Calling out the pitchers

Rockies right-hander Jason Marquis upheld a tradition for veteran pitchers. After some ugly numbers Saturday against the Mariners — 3 2/3 innings, nine hits, five runs, two walks, 88 pitches — he chalked it up to just being in Spring Training.

“For the most part, I executed a lot of pitches like I wanted to, and [hits] found some holes,” Marquis said. “A lot of positives, a lot of two-strike counts. It was a step in the right direction. I got my pitch count up. That’s why we’re here, to work on a few things, get some things straightened out. I think I’ve got four starts left.

“I didn’t really use my changeup as much as I would during the season. I was trying to get my curveball over for a strike — not only for a strike, but bury it when I needed to and throw it for a strike when I needed to. There were certain counts when I don’t think I would have thrown my curveball normally, but today I did. I tried to get a better feel for a cutter, not spinning it so much.”

Normally, that’s a right afforded pitchers who have been around. Marquis qualifies, having pitched for the Braves, Cardinals and Cubs.

But manager Clint Hurdle wasn’t as happy with Marquis’s direction.

“He had too many deep counts,” Hurdle said. “As a staff, we’re not executing anywhere near the level we’re going to need to execute to be successful. As a group, we’re talking about throwing 70 percent first-pitch strikes. We’re not doing it. We’re talking about acute location of our fastball, arm-side. We’re not doing it, so more of the same today.

“We’ve got some guys that are showing some flashes of some things, but as a staff, we’ve got to cover some ground here.”

Informed that Marquis said he was working on some pitches, Hurdle sounded as unhappy with the explanation as the performance.

“It’s time they started making comments after a game that ‘I commanded my fastball, I threw strikes, my slider was sharp, I had a good sinker,'” Hurdle said. “That’s what we need to start doing.”

It was clear Hurdle was delivering a message, not just to Marquis but to all of the starters. Only Aaron Cook and Ubaldo Jimenez, who has done his most-recent pitching for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic, have been consistently solid. 

It’s not as if Hurdle threatening massive changes in the rotation. The Rockies traded for Marquis to provide veteran leadership. That won’t change. Hurdle has been exceedingly patient with Jorge De La Rosa, who has struggled his last two times out and will meet the Dodgers on Sunday. The team is still trying to sort through a host of pitchers for the fifth starting spot.

Hurdle’s call for better quality might be as much a clarification as a declaration.

Some of the ugly early performances from starters occurred because the pitchers were under orders to work on one thing — fastball command — and had to pitch to a specific pattern. Hitters quickly figured out what pitch was coming. The Rockies relaxed those orders after each pitcher had a couple of starts.

But how close are the Rockies supposed to be to the form they need for a regular season that starts 23 days from now? The way Hurdle spoke on Saturday, it’s not close enough.

– Hurdle also was not happy with right-handed reliever Jason Grilli, who pitched well for Italy in the World Baseball Classic but gave up three hits and two runs in his inning.

“We’ve got to have improved focus and discipline off the mound,” Hurdle said. “Twenty pitches, poor fastball command, pitching one side of the plate. We’ve got way to many guys pitching one side of the plate that aren’t good enough to be pitching one side of the plate. These are things and areas we need to target and work on as we move forward.”

– Left-handed non-roster candidate Cedrick Bowers gav eup three runs on one hit and two walks before leaving with a back/rib cage injury that has hampered him all spring.

– Righty Ryan Speier continued his scoreless spring (six innings) by giving up one hit and a walk but striking out two in the ninth.

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