PITTSBURGH -- The Rockies went with Plan A on Friday night. They turned a close game over to relievers Rex Brothers, Adam Ottavino and Matt Belisle, which sounded like a good idea based on the dominance they've shown at times.
But it's not working out this year. It didn't in Friday night's 4-2 loss to the Pirates at PNC Park in front of a sellout crowd of 37,833.
Starter Jorge De La Rosa turned in another strong outing. He left the Pirates with one run in six innings and had a 2-1 lead. But Brothers gave up two hits in the seventh, sandwiched around a throwing error by third baseman Nolan Arenado, and Ottavino hit Starling Marte in the helmet to force the tying run home. Then the Pirates scored two runs on three hits, including pinch-hitter Travis Snider's go-ahead RBI double in the eighth, off Belisle (2-5).
And it's not as if any other stalwart option has emerged.
"What other guys?" manager Walt Weiss asked. "These guys have all had success before. They're struggling right now."
So here sit the Rockies at 40-56. The once-injured players they have back will produce better than Friday, when Arenado ended a bases-loaded rally in the first with a double-play grounder and Carlos Gonzalez fanned five times. Certainly, scoring just once in the first two innings despite loading the bases each time was a key reason for this defeat.
And given that De La Rosa has earned four of the team's last six wins during a rough stretch, a rotation of "Jorge, then let us pray," isn't nearly good enough.
But in close games or with leads, the Rockies need more from the pitchers on whom theyr'e depending. Brothers, Ottavino and Belisle haven't been injured, but their struggles throughout this year have hurt. Brothers (4.35 ERA), Ottavino (3.89) and Belisle (5.26) needed to hold the narrow advantage. They couldn't.
"We couldn't put it away," Weiss said. "We got a few big outs there but in the final analysis we needed to put that game away."
About all that could be said about Friday was Marte was able to stay in the game and run the bases after Ottavino's pitch hit him.
"I threw him a slider before it, and I wanted to throw a fastball up -- not in and up like that," Ottavino said. "Obviously I didn't execute it. I hope he's all right. I'm glad he stayed in the game. That's a good sign. I know he came out. I hope he's all right. You never want to do that. It was a bad pitch."
Another veteran reliever, lefty Boone Logan, who has struggled through a lingering elbow problem this season, might have been called upon Friday but he was down because of a stiff neck -- the same ailment that led to first baseman Justin Morneau being scratched.
It would have been nice for the offense to have built a lead against Pirates starter Francisco Liriano, who was just wild enough to allow traffic in the first before escaping, and just unlucky enough to have to pitch around a jam in the second.
A Corey Dickerson single and two walks gave the Rockies the bases loaded with one out before Arenado's grounder. In the second, Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer botched DJ LeMahieu's grounder, third baseman Pedro Alvarez hesitated before charging a De La Rosa bunt and allowed a single, and a run scored when Mercer bobbled Dickerson's grounder and managed one out instead of two.
But Liriano fanned Drew Stubbs to end the second. The Rockies didn't score again until LeMahieu's two-out RBI single off Jared Hughes in the sixth.
"I was trying to pitch in and I got better as the game went on," said Liriano, who said he overthrew pitches the first couple of innings. "Executing pitches, that's the whole key for me."
De La Rosa was solid once more. He threw 100 pitches in six innings and had plenty of traffic -- four hits and three walks. But the only run came with two down in the fifth, when Marte tripled in Gregory Polanco, ran through Pirates third-base coach Nick Leyva's sign, and was thrown out at the plate by Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki's relay throw.
Otherwise, De La Rosa scattered the baserunners and for the most part forced weak contact.
The Pirates had solid bullpen work, which concluded with Tony Watson (6-1) earning a win with a scoreless eighth and Mark Melancon earning his 17th save.