Nolan Arenado’s longest career homer, Chi Chi Gonzalez’s quality start pace Rockies to win over Cardinals in series opener

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Nolan Arenado got the heavy lifting done early Tuesday night, blasting a first-inning, two-run homer to the left field concourse that took a single, high hop and promptly exited the stadium.

Arenado’s home run, the longest of his career at 482 feet, carried the Rockies to a 2-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in the series opener. It also gave Colorado just its second win over its last 13 games in front of a largely pro-Cardinals crowd at Coors Field, where right-hander Chi Chi Gonzalez delivered his best outing of the season.

The Rockies had lost each of Gonzalez’s first nine starts, a club record, but the lack of home offense didn’t deter the right-hander from a win this time. Gonzalez tossed six innings of one-run ball in a quality start, with four strikeouts and no walks as he looked sharp from his opening one-two-three inning.

Boxscore

St. Louis finally got on the board in the fourth inning, when Paul Goldschmidt’s RBI single scored Dexter Fowler to cut the score to 2-1. Then Gonzalez, facing the telltale moment of his outing in the fifth, secured his solid outing by getting out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam that was complicated by a Daniel Murphy throwing error earlier in the frame.

Michael Wacha was solid for St. Louis aside from the Arenado homer he gave up, while the Cardinals’ bullpen did its job by blanking the Rockies for the final four innings. Arenado’s homer was his 38th of the season and made him the fourth player to amass 500 extra-base hits in a Colorado uniform, joining Larry Walker, Todd Helton and Carlos Gonzalez.

And while Gonzalez shined, the bullpen didn’t implode. Bryan Shaw started the seventh inning on a shaky note by putting two runners on via a walk and a hit by pitch. But Shaw, followed by Carlos Estevez, got the Rockies out of the jam.

Then, Jairo Diaz recorded the two-inning save by throwing up zeros in the eighth and ninth. It was Diaz’s second save of the season as he continues to audition for a likely back-end bullpen role next year.

Pat Valaika, James Pazos and Jeff Hoffman join Rockies with still more September call-ups to come

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Spring training’s assessment period has come early for Rockies infielder Pat Valaika.

In his final year of minor league options, Colorado will be facing a decision regarding Valaika’s future with the club come March. At that point, will the Rockies see him as a part of their infield depth going forward? Or will that audition be Valaika’s last as the club chooses to either trade him or designate him for assignment, exposing him to waivers?

The 26-year-old’s performance this September will certainly play a role in beginning that evaluation.

“I don’t think Pat has shown us the best version of Pat, and he’s the first to say so,” manager Bud Black said. “For him, it’s been frustrating the last couple years. But we’re looking for the quality of the at-bat; there’s a little bit of a strikeout (tendency) that he’s got to curtail. We’ll look at that a little bit, and hopefully the contact rate increases.”

Valaika, recalled as rosters expanded to 40 players on Sunday, had a solid spring training but started the year in Triple-A Albuquerque. The 26-year-old’s been recalled, and then sent back, three times since then, with the most recent option coming July 13.

In 84 games with the Isotopes this season, the former ninth-round pick out of UCLA (2013) is hitting .320 with 22 homers and 75 RBIs. He’s struggled to find offensive consistency with the Rockies this year (.128 average) and last (.156), although he showed promise in part-time action in 2017 as he led the majors with 16 pinch-hit RBIs.

But Valaika’s not focused on the fact that come next spring, his future with the organization could be up in the air — especially considering the other, younger infielders Colorado possesses in Ryan McMahon, Garrett Hampson and Brendan Rodgers.

“That’s just the business part, and that’s next year,” Valaika said. “We’ve still got a month left of games, and I’m looking forward to playing in that month.”

Hoffman, Pazos also activated. As expected, right-hander Jeff Hoffman was called up on Sunday to start against Pittsburgh in an injury-riddled Colorado rotation. Hoffman has a 7.81 ERA in nine starts this year. Colorado also recalled southpaw reliever James Pazos from Triple-A Albuquerque. Pazos, acquired on April 26 in a trade with the Phillies in exchange for infield prospect Hunter Stovall, has appeared in 137 major league games in four seasons between the Yankees and Mariners. The power pitcher with a hard slider posted a 8.80 ERA for the Isotopes this year.

More prospects on the way. This year is the final year that major league rosters will expand to 40 players, as rosters in the final month will be maxed out at 28 players starting in 2020. Black said more prospects will be making their way into the Colorado clubhouse over the next couple weeks. That list likely includes pitchers DJ Johnson, Phillip Diehl, Joe Harvey and Rico Garcia as well as a few positional guys currently on the 40-man roster such as corner infielder Josh Fuentes. Black also said the team is planning up to call a third catcher, Drew Butera, when the Isotopes’ season ends.


On Deck

Rockies RHP Peter Lambert (2-5, 6.63) at Dodgers RHP Walker Buehler (11-3, 3.03)
6:10 p.m. Monday, Dodger Stadium
TV: AT&T SportsNet
Radio: KOA 850 AM/94.1 FM

Lambert hasn’t fared well in two starts against Los Angeles this year, getting blasted for eight earned runs (and five homers) in 9⅔ innings. The rookie’s given up multiple homers in four starts, although just one walk in his last start is an encouraging sign as Lambert’s been struggling with free passes during the season half. Meanwhile, Buehler has a 4.58 ERA in three starts against Colorado this year, although he spun one of his best outings against the Rockies on June 21 in Los Angeles with a two-run complete game. Buehler had a 1.69 ERA in five August starts.

Trending: Heading into the series finale against Pittsburgh, Colorado had used 48 players this season, the most since using 51 players in 2015. The Rockies have also used 28 pitchers, the most since using a franchise-record 30 different pitchers in 2015.

At issue: The Pirates posted a historic hit brigade this weekend at Coors Field at the expense of the Rockies. Entering Sunday, Pittsburgh collected 15 or more hits in three consecutive games for the first time since 1936.

Pitching probables

Tuesday: Colorado RHP Chi Chi Gonzalez (0-6, 8.07) at Dodgers RHP Kenta Maeda (8-8, 4.11), 8:10 p.m., ATTRM
Wednesday: Colorado RHP Antonio Senzatela (8-9, 6.95) at Dodgers LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu (12-5, 2.25), 8:10 p.m., ATTRM
Thursday: Off