DENVER -- Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich stood in front of the home dugout three days ago, knowing key relievers were struggling and vowing patience. To say the least, improvement wasn't immediate.
On Friday night, the Rockies trailed the D-backs by two runs in the eighth, only to have Chris Rusin give up two runs and the game turn into a 9-4 rout. On Saturday, Bryan Shaw fumbled a possible double-play grounder, then threw wildly to first to let the tying run score. Five more runs later -- all unearned because of his miscues -- he exited to some of the loudest boos at Coors in recent memory, and the Rockies would suffer a 12-7 loss that would drop their record to .500.
Shaw, in the first year of a three-year, $27 million deal, went into Sunday's series finale 2-5 with a 7.03 ERA. Rusin sat at a 7.86 ERA. Lefty Mike Dunn, in the middle of a three-year, $19 million deal, went to the disabled list with a rhomboid (upper back) strain and took a 9.00 ERA with him. The bullpen implosion accelerated when Adam Ottavino, who has been one of the best relievers in the National League this season, went to the disabled list with a left oblique injury. In Ottavino's 11-game absence, the bullpen's 6.95 ERA and 42 runs (35 earned) are MLB highs.
When he spoke, Bridich said the plan was to ride out this storm and coach their way to answers, as long as that's feasible.
"There are some very, very good pitchers in that bullpen, very talented guys, who just are not performing consistently to their potential and their talents," Bridich said. "We need to continue to help them reach their potential -- even the level of past performance that they have exhibited -- before we think much about what else is out there.
"The solutions aren't always external. We've got to fix some things internal."
It's probably not the answer most fans want, with no one having taken control of the National League West. But the tack is similar to the one he and the Rockies' staff took with the offense, which struggled mightily early, but over 14 games before Sunday averaged 6.36 runs and slashed .302/.357/.459.
Specifically, Carlos Gonzalez (scratched from Saturday's game with back spasms, but not placed on the disabled list) hit .400 in 11 games through Friday, after a slow start that led to him not being as frequent a member of the lineup as usual. Ian Desmond -- a target of recent boos -- is still languishing a .190 average, but has batted .270 in 12 games before Sunday, and catcher Chris Iannetta was at .320 since the start of the last homestand.
But the same way Gonzalez eliminated some upper-body movement from his setup and Desmond spent time in the batting cage and made an adjustment with his hands (while working with hitting coaches Duane Espy and Jeff Salazar) is the same way relievers are expected to improve.
"This job, and the farm director job, teach you a lot about patience," Bridich said. "These guys are human beings. These guys aren't robots. There are going to be periods of great production and there are going to be down periods. It's nice to see [Carlos Gonzalez and Ian and Chris [Iannetta] start to impact the ball like they know that they can and we believe they can. Offensively, are we in a better spot than were in April? Yes. Is there more we can do as a group? I do believe that's the case."
There also is bench improvement, which -- like what has been done with hitting and what they hope will be done with relief pitching -- was fostered from within. Trying to control the payroll, the Rockies went with infielders Ryan McMahon and Pat Valaika, and outfielder Mike Tauchman, as part-time players, and all needed to be sent to Albuquerque. The bench was unproductive early, but outfielder Noel Cuevas has provided a lift since being promoted from Albuquerque, and McMahon has been much better since his return.
"I wouldn't say it's just the bench, but we're always going to have interest in having talented young guys matriculate to the big league level, whether that's as a starter like Trevor Story did, or in a limited role -- platoon or bench role," Bridich said.
The Rockies entered Sunday in a three-way tie with the Dodgers and Giants, 2 1/2 games back of the D-backs. With the Dodgers run of talent and success looming, any objective observer could legitimately say teams have blown a chance to open some distance against the longtime champ. Bridich, however, said he can't fear one team when his own team has issues.
"We've got our own sets of things to be concerned about," Bridich said. "It's wasted time spending too much on the other teams.
"Our goal is to stay on top of the division and play better baseball."