Francis' strong outing helps Rockies win home opener

The SportsXchange

DENVER - Colorado manager Walt Weiss arranged his rotation so veteran Jeff Francis would start Friday when the Rockies opened their home season. It was an easy decision for Weiss, and one Francis emphatically vindicated.

The Rockies beat the San Diego Padres 5-2 in their fourth game of the season, and truth be told, Francis, 32, is probably a fourth or fifth starter at this point in his career.

But Francis, who relies on precise location and changing speeds rather than overpowering stuff, pitched well in spring training, when he had a 2.76 ERA in 29 1/3 innings. He showed the ability to control opponents' at-bats and dictate bat speed.

Francis did that in six innings against the Padres, allowing five hits and one first-inning run before an announced crowd of 49,077 at Coors Field.

"I felt like I could throw anything at any time," said Francis, who walked one and struck out five. "I thought from the first inning, I was hitting the (catcher's) glove. I knew I was throwing the ball the way I expected to, and it was probably only a matter of time before our guys would start scoring some runs."

The Rockies struck for three unearned runs in the third when shortstop Everth Cabrera made a costly error and Troy Tulowitzki hit a two-run double. Padres starter Jason Marquis, who worked six innings, also allowed solo homers to Wilin Rosario in the fourth and Dexter Fowler in the fifth. The homers were Rosario's second and Fowler's third and gave the Rockies 10 homers in four games.

"I wouldn't guess that we'd have 10 already, but it's a powerful club," Weiss said. "We knew that coming into the season. We saw it all spring. I think we got a little confirmation in Milwaukee (where the Rockies won two of three games) that we were going to have the ability to hit the ball out of the park. It's nice to be able to get quick points like that."

Cabrera's error came with two outs and a runner on third. Josh Rutledge hit a slow grounder that Cabrera charged and fielded but then bobbled as he brought his glove up to throw.

"It's a do-or-die play," Padres manager Bud Black said. "It might have come up just a bit and hit him in the heel. If he makes the play, it's a great play...It just wasn't hit very hard. It's a little soft in front of the plate here in Colorado. The ball sort of hit into that dirt and slowed it down. He had to come a long ways to get it. Tough play."

After Marquis issued his only walk of the game, Tulowitzki drove a double into the gap in left-center. The hit came on a slider as did the home runs by Rosario and Fowler.

"You look at 90-plus pitches," said Black, referring to Marquis' 92-pitch workday when he got 14 outs on ground balls, "the damage was done on three sliders. Besides that he threw the ball well. Got a lot of grounders. Down for the most part. They put three good swings on mistake pitches."

The Padres scored in the first on a one-out infield single by Cabrera, who stole second base and scored on Jesus Guzman's two-out single. That was the only inning the Padres had more than one hit. Francis retired nine straight batters before Guzman doubled with one out in the sixth. He then struck out rookie Jedd Gyroko for the third straight time and also struck out Nick Hundley.

"It was a lot of mixing speeds, a lot of slow," Black said of Francis. "Good curveball; that was one of the better curveballs I've seen Jeff have over the years. In the strike zone for a strike. Below the zone when he needed to. Threw some good changeups. Spotted the fastball. If he was to draw up a game plan, it was probably how he would feel to have success."

Adam Ottavino, who relieved Francis, allowed an unearned run in the eighth, when Carlos Quentin doubled after an error by third baseman Reid Brignac. Closer Rafael Betancourt gave up a two-out single in the ninth but threw a called third strike past pinch hitter Yonder Alonso to end the game with a runner on second base and earn his second save.

The win was the third straight for the Rockies, which is their longest winning streak since they won four in a row from Sept. 23-27 last season to avert losing 100 games. They still finished with a franchise-record 98 defeats.

Those were the dark days of 2012, the waning days, it turned out, under manager Jim Tracy, who resigned shortly after the season.

Weiss, who played for the Rockies and later worked in their front office, was hired to replace him and was able to savor his first game managing at Coors Field.

"I'm not too caught up in all the firsts for me," Weiss said. "To me, it's baseball again, and it's competition. More than anything, I know it's important after a road trip like that to come home and get off on the right foot here at our place. Don't get me wrong, it's special being out there and being a part of it, but it's all about our club winning games."

NOTES: Padres third baseman Chase Headley is scheduled to undergo an X-ray Monday in San Diego to see how his broken left thumb is healing. He was expected to be sidelined four to six weeks after he broke the thumb while sliding March 17. ... First baseman Todd Helton, 39, received the loudest ovation of any Rockies player. Helton is in the final year of his contract and likely will retire after the season and has evidently been largely forgiven for being arrested in February for driving under the influence. ... Rockies pitchers Juan Nicasio and Edgmer Escalona, who are good friends but scuffled during stretching before Thursday's workout, rode together Friday to Coors Field and said all was well between them. ... Pre-game ceremonies included the introduction of players and coaches from the Rockies inaugural 1993 team, including Andy Ashby, Freddie Benavides, Armando Reynoso, Jayhawk Owens, Willie Blair (currently the Padres bullpen coach), Eric Young, Mark Knudsen, Bruce Ruffin, Steve Reed, Jerald Clark, David Nied, Bryn Smith, Dante Bichette (the Rockies hitting coach, Vinny Castilla (a Rockies special assistant) and coaches Jerry Royster and Rick Matthews. ... Guzman, who pinch hit in each of the Padres' first three games, made his first start of the season. Black cited the right-handed hitting Guzman's history against Francis (2-for-6 with a triple and home run) and said he wanted to get Guzman a start as soon as possible. Black said regular first baseman Alonso, a left-handed hitter, will start the final two games of the series when right-handers are scheduled to start for the Rockies.
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