Jul 20, 2014 6:41 PM by Posted by Greg Smith
PITTSBURGH -- For three games, the Rockies have had winnable starting pitching. But each time, they've had their souls crushed by the Pirates and their own struggling bullpen.
On Sunday, rookie lefty Tyler Matzek's six competitive innings were undone by more struggles from righty reliever Matt Belisle as the Rockies fell, 5-3, and suffered a three-game series sweep at PNC Park in front of 35,609.
After entering with the score tied at 3, Belisle issued a leadoff walk to Josh Harrison and gave up four hits, including Andrew McCutchen's go-ahead single and Neal Walker's solo home run. Belisle lasted two-thirds of an inning, with one of the outs coming when catcher Michael McKenry, who homered to lead off the second against his former club, threw out a stealing McCutchen on a pitchout.
Sunday was another harrowing performance for Belisle (2-6), who took two of the three losses to the Pirates and has given up seven runs in his last four appearances, which cover four innings. One of the Rockies' most-used relievers since breaking in with the club in 2009, Belisle's returns have diminished rapidly over the last two years -- a 4.32 ERA in 76 appearances last year and a 5.63 in 43 outings this year.
Sadly, the bullpen struggles - Rex Brothers on Friday, and Adam Ottavino and Chad Bettis on Saturday -- are coming at a time when starters performed better than they have in months.
Jorge De La Rosa held the Pirates to one run in six innings Friday night and Brett Anderson held them to one run in seven Saturday night. By going six innings, striking out eight and holding a strong Pirates lineup to three runs and seven hits, Matzek achieved the Rockies' third straight quality start. The Rockies hadn't had such a streak since April 30-May 2, when they won two of those three games.
This time, they took none. Ineffective and injured starting pitching was a key reason the Rockies dropped well below .500 in the first half. Now, after weak and maybe tired relief pitching cost the team three games in the Steel City, the Rockies have the National League's worst record at 40-58.
Speaking of relief pitching, the Pirates' 'pen threw three scoreless innings. Jeanmar Gomez (2-2) walked one in an otherwise uneventful seventh, All-Star Tony Watson struck out two in a spotless eighth and Mark Melancon earned his 18th save and second of the series.
Troy Tulowitzki missed Sunday after suffering a cramp in his left thigh on Saturday night, but replacement Josh Rutledge gave the Rockies a 2-0 lead with his third homer of the season -- off Pirates starter Jeff Locke in the first inning. McKenry, who played for the Pirates from 2011-13 and received a nice applause, homered to left to open the second for a 3-0 lead.
Jordy Mercer's two-run single off Matzek in the Pirates' second cut the difference to 3-2.
Matzek held the Pirates to two hits from the third through fifth innings. A one-out walk to Mercer set up the Pirates' tying run. Mercer, whose 11th-inning double beat the Rockies on Saturday night, stole second and scored on Chris Stewart's double