Hope remains as Rockies' pieces fall back into place
Colorado sparked by return of Arenado, CarGo after slew of injuries
DENVER -- It's hard to see first place from the hole the Rockies have dug for themselves. But they do see reasons for hope.
First, they saw Nolan Arenado return from a six-week stint on the disabled list for the July 3 opener of a 10-game homestand that takes the Rockies up to the All-Star break.
Then came Carlos Gonzalez's return to the lineup on Friday night for the first time in 37 days, providing a spark in a 6-2 victory against the Minnesota Twins at Coors Field that gave the Rockies as many wins in their last three games (three) as they had in their previous 21.
On Sunday, left-hander Brett Anderson, who fractured his left index finger swinging a bat in his third start of the season, will finally return to the rotation in the team's pre-All-Star finale, albeit on a closely watched pitch count in light of the fact he only made two rehab starts in preparation for the return.
And by the end of the month, injured starting pitchers Eddie Butler and Jordan Lyles also are expected to return from the disabled list, helping replenish a sputtering rotation.
"I think guys feel good about starting to get guys back," said manager Walt Weiss. "It's big for our morale."
The Rockies aren't talking World Series in the Rockies' clubhouse. An 11-32 slide that began May 23, the day Arenado broke a finger with a head-first slide into second base in the second inning of a game in Atlanta, has been buffered by three consecutive victories.
"The guys understand where we are, and they understand we have to win now," said Weiss. "We're not concerned about what anyone else [in the National League West] is doing. We need to take care of our stuff. We need to win games and win series."
They are looking to get back into the mode that allowed them to get off to a solid start before being betrayed by a series of injuries that includes the loss of Arenado, Gonzalez and defending NL batting champion Michael Cuddyer (who is still out with a fractured left shoulder socket) in addition to decimating a rotation that has already see 13 different pitchers make a start, including four who made their big league debut.
"When we have that Opening Day lineup, we have a lot of chances to win," Gonzalez said. "We have guys who can get the job done. Our pitchers can go out there more confident. We feel we can compete with anybody. We can be a really good team."
And with the return to the active roster of players the caliber of Gonzalez, that hope isn't as far fetched as it was a week ago. Admittedly rusty from the long layoff in his recovery from a mass that had to be surgically removed from his left index finger, Gonzalez still managed to be a key figure in the win against the Twins.
The third inning was covered with his fingerprints.
In the top of the inning, Gonzalez, returning to right field for the first time since three games for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic in March, 2013, threw out Brian Dozier trying to go from first to third on Kendrys Morales' one-out single, and he led off the bottom with a single ahead of Troy Tulowitzki's 21st home run -- third in two games.
"I was so excited I had to slow my game down a little bit, but it was better than I expected," said Gonzalez.
The same can't be said for the season. A team that was only three games behind the first-place San Francisco Giants back on May 22 is now 11 games behind the co-leaders Dodgers and Giants with only 69 games to play.
They may not be able to pull off a miracle, but they can make things interesting, particularly for the team's ownership, if, once they get the pieces of their roster put back in place, they can at least provide a glimpse of how good their foundation could be.
"I think people saw the first month and a half what we can do when we have our lineup and [rotation] together," said first baseman Justin Morneau. "We've battled since then. We haven't given up."
They have not, however, won, at least not until the last three games, a stretch that was underscored by the return of Gonzalez.
"CarGo had an impact on the game right away with his defense," said Weiss, "and it's nice to have that presence in the lineup."
Just like it is nice to look ahead with the expectation of a rejuvenated rotation to go with the rekindled lineup.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.