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Story homers as Rox show signs of improvement

@harding_at_mlb
April 9, 2019

DENVER -- For the last three games, the Rockies’ offense has arrived late -- after poor starting pitching has led to a big deficit. But at least it’s beginning to show up. On Monday night, a six-run fifth inning made the game competitive, but the Rockies couldn’t overcome a rough

DENVER -- For the last three games, the Rockies’ offense has arrived late -- after poor starting pitching has led to a big deficit. But at least it’s beginning to show up.

On Monday night, a six-run fifth inning made the game competitive, but the Rockies couldn’t overcome a rough start from Kyle Freeland in an 8-6 loss to the Braves at Coors Field.

The Rockies dropped to 0-4 on their season-opening homestand, and they’ve lost eight of their last nine. But the six-run fifth, which featured Mark Reynolds' pinch-hit, two-run home run and Trevor Story's three-run homer off Julio Teheran, was Colorado's biggest inning of the season.

The Rockies have scored six runs in three of their last four games. The previous two occasions were blowout losses to the Dodgers, while Monday’s featured Colorado having the tying run at the plate in the seventh and ninth innings.

“So build on that, man,” said Reynolds, whose homer was the 295th of his career. “I’ve said this a thousand times. If this happens in July or August, no one says one word about it. It’s the most scrutinized week of baseball, like the sky’s falling.”

The Braves took a 7-0 lead through five innings on Freeland, who gave up Ronald Acuna Jr.’s opposite-field, 434-foot, two-run homer in the first and walked four (one intentional). The career-high seven runs allowed didn’t represent the work expected of the Rockies' ace. But it was his second straight rough start. He lasted only 4 2/3 innings in his previous start, a loss at Tampa Bay.

Freeland said the pitch to Acuna was “a good pitch,” and manager Bud Black concurred, adding “for him to hit it that way, he’s sort of a special player.” Nonetheless, Freeland’s overall performance lacked.

“I felt fine after the first, and then going through the rest of the game, I noticed that I didn’t have command of my fastball where I wanted it to be," Freeland said, "and then my secondary wasn’t there, either."

All is not well with the Rockies’ offense, of course. Daniel Murphy (left index finger fracture) and Ryan McMahon (left elbow sprain) are on the injured list, and David Dahl sat out Monday with a left midsection injury he sustained Sunday. The makeshift lineup going hitless against Braves starter Julio Teheran for the first four innings was certainly cause for concern.

But Josh Fuentes’ fifth-inning leadoff single sparked a reappearance of the connected offense that appeared to be forming during Spring Training and in the regular season’s first two games. Solid at-bats by struggling, lower-order hitters Pat Valaika (a double) and Garrett Hampson (a sacrifice fly), and patient plate appearances from Charlie Blackmon (a walk) and Nolan Arenado (a single) helped build the inning.

“We haven’t played to our standards to both sides of the ball,” said Story, whose homer was his fourth this season. “Early, it was no offense and those guys were picking us up. Now, it’s a little bit of both. We get playing like we want to on both sides of the ball, it’s going to turn. It doesn’t take much.”

Raimel Tapia’s single in the seventh and Ian Desmond’s second hit off the bench, a double in the ninth, gave the Rockies two-out scoring chances. But Arenado flied out in the seventh and Blackmon did the same in the ninth.

“I see a lot of fight out there from us, all the way through,” Desmond said. “Over the course of a season, that pays dividends.”

A family moment

Fuentes and Arenado are cousins on Arenado’s father’s side of the family. While Arenado, 27, had a quick rise as a second-round Draft pick and has won six Gold Glove Awards and four Silver Sluggers, Fuentes, 26, was undrafted and made his first MLB start Monday after two pinch-hit appearances over the weekend.

The cousins connected on an unorthodox double play in the sixth, as Fuentes grabbed a Freddie Freeman grounder to first base and threw to second, where Arenado was covering because of a shifted defense. The 3-5-3 double play helped reliever DJ Johnson escape the inning unscathed.

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