Flexen outlasts Waino as Rockies' bats come up big

August 5th, 2023

ST. LOUIS -- Given their travails building a viable pitching staff this season, the Rockies aren’t going to have much sympathy for a team struggling to get outs.

On Friday, they came across a club whose search for run prevention nearly rivals their own. What happens when the pitching staff ranked 23rd in ERA runs into the No. 29 staff? Presumably, a lot of scoring, such as in the Rockies' 9-4 win at Busch Stadium in which the Cardinals had an uncharacteristically hard time scrounging up enough quality pitching.

In a game that featured bushels of hits -- 29, to be exact -- the journeyman got the better of the superstar. was the winning pitcher, while Adam Wainwright took the loss.

Before the game, Rockies manager Bud Black, a former pitcher himself, referenced his admiration for the career of Wainwright, who turns 42 later this month. Wainwright has announced that this will be his final season, and he's said he would like to reach 200 career wins. He’s two shy of reaching the milestone.

“The character, first of all, the way he went about it. A true professional,” Black said of Wainwright. “On the pitching side of it, a classic pitcher, a pitcher’s pitcher. For years, he epitomized what it meant to be a guy who truly knew what he needed to do to get his outs. Just great aptitude, great intelligence, just really knew how to pitch. That curveball he threw to Carlos Beltrán in New York, I can still see that pitch and what that moment was for the Cardinals.”

It’s hard to escape Wainwright’s influence in this ballpark. In the visiting clubhouse, players have access to a laminated list of Wainwright’s favorite St. Louis restaurants that he asked visiting clubhouse manager Rip Rowan to post for him earlier this season. Wainwright is a co-owner of a local barbecue restaurant and an avid appreciator of food. He also owns a South Georgia farm.

A couple of hours after Black spoke, his team went out and made sure Wainwright wouldn’t polish his career credentials on their watch. 

Wainwright, who no longer can reach back for mid-90s velocity, gets by with a fastball, a cutter, a sinker and his famous 12-to-6 curveball. On Friday, he was catching too much of the plate. The Rockies bunched nine hits in the first three innings to score seven quick runs and knock Wainwright from the game.

It was a particularly strong performance for outfielder , who had RBI hits in his first three plate appearances, including a double off Wainwright. Jones has been a breakout player for the Rockies this season, but he was batting .175 since the start of July before Friday's four-hit showing. Afterward, Jones noted it was a good night for Nolans, as he, Nolan Arenado and Nolan Gorman combined to go 10-for-15 with three home runs and six RBIs.

“I was struggling a lot for a little while there,” Jones said. “I think I came up, had some success and then, you know, pitchers make adjustments. I feel like I’ve been having really good at-bats the last couple weeks, and the results weren’t there on the scoreboard. To help the team get a win today was nice.”

The game easily could have devolved into an offensive free-for-all, akin to many Rockies home games, especially given the fact Flexen had allowed six runs (five earned) in less than four innings in his first start for the Rockies, who signed him to a Minor League deal to patch up their battered pitching staff last month.

But Flexen dug deep to protect the big early lead. He allowed a solo home run to Arenado in the second inning, and the Cardinals began building a rally in the third. But after allowing three straight hits, Flexen got ahead of Gorman and dropped a big, loopy curveball into the strike zone. Gorman swung and missed, and after Arenado lined out, Flexen escaped the inning with just one run allowed.

“The last couple years, the track record for me, I’ve been able to throw pitches for strikes at any time,” Flexen said. “My year in 2021, that was my biggest thing, was getting out of jams and really limiting damage. I gave up the long ball here and there, but I was able to limit damage throughout the course of the year. I’m trying to get back to that.”

Colorado has been trying to cobble together a viable pitching staff all year, and Flexen’s improvement Friday could help him build a place in it, at least for the remainder of this season. Before signing with the Rockies, he had pitched largely out of the Mariners’ bullpen before he was designated for assignment on June 27.

Flexen wound up pitching around 10 hits over five innings, holding St. Louis to three runs while striking out two in his best start since April 17.