Rockies manager Bud Black had a nice conversation with right-hander Germán Márquez a few days ago, but the subject -- the assignment to start the season opener against the Rangers at Globe Life Field -- was expected. The sixth-inning conversation during Friday night’s 1-0 loss, however, may have had more impact.
Márquez didn’t yield a hit until Danny Santana’s one-out double in that sixth frame. Márquez’s pitch count was climbing. So Black, who at various times will make a strategic or motivational trip to the mound with no intention of removing the pitcher, visited Márquez.
“Buddy told me to relax, get those pitches down,” Márquez said.
He came close to putting down the Rangers' only rally.
Márquez needed just five pitches to fan Joey Gallo. But Rougned Odor lined a full-count fastball into the right-center gap on the eighth pitch of the at-bat for the only run against Márquez, who threw 94 pitches and struck out six against two hits and three walks in his first Opening Day start.
“Initially, he said he felt good, felt strong, but that was evident by how he was throwing the ball,” Black said of his mound conversation, which centered on pitch strategy.
The Rockies, whose only three hits came from leadoff batter David Dahl, could not solve veteran Lance Lynn, who fanned nine in six innings while throwing 108 pitches. The Rockies struck out 14 times, and they could not help their effective starter.
“[Márquez’s] stuff was really good -- very sharp, a lot of velocity, a lot of movement on his offspeed pitches, located well,” Dahl said. “He threw the ball well. He shouldn’t have gotten a loss tonight. That’s on the offense, but that’s Game 1. Get back out there tomorrow.”
At 25, Márquez began his third full season in the rotation by demonstrating traits that he was working on last year, when he was leading the National League with 174 innings before the Rockies shut him down in August with right arm inflammation.
Living with the fastball and the slider, Márquez wanted a couple slower pitches. Partly to adjust to how Coors Field played and possibly because an un-pinpointed change in the baseball made it harder, Márquez went to a curveball that came in at slider velocity. This year’s project was to have a slower breaking pitch, and to also add a changeup.
The curve arrived in the third inning as a putaway pitch on a strikeout of Shin-Soo Choo. After a two-out error in the fourth, Márquez walked two before forcing a Robinson Chirinos groundout.
“A four-pitch mix tonight -- he got some outs with all pitches,” Black said. “A couple good changeups to lefties missed bats, a good, live fastball produced outs and strikeouts, and a good, hard slider, good curve.”
Rangers manager Chris Woodward, who was the Dodgers’ third-base coach in 2018 when the Rockies forced a one-game showdown for the NL West title, said: “I've seen that a lot, unfortunately. He did a really good job against us in L.A. We had a pretty potent lineup in L.A. with a lot of lefties, and we didn't sniff him. ... I know the stuff with that kid is elite.”
In the difference-making at-bat, the count ran full when Odor fouled off a low curve, then made solid contact on a 96.3 mph fastball.
“With Odor, it was a great at-bat,” Márquez said.
In this case, Black’s message will live longer than the result. Márquez has the trust of his manager to lead the staff. The belief is that trust will lead to wins.
“For me, it wasn’t surprising,” Black said. “You’ve got one old-pro workhorse [Lynn], a guy who’s done it. And you’ve got a guy I believe is entering the prime of his career who threw a great ballgame as well.”