Rockies want pitchers to ignore home park
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Greg Maddux grinned at the mention of the challenge of pitching at Coors Field.
"Did I struggle there?" he asked.
His career ERA at Coors Field was 5.19, second only to Chase Field in Phoenix (6.01) among ballparks in which he had at least five career decisions.
"Yeah, but what was my record?" he replied.
He was 8-2 in 14 starts at Coors Field, his second best winning percentage among ballparks in which he had at least four decisions to the 8-1 record he has compiled at AT&T Park in San Francisco. The eight wins are the most of any visiting pitcher, one more than Randy Johnson, and two ahead of Adam Eaton.
"I'll take that," said Maddux. "That's better than being 2-8 with a 3.50 ERA. ERA is nice, but a starting pitcher needs to concentrate on innings pitched and wins, and not worry about his ERA or strikeouts per nine innings or walks. It is all about going out there and winning."
That's the message the Colorado Rockies, who make their home at Coors Field, which is 5,280 feet above sea level, are stressing.
And it's a mentality that the veterans of Coors Field have embraced from the start.
"I don't know what it was, and it didn't matter," Pedro Astacio said of his Coors Field ERA, which was 7.32. "You went out there to try and win games, to do what it took to beat the other team, and when you gave up a run, you just didn't want to give up another run."
Astacio was 24-25 at Coors Field during his career, including seasons of 7-4 at home in 2000 and 7-7 in 1998. His lack of concern about pitching at Coors Field is part of what the Rockies are hoping he can get their current pitchers to understand during the two weeks he will be in Spring Training as an adviser.
The Rockies are coming off back-to-back losing records at Coors Field for the first time in the 18-year history of the ballpark. They were an all-time worst 35-46 at home in 2012 and went 38-43 in 2011. They are looking for ways to return to dominating at home, and as much as improving the offense they want to create a stronger mindset among pitchers.
Maddux, a likely first-time Hall of Fame inductee when he is on the ballot for the first time in December, has advice for anyone who wants to listen.
"Coors Field is all about going six innings, and that was before they messed with the baseballs [in a humidor]," said Maddux. "Now it's a better place to pitch.
"Usually the pitcher who throws the most innings there will win. It's not about going seven or eight innings and giving up two runs or less. It's about outlasting the other pitcher."
Coors Field is about a team-first mentality. The stats don't look too good. The motivation has to be about winning games, not ERA titles.
In the first year of Coors Field, 1995, the Rockies made their postseason debut despite a 6.17 ERA at home. That was in the pre-humidor days
In their two most recent trips to the postseason, however, the pitching staff has enjoyed two of the three best ERA seasons in Coors Field history. The Rockies were 51-31 at Coors Field with a 4.34 ERA in 2007 and 51-30 with a 4.41 ERA in 2009. Their lowest Coors Field ERA was 4.25 in 2010 when they were 52-29 at home.
In 18 years there have been only 20 complete-game shutouts pitched at Coors Field, 10 by the Rockies and 10 by visitors. Former Atlanta pitcher Tom Glavine is the only pitcher with two shutouts.
Hideo Nomo of the Los Angeles Dodgers no-hit the Rockies at Coors Field in a rain-delayed game Sept. 17, 1996. The Rockies low-hit nine-inning complete game at Coors Field is a two-hitter and has happened only twice -- Darryl Kile against Florida on Sept. 10, 1998, and Jeff Francis against St. Louis on July 24, 2006.
Francis is a homegrown pitcher, the Rockies' first-round Draft choice in 2002, and he doesn't buy the Coors Field crutch for pitchers who struggle.
"I don't know what goes on in other people's head," he said. "I have no qualms about pitching at Coors Field."
Francis ranks second on the all-time win list with 33 at Coors Field, three fewer than Aaron Cook, a second-round Rockies Draft pick in 1997. Jason Jennings, the Rockies' first-round selection in 1999, is third on the list with 31, one more than Ubaldo Jimenez, a product of the Rockies' Latin America program.
"For the young guys who have come up in the organization, Coors Field isn't an issue," said Francis, who opted to return to the Rockies in May of last year and re-signed with them again in the offseason. "It is not an intimidation thing.
"Talk to Cookie. Ask Jason. When we were in the Minor Leagues, we weren't talking about pitching at Coors Field. We were talking about learning how to win. We were working to develop a winning mindset."
Francis was 8-4 at Coors Field in 2005 and 2006 and 8-5 in 2007. Francis is 33-26 in his career at Coors Field and was 28-31 on the road during his seven seasons with the Rockies.
"The hardest part of pitching [with the Rockies] is going back and forth from Coors Field to the road," said Francis. "The ball does move slightly different at Coors Field and it's important that you make adjustments. That's part of pitching, though. "
Pitching is what the Rockies want their pitchers to focus on -- not altitude.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.