DETROIT -- It's more fun for a rookie pitcher to win as he learns, but that's not within his control. Rockies left-hander Christian Friedrich's chance to win Saturday afternoon turned out to be slim, since his team didn't manage to score until an unearned run in the ninth.Lessons were all Friedrich could take from the 4-1 loss to the Tigers at Comerica Park in front of 41,800. If he can apply those, at least the defeat will have had a purpose. Friedrich (4-3) threw almost as many balls as strikes, walked five (one with the bases loaded), hit a batter and fired a wild pitch in five innings. The Tigers managed just three hits off him, although one was Miguel Cabrera's 14th homer of the season, in the first inning. Friedrich also committed a throwing error and played a part in a second error on the same play, when Cabrera hit a bouncer that Friedrich couldn't field cleanly and circled the bases Little League-style. But for all that went wrong, Friedrich left the game with a 3-0 deficit. Many days this season, that would have been good enough for the Rockies' offense. But Saturday, when Carlos Gonzalez finished with three hits but the rest of the team managed just three more, and the only run came unearned in the ninth inning, it was merely a school day for Friedrich. At 25-39, with losses in nine of their last 10 games, unless an unforeseen turnaround occurs, the Rockies are forced into the realization that for the rest of this season the painful process of educating young pitchers is bigger than the result of a given game. Friedrich isn't the only starter being educated in the Majors. It's lefty Josh Outman and righty Alex White in the current rotation, and righties Jhoulys Chacin and Juan Nicasio when they return from the disabled list. Lefty Drew Pomeranz and righty Tyler Chatwood will have to learn big league lessons once they master Triple-A. Friedrich lost his delivery in the second inning and didn't regain it until the last three hitters he faced. It makes sense his mechanics come and go. It wasn't until last offseason he found one that would make him a big league candidate. The new motion showed promise in Spring Training, and he pitched well enough to get an early callup from Triple-A Colorado Springs, but it's still new to him. But the real problem was not his mechanics, but where his mind went after the first inning. Cabrera whacked his mistake for a 1-0 lead, but Friedrich finished the inning in a passable 13 pitches with a strikeout. But Friedrich was harder on himself than he needed to be. "I was missing arm side, high," said Friedrich, who has struggled with his curveball and changeup the last three starts. "That strikeout of [leadoff man Austin Jackson] wasn't the strikeout that normally happens. You paint a pitch here, you throw a nice breaking ball. It was a ball that was up and he took a half-swing on it. "I overanalyzed ... 'Your balls are up,' [instead of] 'You're making aggressive pitches. Stay that way.' It'll fix itself." How quickly he corrects himself will determine whether he grows into the type of pitcher that can adjust quicker and do an even better job keeping his team in the game, not giving away runs on walks or rushed fielding plays, and possibly even win a game like Saturday's. "A guy that's four or five years down the road, he grabs himself within the next three pitches or the next hitter," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said. "He's a young kid that's learning and growing." Friedrich gave up two hits, hit a batter to load the bases and issued his second walk of the inning to Jackson with the bases loaded for a 2-0 deficit. His mental focus was like his pitches -- in the wrong place. "When I'm thinking about mechanics, that's when things start to go wrong," Friedrich said. "When I'm out there, all I should be focusing on that pitch at that time. Any time you start thinking about where your leg is or where your arm is, that's when things start to fall out of place." In the fifth, Cabrera's one-hop smash bounced off Friedrich's glove. Friedrich, not realizing he had time to throw accurately, retrieved the ball and gunned the throw wildly past first base. Catcher Wilin Rosario chased down the ball in right-field foul ground and threw to third, but the ball short-hopped past Friedrich. Cabrera scored for a 3-0 lead. But Friedrich left the game with a 2.10 ERA in five road starts, and he impressed one set of eyes. "He doesn't have very good control yet, but he's got good [stuff]," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "He's good." Jackson drew a walk from Rockies reliever Josh Roenicke -- one of his four in the game -- and scored on Prince Fielder's one-out sacrifice fly in the seventh. The 4-0 lead proved insurmountable for the Rockies, who managed just three hits and struck out six times in six innings against Doug Fister (1-3) in his return from a left oblique strain that had forced him to the disabled list May 29. "I had never faced him before, so he was new to me," Rockies center fielder Dexter Fowler said. "He had some deception. He throws across his body, so that was a little tough to pick up." Tigers reliever Phil Coke threw two scoreless innings. Gonzalez doubled in the ninth off Joaquin Benoit and took third on right fielder Don Kelly's throwing error, and scored on Michael Cuddyer's fielder's choice.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.