Rox ride power, Francis to home opener win
DENVER -- Good old times prevailed in the Coors Field opener Friday afternoon.
The club honored the 1993 inaugural team as part of a 20th anniversary celebration, and today's club upheld the Rockies' power-hitting tradition with home runs by Wilin Rosario and Dexter Fowler. But it was pitcher Jeff Francis who reminded a sellout crowd of 49,077 that he's still one of the best in club history to pitch in the hitters' park during Colorado's 5-2 win against the Padres.
With the Rockies coming off a 98-loss season last year, the fans are enjoying this early morsel of success. The 3-1 record marks just the seventh time in 21 seasons that the club has won at least three of its first four games.
The beloved, if overmatched, 1993 team grew into the Blake Street Bombers and made it to the postseason in their third year of existence. Rosario and Fowler's round-trippers brought the team's four-game homer total to 10, as the Rockies are living up to new manager and one-time Bomber Walt Weiss' monicker, the Blake Street Bullies.
But can a soft-tossing left-hander be a bully?
Francis gave up a first-inning run on Jesus Guzman's two-out broken-bat single, then finished with a line of one run on five hits, with five strikeouts in six innings. He did it with a slower-than-molasses curve and changeup to make his fastball almost look fast.
"From the first inning, I was hitting the glove," Francis said. "I gave up a run in the first, but it was an infield single and a broken-bat hit. I knew that I was throwing the ball the way that I was expecting to, and it was probably only a matter of time before our guys started scoring runs."
The veteran Francis (1-0), who was drafted by the Rockies in 2002 and, except for 2011 with the Royals, has been in purple pinstripes ever since, improved to 34-26 at Coors Field. Only Aaron Cook's 36 wins at Coors exceed Francis' total.
Francis never had blazing velocity, and shoulder problems a few years back reduced what he had, but his slow stuff can perplex hitters.
"I always have confidence in Jeff that he can wiggle his way through stuff if he starts to get some traffic or things start to happen out there," Weiss said. "He's really good at dictating at-bats."
Francis struck out top Padres rookie Jedd Gyrko three times, the first two on curveballs of 65 and 69 mph, the last on a 76 mph changeup. The second strikeout ended the third with runners at the corners. Francis finished his 97-pitch outing by mustering an 86 mph fastball to fan Nick Hundley.
"It was mixing speed, a lot of slow and up to 90 mph, and he had a good curveball," Padres manager Bud Black said. "That was one of the best curveballs I've seen from him in years."
A Rockies starting rotation that had the Majors' highest ERA and lowest innings pitched last season has turned in quality starts -- six or more innings, three or fewer earned runs -- in three of the season's first four games.
"We've shown, at least in four games, what we focused on in Spring Training -- staying ahead of guys, putting the pressure on the hitter to make contact," Francis said.
Chris Nelson singled to open the third and scored when Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera let Josh Rutledge's two-out grounder bounce off the heel of his glove for an error. Troy Tulowitzki followed with a two-run double off Padres starter Jason Marquis (0-1), a one-time Rockies pitcher who was charged with five runs (two earned), to improve his season RBI total to six.
"You've got to capitalize on mistakes in this game," Tulowitzki said. "Good teams do that, and good teams don't make mistakes so the other can capitalize."
Rosario homered for the second time in as many games with one out in the fourth. He crushed a slider after he had swung over the same pitch from Marquis to start the at-bat.
Fowler, whose 13 homers last year represented a career high, opened the fifth with his third homer, which went off the façade of the second deck in right.
"I feel relaxed," Fowler said. "That's huge. When you step into the box you want to see pitches, and I'm tracking pitches well."
Rosario, who might not hit seventh for long, said having a group of veteran hitters in front of him helps.
"Those guys show me -- I can see the good pitches the pitcher throws for them, then I can learn and make adjustments, ask a lot of questions," Rosario said.
Rockies reliever Adam Ottavino gave up an unearned run on one hit in his two innings, and Rafael Betancourt earned his second save.