DENVER -- Rockies left-handed pitcher Franklin Morales and right-hander Chad Bettis each had to labor Tuesday night, but hard work and success were mutually exclusive.
Morales gave up home runs to Avisail Garcia and Tyler Flowers, and was charged with six runs in 6 1/3 innings. Bettis, Morales' replacement, gave up a three-run homer to Cuban sensation Jose Abreu at the end of a 12-pitch at-bat. The result was a 15-3 loss to the White Sox at Coors Field in front of 25,393.
The loss dropped the Rockies to 4-5 and just may have pushed Morales (0-1) to the brink of changes coming to the pitching staff. Bettis is a candidate for coming changes also, but his situation might not be as precarious as that of righty reliever Wilton Lopez, who yielded eighth-inning home runs to Garcia, Alexei Ramirez and Abreu while giving up six runs in two-thirds of an inning.
The struggling trio proved no match for White Sox standout lefty Jose Quintana (1-0), who held the Rockies to two runs -- one on Michael Cuddyer's third home run of the season -- and five hits in seven innings. Quintana needed just 86 pitches.
Morales was pitching against the backdrop of having his rotation spot in jeopardy. In both of his starts, he's had high early pitch counts, but he left his first start (in Miami) with a lead, and the deficit was two runs when he walked off the mound Tuesday.
"I need to compete every time, make my pitches, work ahead in the count and stay focused, all game," Morales said. "I know I need to do better, but I'm still fighting to win the game."
Still, righty Tyler Chatwood was spectacular (eight strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings) during an injury rehab start for Triple-A Colorado Springs on Tuesday. Righty Jordan Lyles, who was beaten out by Morales for a rotation spot in Spring Training but was summoned to fill in for Chatwood, is 2-0 and coming off 6 2/3 strong innings in Monday's 8-1 victory over the White Sox.
Still, manager Walt Weiss saw Morales' ability to give the team length after a rough second inning as a positive.
"I thought he held it together, stayed out there for a while," Weiss said. "When he came out of the game, he had given up four runs."
With his chance to solidify his footing, Morales coughed up Garcia's first homer of the game with two down in the second. Ramirez singled to run his hit streak to eighth games, then Flowers launched his third homer of the season for a 3-0 lead.
"In the second inning, I missed a couple of pitches, and they got me," Morales said. "Sometimes, you try to be perfect and you miss the location. That's what happens when somebody hits you."
Morales walked Adam Eaton to open the third and watched him scored on Dayan Viciedo's sacrifice fly. From there, Morales found something of a groove by pitching into the seventh, although he faced constant traffic. Cuddyer's fourth-inning homer and Troy Tulowitzki's RBI double in the sixth cut the difference to 4-2.
But with one down in the seventh, Morales hit Eaton, yielded a Marcus Semien hit and was done. Morales has made all but 17 of his 147 career appearances for the Rockies and Red Sox from the bullpen, and could end up in the there again.
Bettis made the team with a strong Spring Training, but has stuggled in the regular season. He was bitten by Abreu, a Cuban defector for whom the Sox outbid the Rockies and others for his services during the winter. With the count 2-2, Abreu fouled off six straight pitches, took ball three, then swatted a hanging curveball into the left-field bleachers for his first Major League homer.
"I had one pitch that he hadn't seen, which was a curveball," said Bettis, whose ERA is 12.27. "He's fouled off six pitches in a row, so at that point in time you're trying to look at anything where he's leaning toward what he was looking for. That could have been a better pitch."
Abreu said trough translator Lino Diaz, "That at-bat was very, very important to me. I feel like I fought for that, and it gave me a lot of confidence to do that. Definitely an at-bat that obviously changed the result of the game. But it kind of gets you in the right set of mind, the right momentum."
Bettis said he realizes that the spring performance is not a huge predictor of regular-season performance.
"Everybody's working on different things, myself included," Bettis said. "When the season comes around, you're trying to win every single ballgame that you can. We really had a chance until that mistake."
Lopez gave up eight hits without escaping the eighth as his ERA skyrocketed to 11.37. The Rockies acquired him from the Astros before last season with the hope he could be a primary setup man, but he posted a 4.06 ERA in a team-high 75 appearances, and had a 5.33 ERA in the eighth inning. This season, he is pitching in mop-up situations and still struggling.
"He's a warrior, he always wants the ball," Weiss said. "It's a tough situation. You're trying at that point to think about tomorrow and not blow through the bullpen. But I never like to leave a guy out there as long as I did, or have to take him out in the middle of an inning and have him have to walk off the field."