LOS ANGELES -- Had the Rockies not pulled off a stunning comeback and beaten the Giants, 7-6, on Sunday, the lasting image would have been Rockies pitcher Juan Nicasio's slow, despairing walk from the mound to the dugout.
Nicasio (5-5, 5.92 ERA in 14 starts) needed 67 pitches to go two innings plus two batters and looked increasingly defeated with each delivery. He never found any answers. Now the search will continue at Triple-A Colorado Springs. The Rockies optioned Nicasio on Monday and called up outfielder/first baseman Kyle Parker, their top Draft pick in 2010.
Through his first 10 starts, Nicasio was 5-2 with a 3.61 ERA. But he has a 14.36 ERA over his last four starts, during which he has given up 35 hits in 15 2/3 innings. Nicasio has lost his fastball location, making his slider and split-finger pitches irrelevant as batters have continued to work into hitters' counts.
"I'll try to figure out myself, because right now I'm struggling, really struggling," Nicasio said. "I need to come back good.
"I feel strong. I'm good. My body is good. I don't know what's going on right now. So I got sent down to try to pitch better, and command my fastball. Right now, I'm lost. I lost my breaking ball and my fastball. I'll work on the command of my fastball."
Rockies manager Walt Weiss can hope this demotion can have the same effect of last year's. Nicasio was 4-4 with a 5.31 ERA through June 19, but after a brief respite at Colorado Springs he showed improvement. He finished 9-9 with a 5.14 ERA with Colorado, pitching through left knee soreness most of the second half.
"Juan gets a chance to decompress a little bit, go down there and work on some things without the high stakes of wins and losses that go on at the Major League level," Weiss said.
Parker, meanwhile, has hit .292 with seven home runs, 20 doubles and 38 RBIs at Colorado Springs. Even with injuries to Carlos Gonzalez and Michael Cuddyer, the Rockies have four outfielders playing well, and Justin Morneau has been steady and durable at first base. But Weiss has used his depth throughout the year, and plans to find at-bats for the organization's No. 6 prospect.
"It's an opportunity to look at Kyle," Weiss said. "He's been on the radar since Spring Training. I feel like he's going to be an impact offensive player in this league. We'll get an opportunity to get a look at him."
Weiss said he had not set his rotation. Nicasio's turn would have been Saturday at home against the Brewers, so it's possible the Rockies will skip that slot. If that's the case, the next time the Rockies will need a fifth starter is June 25.
Hawkins stays focused regardless of situation
LOS ANGELES -- For a little more than three weeks, the Rockies' LaTroy Hawkins was a closer with little to close.
Between May 27 and Friday, Hawkins was asked to finish a tight game only once. He was lifted from a save chance at Philadelphia on May 28 when manager Walt Weiss went to Boone Logan for left-on-left matchups. Logan couldn't close the deal and ended up with the blown save. The other four games in which Hawkins appeared were non-save chances.
But when the Rockies returned to giving Hawkins leads during the five-game winning streak they brought into Monday's opener at Dodger Stadium, he made the most of them. Hawkins converted save chances in all three games of a sweep of the Giants this weekend.
Hawkins said he tried to treat all those non-save chances the same.
"Whenever I pitch, I try to 'X out' the situation," Hawkins said. "Sometimes it doesn't work like that. But mentally, I approach it as a tie game.
"But in all those days, I threw a lot, almost to the point I got sore trying to stay sharp, throwing bullpens and playing a lot of catch. But definitely the more I pitch in games, the better off I am."
Hawkins is 14-for-15 in save chances this season, and 2-1 with a 2.88 ERA overall. His ability to mentally define situations helps him handle base traffic. Opponents have a .292 on-base percentage against him, but more often than not he works out of the traffic.
"The mentality I take out there comes from trial and error -- from years of not being successful in situations," Hawkins said. "I'm as humble as they come. I just go out there and try to do the job. I've got a job to do for [front office members] Dan O'Dowd and Bill Geivett, and Walt, and my teammates. They signed me for a reason, and that's, hopefully, to get a save without giving up the lead."
Gwynn made Young's 1992 debut extra special
LOS ANGELES -- One of the first impressions that Rockies first-base coach Eric Young received of Major League ball came during his first game.
Young debuted at second base for the Dodgers on July 30, 1992, against the Padres. During the game, San Diego star Tony Gwynn doubled. Just being on the field with Gwynn was a thrill. But Gwynn made it more special.
"When he came around to second base, he said, 'Young man, play the game hard and have fun, and you'll have a long career,'" said Young, speaking in reaction to the death of Gwynn, a Hall of Famer, on Monday at 54 after a long battle with cancer. "I always thought that was really special. I remembered that throughout my career.
"Then at the All-Star Game in 1996, I noticed you'd see other stars that you admire go to him for advice. The Barry Bonds, the Barry Larkins, they surrounded him, and they were going to Tony for advice. That was very special. Everybody thought he was, like, the king of baseball."
Young and Rockies manager Walt Weiss said Gwynn's willingness to share his time and thoughts with players around the game stood out at a time when players avoided "fraternization" with opponents.
"He was first class -- always took the time to check in with you, even if you were an opposing player," said Weiss, a former big league shortstop. "He always had some kind words at second base. He was at second base a lot. So I got to talk to him quite a bit.
"You never really thought twice about it because he was just so classy. We all knew he was a Hall of Famer to be. I was just happy he knew who I was, to be honest with you."