To understand the plight of the Colorado Rockies, consider that manager Jim Tracy gave Troy Tulowitzki a day off a week ago in San Diego and actually dropped Tulowitzki to the No. 5 spot in the batting order Sunday at Dodger Stadium. It was the first time Tulowitzki hit anywhere lower than cleanup in the lineup in three years.
Tulowitzki is considered the new face of the franchise.
It hasn’t been a pretty picture, so far.
"We have a lot of veteran players and a lot of expectations,’’ Tulowitzki said. "It’s still early, but we need to get it going in the right direction. But we do have time.’’
The Rockies do have 127 games left in their season. If those are going to be meaningful games, something has to happen in a hurry.
A year removed from being favored to win the National League West, the Rockies came into this season the consensus pick to finish fourth in the NL West. And they embraced the underdog role.
The organizational mantra was expectations have never been good for this franchise, which after a stunning late-season run to the World Series in 2007 stumbled to 74 wins in 2008. The Rockies again claimed the NL wild card in 2009, but, after battling for a division title for most of 2010, they lost 13 of their final 14 games and faded from a one-game deficit to nine games out of first.
They were a general favorite in the division a year ago, only to stumble to an 8-21 record in May and wind up with a 73-win season.
That led to an offseason overhaul, designed to change the clubhouse "culture.’’
The Rockies brought in a veteran presence for the lineup with the signing of right fielder Michael Cuddyer to a three-year contract and catcher Ramon Hernandez to a two-year deal. They also acquired second baseman Marco Scutaro from Boston, with the Red Sox dumping salary in that deal.
And they gambled on their rotation.
So far, not so good.
"We have had some challenges to our mettle,’’ said manager Jim Tracy. "What are we going to do about it? Nobody feels sorry for you.’’
The Rockies returned to Coors Field for a five-game homestand on Wednesday night with a 14-21 record, equaling the third-worst start in their 20-year history. They were 10-25 to open 2005, and 11-24 in the opening stretch of 1993, their first year of play.
Coming off a losing record at Coors Field (38-43) for only the second time since the ballpark opened in 1995, they are 8-10 at home so far this season, one of four NL teams with a losing record at home. San Diego is 9-14 at home, Arizona 7-12 and the Chicago Cubs 9-10.
The underlying numbers of concern: an NL-worst 5.00 ERA, including a league-worst 5.27 rotation ERA.
It has been a team effort. Christian Friedrich, two starts into his big-league career, has a 1.38 ERA. Second lowest among the eight pitchers who have started a game? Juan Nicasio at 4.67.
Consider that last week in San Diego, Alex White and Friedrich, in their first big-league starts of the season, gave the Rockies quality starts on back-to-back days to mark only the second time the Rockie have had two straight quality starts. Thirty-five games into the season, the Rockies have only 13 quality starts. Nicasio, whose season ended last August when a line drive struck him in the forehead and the C-2 vertebra in his neck was cracked, has four of them.
And the bullpen has paid the price because of a rotation that has averaged an NL-low 5 1/3 innings a start.
The Rockies weren’t expecting to dominate opposing hitters. Jeremy Guthrie, 20 games under .500 the previous four seasons in Baltimore, drew the season-opening assignment in Houston, and Jamie Moyer, at the age of 49, started Game 2.
The Rockies weren’t looking for miracles. They also weren’t looking for an implosion.
Guthrie was acquired from Baltimore because of his durability — he pitched at least 200 innings each of the past three seasons. Moyer earned his chance with a solid spring, but there was no long-term expectation.
So what happens? Guthrie bruised his right shoulder in a bicycle mishap and missed four starts before he returned from the disabled list on Tuesday night in San Francisco. Moyer had four solid efforts to open the season, but the Rockies are 1-6 in his starts, and he has allowed 14 earned runs in 15 innings in his past three starts.
More alarming for the Rockies is that the two young arms they were counting on to step up and assume leading roles — Jhoulys Chacin and Drew Pomeranz — aren’t even on the active roster right now.
Instead of rebounding from a second-half struggle from a year ago, Chacin bristled at spring training insinuations he wasn’t in top shape. Then, after going 0-3 with a 7.30 ERA in five starts — making him 3-13 in his past 21 big-league starts — he admitted to right shoulder problems and was placed on the disabled list.
Pomeranz, meanwhile, was sent to the minors last week after opening the season 0-2 with a 4.70 ERA, with the stated hope that a few adjustments can be made in the left-hander’s delivery and he will return quickly. The initial signs are good. Pomeranz worked six shutout innings and struck out five without a walk, in his first start after he joined Triple-A Colorado Springs.
Nicasio, meanwhile, has been more than the Rockies could ever expect, despite a 2-1 record in seven starts. He is winless on the road but has allowed only one run in each of his three starts outside Coors Field.
And the recent reinforcements, White and Friedrich, have given indications that could be big-league ready sooner than expected. Friedrich became only the eighth pitcher to start and win his big-league debut in Rockies history by ending a five-game team losing streak at San Diego a week ago. He followed it up with a seven-inning, one-run no decision at San Francisco on Monday, his 10 strikeouts a season-high for the Rockies.
"That kid is making quite a statement for himself,’’ Tracy said.
The question is whether the rest of the rotation has anything to say.