DENVER — The Coors Field thing is real.
We joke about it, how the big, bad, Voodoo monster at 20th and Blake is where solid pitching goes to vanish; how batting numbers must be inflated, as if Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon and D.J. LeMahieu wouldn’t rake if you put them on the moon, with the on-deck circle on Pluto.
But it’s a thing, and it's real. Humidor or no, our red-brick shrine is unlike anywhere else in the big leagues, and what it does to the psyche of some pitchers can send some guys to the edge of a couch, talking to a stranger.
“It’s a hard thing with the pitchers. Not a lot of guys deal with this elevation and then go to sea level,” Rockies catcher Tony Wolters said, his voice stern with sincerity. “It’s hard.”
Starter Tyler Chatwood never looked comfortable in the Rockies’ 6-5 loss to the Mariners at Coors Field on Monday. Over 4 1/3 innings he zipped 102 pitches, a few that bounced off home plate. Chatty shouted into his Rawlings mitt after his American League counterpart, Sam Gaviglio, spanked his first big-league hit into left. It was a weird day all around, from the rain-sunshine-wind-locusts-sunshine weather to the Rox losing a series opener for the first time since May 5.
Weird, but predictable.
First, the calls for Chatwood’s demotion are premature. The Rockies may get to that point, but Chatty tossed seven shutout innings in his previous start, and they’re not at that point yet. Still, it’s imperative the Rockies get more from Chatwood; the rookie starters who are lighting up the National League are bound to be on an innings count this season, as they should be, and the Rox need a veteran starter to balance the youth, if nothing else.
But Chatwood isn’t the same pitcher at home as he is on the road. His splits remain concerning, his ERA ballooning at home (6.18) and shining on the road (3.06). This time the Mariners punched him for six runs. He walked three, had a couple conversations with manager Buddy Black and pitching coach Steve Foster and appeared, well, uncomfortable.
“I don’t think I executed well,” Chatwood said afterward.
Wolters caught Chatwood on Sunday. Wolters is the kind of optimist who, if he ever got food poisoning, would tell you the steak still tasted great. But even Wolters acknowledged the impact of Coors on Chatwood, whose bipolar resume includes a brilliant two-hit, complete-game shutout at San Francisco and two consecutive home starts that closed before two were out in the fifth.
“With Chatty (on the road), his ball moves a little bit more, he feels a little more comfortable, he knows where his ball is going,” Wolters said. “I think it’s like that for all the pitchers: you see your ball move when you’re away, but you know it’s not going to move the same way (at Coors). The mentality is kind of difficult because you’re already tentative.”
Thank the Rockies’ defense for keeping them in the game. It’s been their rudder. If not for dazzling plays by shortstop Trevor Story, third baseman Nolan Arenado and right-fielder Carlos Gonzalez, the Mariners would have sprinted away with their first win in Colorado since 2015.
“We felt like we were in striking distance,” said Story, whose opposite-field home run offered another slice of hope he’s pointed toward his 2016 self. “We just lacked that one big extra hit.”
Don’t look now, but the Dodgers are coming on like a Mad Max train hellbent for Thunderdome. They’ve won five straight. They’re .5 game behind the Rockies in the NL West. As Arenado has said a few times, the Dodgers will be there in the end. If the Rox want to be, they must figure out the Chatwood conundrum. How about a six-man rotation that features Chatwood on the road and 24-year-old right-hander Jeff Hoffman at home?
Just a thought.