big situations.

Nights when younger pitchers spend most of a game holding a narrow lead -- provided by Nolan Arenado’s 482-foot, two-run homer in the first inning off Cards starter Michael Wacha (6-7) -- will look good come evaluation time.

“It was really good from the whole team standpoint with Chi Chi,” Black said. “He’s thrown the ball great the last two outings. The previous two were a little bit rough. The thing that I liked was he’s kept the same demeanor, the same work ethic in between starts. Great teammate.

“We had to work out of a couple jams.”

The Cards loaded the bases in the fifth on a Daniel Murphy throwing error and singles by Tommy Edman and Harrison Bader with one out, before Gonzalez worked a soft liner from Matt Carpenter on a bat-breaking fastball and a grounder from Dexter Fowler on a cutter. After a smooth sixth, Gonzalez watched the Rockies’ offense, then after going inside for arm maintenance, was the loudest fan in front of the TV when Estevez saved his lead.

“I was, like, 'Let me try to get my shoulder worked on as quickly as I can so I can get back out there instead of just waiting,'” Gonzalez said. “It was fun, too, watching Estevez do it on TV.”

Gonzalez’s injury kept him from pitching at all in 2017, but Cardinals manager Mike Shildt was quite familiar with the right-hander. Gonzalez, 27, was drafted 23rd overall by the Rangers in 2013 and showed talent in the Minors.

“He made pitches,” Shildt said. “He’s a pitch-maker. Not a big strikeout guy, but made a lot of quality pitches to get contact and the defense made plays for him for the most part. But really it was about him controlling counts and hitting his spots.”

Estevez replaced a shaky Bryan Shaw with two on and one out in the seventh, and fanned Bader and Jose Martinez. During the first at-bat, Bader called time late and Estevez felt his back spasm while trying to stop his motion. He pitched out of the inning, but Black removed him afterward for precaution.

“I just needed to try to get these two guys out and leave the game right there,” said Estevez, who is getting a long look with 65 appearances this season.

Shaw’s hiccup and Estevez’s tweaked back meant Diaz, who earned his first Major League save Friday, had to throw the final two innings for another save.

“I definitely have the hope that I can help this team out in the future,” Diaz said. “I came out in the eighth feeling and knowing I was going to throw those last two innings.”