Rock solid: Bullpen provides relief
Colorado's relievers meet the challenge of stretch run
DENVER -- As the Rockies enter the postseason, the spotlight will be on the top offense in the National League.But the outcomes of playoff games are often decided by pitching -- in particular, the bullpens. Over their final 15 must-win games -- a stretch the Rockies have considered their first playoff series -- the bullpen had a 2.56 ERA over 59 2/3 innings, as the team went 14-1. "We think of ourselves as the backbone of this team, and we're kind of prideful in that way," Matt Herges said. "We want this team to lean on us, and we want to come through for this team. We're not braggadocios about it, but we feel that, with any team, you have to have a good bullpen to win. That's fact." The Rockies bullpen has grown increasingly dependable over the season, despite a few trying times. They stumbled in late June, when blame from a 1-9 road trip fell almost squarely on the shoulders of Brian Fuentes, who blew four saves in that span and lost his job as closer. But in the second half, the bullpen has been steady. Manny Corpas took over for Fuentes and has converted 19 of 20 saves. Fuentes has taken on the role as main setup man for the Rockies. Other than that, Herges said the game has dictated their roles, and that's fine with the pitchers. "I just think [manager Clint Hurdle] uses us perfectly," he said. "He doesn't let anybody sit too long. He doesn't give anybody too much work to where they get worn out. It's a testament to him and Dac [pitching coach Bob Apodaca] and how they're running the bullpen. It's a big part of this game, and not all managers have a clue on that." Monday night against San Diego, Herges and Buchholz kept the Rockies in the game. Taylor Buchholz took over for starter Josh Fogg in the fifth and pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings. Herges helped extend the game by pitching three scoreless innings from the 10th through the 12th.
Herges has also played an integral role in the Rockies' success. The veteran started the season as the closer for Triple-A Colorado Springs and joined the Rockies in July. Herges and Buccholz have provided much-needed quality long relief to a team with several injured starters."You can look at your starters, you can look at the guys who get the wins, but I guarantee you it's those seven, eight guys down in the bullpen who are carrying a major, major workload," Apodaca said. "Those are where the wins come from." In the postseason, the Rockies will look to the bullpen for more than relief -- they'll look for experience, too. Herges and LaTroy Hawkins have the most postseason experience on the team. Herges said there's twice as much pressure in the postseason, but it's also twice as much fun.
"The only thing I say is you've got no idea how awesome the playoffs are, and once you taste it, that's all you can think about as a player," Herges said.And the bullpen's ready to get their taste. "This is all new for me," Fuentes said. "I don't think there's anyone here who's intimidated, but there's a heightened sense of awareness of what's going on around you. I think having those guys down in the bullpen keeping it light, it's just another game."
C.J. Moore is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.