SAN DIEGO — The question never fully formed before Bud Black snapped it off.
“I know it’s early and you haven’t figured out a postseason rotation, but …” the Rockies’ manager was asked, almost.
“Way too early,” Black interrupted.
“… is he a guy who …”
“No. Way too early.”
Black knew the question was about Chad Bettis, the senior member of Colorado’s pitching staff, the right-hander who returned from cancer in August and quickly grounded a rookie-heavy rotation. He was back on the mound Saturday night at Petco Park facing a Padres team deeply out of contention.
But in San Diego’s 5-0 victory over the Rockies, Bettis was pitching for a potential postseason spot, and in his abbreviated outing, despite just one run allowed, the Rockies will face a difficult decision. If they even reach the postseason.
Black’s hesitation, perhaps, was more about a tightened National League wild-card race than a commitment to Bettis. A fifth loss in their past six games dragged the Rockies back into a breach after the Brewers knocked off the Cubs. Milwaukee climbed, again, to one game behind Colorado. The Cardinals, who got trounced by the Pirates in Pittsburgh, are 1 1/2 games back.
“It’s crunch time right now,” Bettis said. “But we’re not there yet. Every game matters.”
The Rockies (83-72) can table a discussion of future pitching assignments. There are other more pressing concerns. Against San Diego’s Jhoulys Chacin, their offense barely reached base.
“We’re not making good contact overall,” Black said. “It’s sort of been a common theme. Not a lot of hard-hit balls consistently.”
Chacin parted ways with Colorado at the end of spring training in 2015, walking through the back door at Salt River Fields with watery eyes. The Rockies had no more use for the right-hander with seven years in purple. Three seasons later, he is San Diego’s best pitcher.
And after Chacin whipped through six one-hit innings, after DJ LeMahieu finally broke up a no-hitter with a line-drive single to center in the sixth, the 29-year-old Venezuelan right-hander entered elite territory. He lowered his home ERA from an NL-best 1.91 to a baseball-best 1.79, lower even than Cleveland’s Corey Kluber, an AL Cy Young Award candidate.
Through five innings, Carlos Gonzalez’s line-drive out to center field in the first inning was the only well-struck ball off Chacin. In their past two games — including against another Colorado castoff, Jordan Lyles — the Rockies’ offense has been held hitless in 12-of-18 innings.
After LeMahieu’s single, Chacin walked Gonzalez and Nolan Arenado to load the bases. But Gerardo Parra flied out to left field. After Ian Desmond and Jonathan Lucroy singled in the seventh off San Diego reliever Craig Stammen, they remained in place. Raimel Tapia and Charlie Blackmon struck out.
“I still believe we’re a better team and when we’re right, there aren’t many teams who can hang with us,” said Desmond, the only Rockies player with multiple hits.
Boxscore: San Diego 5, Colorado 0
Bettis’ turn fell between troubling and middling. He stranded two runners on in the third after forcing Yangervis Solarte to fly out and grounding out Hunter Renfroe with a dribbler in front of the plate. But when he walked Wil Myers in the fifth, then let loose with a wild pitch to the backstop to move him over, Solarte singled in a run.
“When’s he on, there are grounders, early contact,” Black said. “If he’s on, there will be balls in play, should be groundballs, and outs.”
Bettis’ potential replacement, Kyle Freeland, gave up two hits and a run in relief.
The Padres outhit the Rockies 10-1 through six inning before they broke open the eighth inning. Erick Aybar grounded out to Desmond at first base to score a run from third, but Desmond’s throw home sailed to the netting. His error let Austin Hedges score from second base.
“I was relying on instincts — instincts I don’t really have at first base,” Desmond said of his error. “Now I have one to file away.”
Three runs in total came home — far too many for Colorado to rally back. The Rockies struck out 12 times. They have been shut out in three of their past four games, the first time that’s happened in their history.
“We have to turn it around,” Black said of the Rockies deficient offense. “I wish I had the answer.”
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