DENVER -- Rookie right-hander Jeff Hoffman didn't grasp the reward Sunday afternoon, but his seven-inning performance in the Rockies' 3-2 loss to the Phillies showed that he has captured the scent of pressure pitching.
Hoffman, who had not gone beyond six innings in his previous four starts, struck out eight, one below his career high, and held the Phillies to four hits and one walk in his no-decision. Most importantly, he prevented rallies from materializing after a couple two-out doubles. The only run against him was Maikel Franco's 17th homer of the season, which came in the second inning.
Hoffman, who threw strikes on 63 of his 96 pitches, accomplished the sixth quality start (six or more innings, three or fewer earned runs) in the Rockies' last nine games. He has had two, fellow rookie German Marquez had two and second-year man Jon Gray had the other two. The Rockies still sit atop the National League Wild Card standings, and the young rotation is leading them.
"We kind of struggled for a bit, had a stretch when we didn't pitch really well," Hoffman said. "We wanted to come back with a statement. We said to ourselves, 'The first two months of the season is who we are, not these past few weeks.'"
Hoffman had four pitches working well: a fastball that grew stronger by the inning, a slider, a changeup and a curveball that was the most effective it has been since the last time he faced the Phillies on May 22, holding them to seven innings, three hits and one run, with seven strikeouts and no walks.
"He got us chasing on a couple pitches because we were ready to hit his fastball," Phillies catcher Cameron Rupp said. "I remember he pitched really, really well against us at home [in May]. So we knew what we were up against."
Hoffman's fastball command and the ability to use his secondary stuff let him pitch confidently no matter the count.
"When he was down, he was really good," Rockies manager Bud Black said. "Had a nice hook. Got some outs with the changeup. It was great for Jeff. Very encouraged by that."
Hoffman displayed growth in the second and fifth innings. After Rupp's two-out double in the second, Hoffman fanned Phillies pitcher Aaron Nola (who also threw seven strong innings) on a curveball. Daniel Nava doubled with two down in the sixth, but Hoffman forced cleanup hitter Nick Williams into a weak grounder that Hoffman fielded easily to end the inning.
"Not really an issue there," Hoffman said. "Just get back in the zone and get back in the dugout."