Notes: Fuentes crucial in Rockies' run
Since returning from injury, reliever has dominated in role
DENVER -- In a cruel twist, Rockies left-handed reliever Brian Fuentes' worst moments this season will be remembered most, while the fact that he has overcome those and is pitching as effectively as ever is barely noticed.
Brad Hawpe hit the game-winning home run in the eighth inning and Most Valuable Player candidate Matt Holliday launched two homers in Wednesday night's 6-5 victory over the Dodgers.
But one reason the Rockies were able to come back was Fuentes' dominant eighth inning, when he needed just eight pitches for a perfect frame with a strikeout. Since returning from a lat strain that cost him more than a month, Fuentes is 2-1 with a 1.15 ERA, 17 strikeouts and seven walks in 15 2/3 innings. Opponents have hit .167.
Before the injury, Fuentes famously blew four straight saves during a 1-9 Rockies road trip and lost his job as closer. The road trip is one reason they need extreme help to make the postseason, even though they're playing their best baseball.
Manny Corpas is perfect in 16 save chances since taking the closer role, but Fuentes has regained his status as a contributor.
"That's all you can do," Fuentes said. "I'm not going to pout because I'm not closing. It's the role I was given. I'm very happy for Manny, and the bottom line is we're winning. My role is not easy. It's just as hard setting up as it is closing."
Fuentes still can have high-pitch innings, but he had those while earning invitations to the last three All-Star Games as a closer (player/coach voting came before the slump, and the injury prevented him from appearing). But he has thrown fewer than 10 pitches in five of his last 12 outings.
"[Fuentes'] resume speaks for itself," Holliday said. "He went through a bad stretch. But the guy has worked as hard as anybody in the game. You know he's prepared mentally and physically, and it was just a matter of time before he started throwing the ball well again."
All-time season: The Rockies continue to push Holliday for the National League MVP award. Whether that earns him votes from Baseball Writers Association of America members will be determined, but the fact is Holliday is putting together one of the greatest seasons in history.
Holliday entered Thursday afternoon's game with the Dodgers needing two doubles and two RBIs -- and needing to hit at his current pace in the season's final 10 games -- to become the sixth player to accomplish a .340 batting average and at least 35 home runs, 130 RBIs, 200 hits and 50 doubles.
The others are the Yankees' Lou Gehrig in 1927, the Phillies' Chuck Klein in 1930 and 1932, the Reds' Frank Robinson in 1962 and the Rockies' Todd Helton in 2000.
Holliday hit 10 home runs in the 11 games leading up to Thursday afternoon.
"He's in a zone, no doubt about that," Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said. "He's a real good hitter. Great? He's pushing that envelope.
"He's capable of doing things offensively that are special. He's as special as any hitter we've had in this ballpark. He can drive the ball foul pole to foul pole. He can hit early in the count or hit with two strikes."
Beaming Barmes: Reserve infielder Clint Barmes returned to the club after not being in uniform for a couple of days while being with his wife, Summer, for the birth of their first child, Wyatt James Barmes, at 9:39 a.m. on Tuesday. The boy arrived five weeks early, but Barmes said he is a healthy 5 pounds, 9 ounces.
Back full time: Second baseman Kazuo Matsui, who returned to action as a pinch-runner and surprised the Dodgers by stealing second in the eighth inning on Wednesday night, returned to the starting lineup and the leadoff spot on Thursday. He had not played since Sept. 7 because of a hamstring strain.
Hurdle said he wanted to save Matsui's return to hitting for a starting situation, rather than have him make his first at-bat under pinch-hitting pressure.
On Wednesday, Matsui had his usual "green light" from Hurdle and took it. He was in scoring position for Hawpe, who hit the winning homer off Jonathan Broxton.
In other personnel moves, the Rockies will start left-hander Mark Redman (1-4, 9.28 ERA) Saturday against the Padres, and Hurdle said right-hander Elmer Dessens (2-2, 7.15 ERA) will be available for bullpen duty starting on Thursday. Dessens last pitched on Sept. 7, when he suffered a hamstring injury.
Up next: Rockies left-hander Franklin Morales (2-2, 3.81 ERA) will start for the Rockies on Friday night in the opener of a three-game set with the Padres, who will start righty Jake Peavy (18-6, 2.39).
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.