The best of Rockies right-hander Germán Márquez arrived an inning later than desirable Sunday afternoon.
And Márquez’s best form would have shown up in plenty of time, had the Rockies’ offense converted any of its four big opportunities.
Márquez gave up two runs in a 36-pitch first inning, but stood out for the rest of his 5 2/3, which he finished with seven strikeouts. However, the Rockies blew multiple scoring opportunities and lost, 4-0, to be swept at Oracle Park.
In all, Sunday represented a winding, but definite move toward normalcy in 2021 for Márquez, who has been one of the National League’s better pitchers over the last four seasons.
On Opening Day, Márquez yielded six hits and walked six in just four innings against the Dodgers. Yes, he limited the World Series champs to one run, but it was clear his command didn’t arrive for the opening bell. He was better in his second start, a no-decision after three runs in six innings against the D-backs at home, but one poorly located fastball wound up a home run by Christian Walker.
Saturday’s first inning was a combination of a scattered fastball, less-than-sharp breaking pitches and some solid at-bats from the Giants. But from the second until the sixth, when he lost his edge and walked the final two batters, Márquez found an efficiency he believes can carry forward.
Márquez retired the first two in the first before giving up an Alex Dickerson solo homer. Brandon Belt walked. Then with the count full to Longoria, the Rockies decided not to hold Belt on first base. With no defensive communication, Belt snuck off to steal second. Evan Longoria’s single put a careless second run on the board. After that, Márquez retired nine of the next 11 hitters, five via strikeouts.
“They battled with my pitches [in the first inning] -- there were a lot of foul balls, and they had the opportunity to get those runs in the first inning," said Márquez, whose only run after the first was Belt’s solo shot on a poorly located breaking pitch with one out in the sixth. “After that, all the way through was fine. Everything was sharp.
“I feel it’s just one or two pitches a game that I’ve been getting hurt. They’re going to turn into outs, and shutout games are going to come.”
After the first, Márquez’s only troublesome inning was his final one.
“That first-inning fastball had velocity, not great location, and then after the first inning, he reeled it in,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “You saw the good breaking ball as the game progressed. I was worried with the high pitch count, you know where this game was going to go. But he got it together and pitched into the sixth inning.”
However, an offense that managed just four runs in the sweep blew two-out opportunities with runners in scoring position in the first, third, fourth and ninth. But the most hurtful blown chance came in the sixth, with runners at second and third and one out in the sixth. Giants starter Anthony DeSclafani struck out Josh Fuentes and Sam Hilliard to leave the Rockies defeated.
The Rockies finished the series 2-for-15 with runners in scoring position. The only runs came when Chris Owings tripled off Johnny Cueto and scored in the ninth on Friday, and Ryan McMahon launched a three-run homer Saturday. But there was no evidence of at-bats being strung together.
“All the games were tight, low-scoring, ballgames, and we just couldn't get the big hit to break through and get some momentum,” said Black, whose team has a break on Monday but doesn’t get one after that -- considering they are staring at a three-game set at Dodger Stadium starting Tuesday.
The Rockies have dropped six of the last eight, but those struggles cannot be blamed on the rotation. Márquez’s outing left the starters with a 2.36 ERA, with 35 strikeouts against 27 hits in 45 2/3 innings. The biggest blemish was the 26 walks, but all of the starts were arguably winnable.
“We’re looking for quality starts,” Márquez said. “We’ve been battling with hitting, but we’re going to get this pretty soon.”