Rockies win again versus scuffling Giants
DENVER – Raw rookies and savvy veterans alike have had their arms and egos shredded at unforgiving Coors Field. Call Jeff Francis crazy, but he kinda likes the place.The Rockies rookie stayed undefeated at the ballpark most pitchers love to hate, allowing one run over six innings Thursday to lift Colorado to a 3-1 victory over the struggling San Francisco Giants.”I feel comfortable,” Francis said. “I walk out there to warm up, the fans are rooting me on. The guys on the team are excited for me.”Francis (4-1), largely considered one of the best pitchers in the minors last year, improved to 5-0 at Coors, dating to late last season when he was called up from Triple-A Colorado Springs.He became only the fourth pitcher to win his first five decisions in the 10-plus seasons the park has been open. Greg Maddux and Denny Stark each won their first five, and Darren Oliver holds the record with six straight victories.
Using a fastball that rarely topped more than 90 mph and his effective changeup more than his curve, Francis allowed seven hits and struck out five. His ERA at Coors is 2.92 this season.”If there’s enough difference between the changeup and the fastball, it allows hitters to stay off the barrel,” Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said in explaining Francis’ success. “That’s what he’s been able to do.”Luis Gonzalez hit a solo homer off Brett Tomko (3-6) and Garrett Atkins hit another off Matt Herges to help the Rockies close their homestand at 5-5. They won two of three series and now head out for a 10-game road trip.Trailing 3-1 in the seventh, San Francisco had runners on first and second with one out, but Jose Acevedo got Pedro Feliz to ground into a double play. The Giants finished with 10 hits, but stranded 10 and went 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position.”When you have 10 hits in this yard here you should have more than one run,” manager Felipe Alou said.
Jay Witasick worked through a scoreless eighth, then Brian Fuentes came on for his first save as Colorado’s new closer, in place of Chin-hui Tsao, who is out with a shoulder injury.Fuentes came into a 2-2 game in the ninth Wednesday but allowed the winning run in a 3-2 loss. This time, he was successful. He earned his first save since Sept. 21, 2003, and for the second straight day, the Rockies and Giants played the lowest-scoring game of the season at Coors Field.”Today, I was the same guy, but I made better pitches down,” Fuentes said.Deivi Cruz had three hits, and Ray Durham and Lance Niekro added two hits apiece for the Giants, but it didn’t prevent them from losing for the fourth time in five games. At 19-21 and in fourth place in the NL West, they’re still six games ahead of last-place Colorado (12-26), which is tied with Kansas City for fewest wins in the major leagues.”These guys show up thinking they’re going to win every game,” Hurdle said. “That’s the beauty of it. The reality of it is we know we’ve got some issues to overcome.”
Cory Sullivan had three hits and an RBI for the Rockies.Francis, a 24-year-old left-hander, is definitely a bright spot on Colorado’s rebuilding roster. The only run he allowed came when Niekro lined a shot into the loading dock beyond the left-field wall in the sixth. Francis allowed two baserunners in the second, but got out of that jam. In all, he allowed the leadoff batter to reach base in four innings, but got out of all of them unscathed.In addition to his surprising success at Coors, Francis also is much better in the daytime than at night. He improved to 6-0 in nine afternoon starts, compared to 1-3 with an ERA over 8.00 at night.”He’s pretty good,” Alou said. “And he’s going to get better.”Notes: Colorado catcher J.D. Closser returned to the lineup after taking a few games off while Hurdle helped him with some adjustments in his swing. Closser went 0-for-3 and grounded into a double play. … Dustan Mohr got a start for the Rockies and went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts and six runners left on base. … Alou didn’t have to use Jeff Fassero out of the bullpen, meaning he’ll likely get the start Saturday against Oakland in place of Jason Schmidt, who is on the DL with shoulder pain.
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