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Rockies look to improve early pitching

'It gets tougher when you are playing from behind,' Weiss said

DENVER -- The Rockies saw too many 2015 games turn sour while the last note of "The Star-Spangled Banner" still rung in the air.

The Rockies are exploring trades and free-agent acquisitions, and are counting on young pitchers developing and injured pitchers returning at a high level. No matter who is doing the throwing, it will help to perform well from first pitch.

Because of poor work in the first inning -- and through the first three innings -- by starting pitchers, the Rockies spent much time playing catch-up at Coors Field. The result was a 36-45 record at home despite the fact the offense led the Majors in batting average (.302), on-base percentage (.352) and slugging percentage (.489), and they finished second in runs (449, one fewer than the Blue Jays) while at home.

The Rockies' 63 first-inning runs ranked third in the Majors, and their 147 runs in the first three innings were fifth-most. However, the Rockies coughed up a Majors-leading 55 first-inning runs, and followed that with 63 runs in the second and 66 in the third. The 184 total in the first three innings were 36 more than the next-most generous early-innings staff, the Rangers.

Hitters aren't blameless. Despite the high run and average totals, the 94 weighted runs created-plus (wRC+) were 25th in the Majors among teams playing at home, according to FanGraphs. But manager Walt Weiss said the offense wasn't the major factor in the poor home performance.

"We have been down early, a lot," Weiss said during the Rockies' final homestand. "You don't want that to be a factor; you still have to go up there and take your at-bats. I think we have done that, but it gets tougher when you are playing from behind, and we've had to do that."

The individual numbers for many of the starters were stunning.

Opposing hitters posted an .841 OPS in the first inning against the Rockies. It was as if Colorado's pitchers turned every opposing hitter into the Rangers' Prince Fielder (.841 for the season).

The .918 OPS against Rockies pitching through the first three innings, over the full 2015 season, would have been 10th in the Majors -- behind the Orioles' Chris Davis (.923) and ahead of the Red Sox's David Ortiz and the Blue Jays' Jose Bautista (tied at .913).

The best of the Rockies' starters was righty Jordan Lyles (1.80 ERA in the first inning, 1.20 in the first three at home), but a right big toe injury limited him to 10 total starts, five at home.

Just four of the 12 starters the Rockies used turned in first-inning ERAs under 4.00. But just two of those -- Chris Rusin's 1.64 and Chad Bettis' 3.27 -- could be counted. Gonzalez Germen had a scoreless first (and scoreless first three) in his lone start. Lefty Tyler Matzek didn't give up a first-inning run or hit in three home starts, but four walks and a hit batsman accounted for a .385 on-base average against. And his 7.88 ERA through the first three innings demonstrated that the first-inning wildness led to messy work in further frames.

Even the game's great pitchers are often vulnerable in the first inning, before they settle into the game. But the Rockies' staff actually worsened -- 5.89 ERA in the first, 6.12 in innings 1-3.

Here is a look at the Rockies' performances in the first inning, and the first three innings, at home:

First inning at home
Pitcher           IP      OPS    ERA
Bergman       1.0    1.000   18.00
Bettis            5.2     .714     3.27
Butler            6.0     .919     9.00
De La Rosa 12.0     .932     9.75
Flande           5.0     .914     5.40
Germen         1.0     .667     0.00
Gray              5.0   1.280   12.60
Hale               8.0     .915    6.75
Kendrick       25.2     .941    6.23
Lyles              5.0     .333    1.80
Matzek           3.0     .385    0.00
Rusin            11.0     .604    1.64
Totals           81.0     .841    5.89

Innings 1-3 at home
Pitcher          IP      OPS    ERA
Bergman        5.2     .875      7.94
Bettis           32.1     .822      6.12
Butler           18.0    1.053     8.50
De La Rosa   35.0     .822     6.17
Flande          15.1     .899     4.11
Germen          3.0     .311     0.00
Gray             13.2   1.051     9.88
Hale              25.2    .846     5.96
Kendrick       37.0   1.083     7.78
Lyles             15.0    .422     1.20
Matzek            8.0   1.052    7.88
Rusin            32.0   1.009    8.16
Totals          240.2   .918     6.12

Charts by

Thomas Harding is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, and like his Facebook page.
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