Jones, young Rox gaining experience, learning lessons late in season

September 12th, 2023

DENVER -- During the top of the ninth inning, the AT&T SportsNet cameras zoomed in on a deep and slimy divot in left-center at Coors Field. The hole was nowhere near the size of the piece of the broken heart of Rockies left fielder .

“I made a mistake,” Jones said. “That ball should’ve been caught. It cost us the game.”

The feeling of a close loss to a team in the postseason race -- 5-4 to the Cubs on Monday night -- is agonizingly familiar to Jones and the Rockies. It hurts so much because Jones and his club could have been celebrating.

Jones, who erased Seiya Suzuki at the plate in the sixth inning with a 102.7 mph Statcast-measured throw, nearly made another signature play with the Rockies leading by one run in the ninth. Jones sped toward right-center and chased down Dansby Swanson’s line drive off Rockies closer Tyler Kinley. Instead, Jones felt his spirit sink when the ball bounced off the heel of his glove.

The play was ruled a double. Two batters and a double steal later, Yan Gomes’ singled in two runs to send the Rockies to their 17th loss in the last 20 games. The last 19 contests have come against teams like the Cubs, who are vying for postseason positioning. There have been blowouts. But five of the losses have been by one run, four others by two, and a couple more games were close in the late innings before deteriorating. All three wins were by one run.

The loss was the Rockies’ 92nd, and they would need a dramatic turnaround to avoid the first 100-loss season in their 31-year history.

As a symptom of the team’s struggles, Monday was the third quality start in four for lefty Kyle Freeland (six innings, three runs on eight hits with no walks). But the Rockies scored just once with him in the game.

With a roster that’s turned over to inexperience, one of the first steps to being like their opponents -- having a postseason spot to play for this time of year -- is truly feeling these losses.

It’s not just Jones -- who was picked off by Cubs lefty Drew Smyly after his eighth-inning single -- experiencing the highs and lows of September baseball, even though the Rockies occupy the lowest spot in the National League in terms of winning percentage.

  • Hunter Goodman delivered his 13th hit in as many games since being called up from Triple-A Albuquerque. Goodman’s RBI double off Jose Cuas was part of a seventh-inning rally.
  • Center fielder Brenton Doyle, another rookie defensive whiz, gave the Rockies the lead in the seventh with a two-run single off Cuas. Doyle made the most of a chance not guaranteed, since manager Bud Black has pinch-hit for him in tight situations. But the game ended with Doyle chasing a Michael Fulmer pitch that wound up way outside.
  • Justin Lawrence, removed from his closer role last week after struggles during his first full year in the bigs, overcame an eighth-inning leadoff single from Nico Hoerner by coaxing a Cody Bellinger double-play ball.
  • Rookie Shortstop Ezequiel Tovar, a starter from Opening Day, followed a 3-for-20 road trip as the Rockies went 1-5, with an 0-for-4 Monday. But the Lawrence double play featured Tovar catching second baseman Harold Castro’s flip barehanded, then rocketing a throw to first baseman Kris Bryant, who returned Monday after a 45-game absence with a fractured left index finger.

“This is good experience for them, to see these types of games, and to see what happens, and the little things that can turn the game,” said Black, whose team played in front of 30,620 -- the vast majority cheering for the contending Cubs.

Jones took Monday as hard as Aug. 22 at Tampa Bay, when an eighth-inning fly from Randy Arozarena bounced off Jones’ glove as part of a Rays nine-run eighth that turned a one-run Rockies lead into a 12-4 loss.

The sixth-inning throw from left was Jones’ 15th outfield assist -- eye-popping for a player who wasn’t even called up until late May, and is a converted corner infielder. Jones’s defense and his .873 OPS should garner NL Rookie of the Year votes.

Still …

“I want to make that play -- I want to win every game we can,” Jones said. “There are a lot of positives. Goodman came off the bench and put together a really good at-bat. [Elehuris] Montero [1-for-2 and hit by two pitches] has been swinging it.

“But I lost this one.”