In the second inning, McMahon bobbled J.T. Realmuto’s hard bouncer, then threw wildly to second base. The error, McMahon’s fourth in the four-game sweep at the Phillies’ hands, cost the Rockies a double play and eventually a run. Gomber, though, nodded McMahon’s way to let him know it’s going to be OK, even if not on Thursday.
“I think Mac is the best defensive third baseman in baseball,” said Gomber, who challenged himself to keep a quick tempo and to help keep a suddenly struggling defense engaged. “Errors are going to happen. It’s not a big deal. At the end of the year, we’re going to look back and he will have saved way more runs for me than he’s ever cost.”
Gomber, who joined the Rockies last year from the Cardinals in the deal for nine-time Gold Glove-winning third baseman Nolan Arenado, struck out six in six innings and yielded three runs (two earned) in his second solid start of Colorado’s 2-5 road trip.
“Dom [Nuñez, the Rockies’ catcher] did a good job keeping them off balance,” said Gomber, who on Saturday fanned eight in six innings in Detroit, where the Rockies won two out of three. “We used all four pitches. The curveball was good. The slider was good. We had a good game plan and were able to execute it.”
Gomber’s biggest mistake was a changeup that Alec Bohm powered for a homer, but he otherwise was in control.
“Given the opportunity, he’s seized it,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “As long as he makes his starts, I think you’ll see more games like today where he keeps us in there, gives the team a chance to win. He can make pitches. He competes hard.”
But the Rockies went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position. The normally reliable Connor Joe ended three innings with scoring chances, hitting into a double-play grounder in the third, striking out in the fifth and popping out foul in the seventh.
Colorado also had the misfortune of being the opponent when Zack Wheeler, last year’s National League Cy Young Award runner-up, found his form (six innings, one hit, seven strikeouts). A poor bullpen performance late left the Rockies looking forward to a six-game homestand against the Reds and the Nationals, with the opener on Friday night.
At a time of predictable hand-wringing around the Rockies — they’re 4-5 on the road, but 25 losing away records in 28 years will leave folks skittish — Gomber offers quality.
Across two starts this trip, Gomber walked just one batter. His 20 strikeouts in 21 innings this season are in line with his performance last year (9-9, 4.53 ERA), when he arrived with the reputation of a fly ball pitcher but mixed in enough strikeouts and grounders to fit nicely in a difficult home park.
“It’s just maturing as a pitcher, learning myself more, learning what works for me, going around the block, going around the league a little bit more,” Gomber said. “You get an understanding of what works for you.”
Gomber’s performance is a good place to begin assessing the Rockies after this trip, without cherry-picking positives or engaging in a freak-out:
• Gomber had two winnable starts, and Chad Kuhl and Kyle Freeland (in a loss) had one apiece. Antonio Senzatela and Germán Márquez pitched poorly, while callup Ryan Feltner received more lessons in the Majors.
• While through the Detroit series the offense showed greater depth than last season, that depth is being tested. Kris Bryant didn’t play in the final three games in Philadelphia because of back soreness. And the effort to pull Brendan Rodgers out of his slow start (.078 batting average) was halted the last two games because of his back issues. They need a full and functioning offense, especially on the road.
• It’s hard to remember a worse defensive series. McMahon and Joe committed the sixth and seventh errors of the series on Thursday.
“Tough series all the way around,” Black said. “They got us, for sure, in all areas. We beat ourselves the first two nights. We didn’t help ourselves today. We didn’t score a ton. We didn’t pitch great. We didn’t defend.
“We didn’t play well.”
Gomber said, “You never want to get swept, but they played better than us the last four days. We’ve got a resilient group. We’re confident in our ability and we’ll go home and get back on track.”