There is hope though. As anyone who watched last Sunday’s pitchers duel against the Nationals at Coors Field would attest, the long-awaited return of southpaw Jeff Francis is a welcome one. Francis found himself in a tight, low-scoring game on Sunday in his first start since Sept. 12, 2008. Francis, one of the Rockies’ top pitchers during the team’s 2007 World Series run, has been in the dugout recovering from a painful torn labrum injury. All of us Rockies fanatics were excited to see Francis on the mound once again after a promising spring training, but just before the start of the regular season he went down again, this time to a muscle strain in his armpit. That injury really had me wondering if the kid was ever going to make a strong comeback.
In Sunday’s 2-1 win, Francis made that strong comeback. It wasn’t without a nervous start though. Right off the bat (pun intended), Washington’s leadoff hitter singled, the second batter doubled and the third hit one run with a sacrifice fly. It wasn’t the start Francis and Rockies Manager Jim Tracy were looking for.
As any good pitcher will do, Francis fought his way out of the first inning, striking out Ryan Zimmerman and getting another a fly out to end the inning. “That’s what you like to see in a great pitcher, the understanding of damage control,” Tracy told The Denver Post.
Getting through the first inning was all Francis needed. He seemed to get stronger throughout his seven-inning outing, where he walked only two and struck out six. According to The Post, Francis threw 24 of his total 106 pitches in the first inning, which means he averaged only 13.7 pitches in his final six innings. (He remained strong too, hitting 90 mph on his 100th pitch).
It was refreshing to see a guy on the mound who is simply a poised pitcher with a scalpel of an arm. Instead of overpowering the plate, Francis is exact and calculating in his pitching style. When he wants to put it low and inside, he goes low and inside. High and tight? You got it. This guy paints the plate sharper than the late Bob Ross could. With control like Francis has, anything is possible, which is why he was such a great asset to the 2007 team.
And if he can stay healthy, he will be an integral part of a Rockies post-season run. Being part of the rotation with Rockies ace Ubaldo “no-no” Jimenez, the team’s starters will be as tough as any starting rotation in the league. The Rox will have a surgeon on the mound, dicing up batters at the plate (Francis), as well as fireballer throwing high 90s (Jimenez).
I will admit I am disappointed that the Rockies are currently sitting third in the NL West behind the Dodgers, Giants and division-leading Padres, but Colorado has battled as many pitching injuries as any team in baseball. And really, it’s only going to get better for Colorado. Besides the return of Francis, injured reliever Franklin Morales is getting back into the bullpen after hitting the DL on May 11 with shoulder inflammation. Closer Huston Street is on the mend and could return to the bullpen later this month.
Having all of these Rockies pitchers return from injury and being successful on the mound is maybe a bit of wishful thinking, I am sure. But right now, as far as team injuries go, things couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start for a team that was widely picked to win the National League pennant.
“We're getting healthier, and we're getting better as a ball club with each and every day that goes by,” Tracy told MLB.com. “As I’ve said numerous times, we've never complained about [the injuries], we've dealt with [them]. If you’re a good baseball team, that’s what you have to do.”
By the looks of the team on Sunday with Francis at the helm, the team is already much better. Francis’s next start is scheduled for Saturday against the Royals.