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Rox counting on veteran 'pen down the stretch

Returning Rusin, Shaw, McGee look to pitch better during pennant race
Colorado Rockies relief pitcher Chris Rusin (52) in the fifth inning of a baseball game Sunday, June 24, 2018, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski) (David Zalubowski/AP)
August 9, 2018

DENVER -- The return of left-hander Chris Rusin from the disabled list puts the Rockies' bullpen close to what was intended when the front office assembled it during the offseason.Now, it's time for production. The plan was not for Rusin to have a 6.81 ERA at the time he had

DENVER -- The return of left-hander Chris Rusin from the disabled list puts the Rockies' bullpen close to what was intended when the front office assembled it during the offseason.
Now, it's time for production. The plan was not for Rusin to have a 6.81 ERA at the time he had plantar fasciitis, or for Jake McGee to be at 6.63 or Bryan Shaw to be at 6.60 entering Thursday's opener of a four-game series against the Dodgers. And the Rockies definitely didn't count on closer Wade Davis to have six blown saves, tied for second most in the Majors.
But manager Bud Black is counting on this veteran group to do what experienced players do during a postseason race. The aforementioned relievers, plus righties Scott Oberg, Adam Ottavino and Seunghwan Oh -- all of whom have been solid during the second half -- have all pitched during pennant races. The only one who hasn't is rookie lefty Harrison Musgrave.
"I'm sure they expected better performance all year, right from the start," Black said. "When things haven't gone well, I'm sure there's an expectation that each and every outing will be the outing that they turned it around. But now -- you can't quite see the finish because we're still in August and have a lot of games left -- they can make a big difference in the standings.
"Those guys know where we are, we're in a position to make the playoffs. They understand the importance of each and every game, each and every outing that they have. I like the fact that almost all those guys have been through a pennant race."
Shaw, McGee and, before his injury, Rusin were pitching in reduced roles. But in various conversations, all say they are ready for the big upcoming games.
"You look at playoff teams over the last five or six years, and the majority were all really good teams, but the main thing they had in common was they had very good bullpens," said Shaw, who pitched in big games for the Indians prior to signing a three-year, $27 million deal with the Rockies last winter. "You look at the Royals, to the Yankees to the Indians to Houston's bullpen. The guys they have have been doing it for a while, and they add good young guys."
Rockies fans, however, can't be blamed for holding their breath, considering the overall numbers and a shaky last road trip where Davis blew two saves in losses and Ottavino blew one in a game the club eventually won in 11 innings. But pitchers can't afford to think that way.
"As a pitcher, you can't dwell on the negative things that happened earlier in the season," Rusin said. "You've got to have a short-term memory. If you dwell on everything, what could happen or what did happen, your mind is in the wrong spot."
The Rockies optioned rookie righty Yency Almonte to Triple-A Albuquerque to make room for Rusin on the active roster.
Dunn progressing
Lefty reliever Mike Dunn, who is also supposed to be part of the veteran bullpen but has been out for more than a month with left a/c joint inflammation, threw fastballs, cutters/sliders and a few curveballs aggressively on flat ground Thursday. He hopes to return to throwing from a mound Friday.
"Got to let it go to build the arm strength," said Dunn, who is in the second season of a three-year, $19 million deal.
Dunn said he has set his progression based on the date he is eligible to return from the 60-day disabled list -- Sept. 2.
No time for fatigue
Thursday was the 14th game in a 17-day stretch of games that included a three-game home sweep of the contending A's, a 2-5 road trip to St. Louis and Milwaukee and dropping two of three against the Pirates. But with the next off-day not until Monday, the Rockies have to marshal their energy against the Dodgers.
The offense has struggled recently, which raised questions about the team's energy level.
"We have to play with more energy, more enthusiasm, and we have been, but lately it's been a tough grind," third baseman Nolan Arenado said. "If we can get back to where we normally play, it's going to be just fine."
The fact the Rockies are playing the National League West-rival Dodgers, who are also competing for a postseason spot, is immaterial to first baseman Ian Desmond.
"I don't think the opponent matters," Desmond said. "We're at the point of the year where I'm not saying we should be on autopilot, but we should be playing our best baseball right now. Chemistry should be good, philosophy and plans should be good, approach and preparation should be good. I think we're there. I don't think anybody in here has a doubt."

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for since 2002. Follow him on Twitter and like his Facebook page.