Morillo hit hard in debut, but Rockies win

Hard-throwing right-hander leap-frogs from Double-A to make big-league debut

(Jack Dempsey/AP)

By Thomas Harding / MLB.com | September 24, 2006 7:28 PM

DENVER -- The Rockies acknowledged their past and, they hope, previewed the future Sunday afternoon.

The Rockies used a Brad Hawpe two-run homer in the eighth to beat the Braves, 9-8, at Coors Field in front of 30,216 in a game reminiscent of the prime of Vinny Castilla, whom the Rockies honored.

The team's newest pitcher, right-handed Juan Morillo, who spent the season at Double-A Tulsa but hadn't pitched since a Texas League playoff game on Sept. 5, took the old-fashioned hard hits.

Morillo, 22, walked the first three batters he faced, hit Andruw Jones to force in the first run and served up Brian McCann's grand slam before finally forcing a Jeff Francoeur grounder for his first out.

Castilla, first baseman Todd Helton and shortstop Clint Barmes (who drove in two runs), catcher Alvin Colina, his usual receiver in Tulsa, and pitching coach Bob Apodaca visited Morillo during his struggles. But after the homer, he didn't walk anyone else, and struck out four against eight hits in four innings.

In the fourth, Morillo yielded a Chipper Jones' 24th homer of the season and McCann's 23rd.

Next time he takes the ball in the Majors, which he hopes is next season, Morillo will have a 15.75 ERA. But thanks to Hawpe he won't have a loss.

"I know we've got a lot of good hitters, so I was waiting for that," said Morillo, known for a triple-digits fastball but spotty control.

Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said, "I told him, 'You're not the first pitcher to pitch here four innings and give up seven runs, so don't get carried away on that.'

"He said, 'I got a lot better and they didn't take as good swings when I kept the ball down.'"

The teams hit seven home runs. The Rockies' Matt Holliday knocked a slam in the fifth, his team-leading 32nd homer.

The Rockies trailed, 7-0, before the bottom of the fourth and didn't lead until Hawpe entered as a pinch-hitter after Jamey Carroll's single and homered off Tyler Yates (2-5).

The Rockies won three of four, handed the Braves their 81st loss, and officially ended their string of playoff trips at 15 and winning seasons at 16. The win also brought Colorado out of last place for the first time since Aug. 20.

"It was nice today," said Hawpe, whose homer was his 20th this season. "To take the series from the Braves, which is a quality team, and to do it on Vinny Castilla's day was special, too."

The Rockies started Castilla, who is retiring at season's end, at third base and fans greeted his every at-bat with applause.

About all that was missing was a big hit from Castilla, who had two on in the eighth, but grounded into an inning-ending forceout. He was 0-for-4 and was hit by a pitch.

The old-time homer spree started with Jeff Baker's fifth in 17 games since being promoted from Triple-A Colorado Springs, against Braves starter Chuck James to lead off the fourth. It ended with the Hawpe's shot. Castilla said his son, Marcos, serving as bat boy, predicted the winning homer in the dugout.

Castilla experienced similar magic when the third-year Rockies went to the playoffs in 1995, and believes today's Rockies, who played well early but faded and are 74-82, can make it happen again.

Hawpe's homer gave the Rockies three with at least 20. He joined Holliday and Garrett Atkins, who has 27. It's not 1996-98, when Castilla reached or exceeded 40 and had company in doing so, but it's a start.

"I've never seen so many young kids at the same time that good," said Castilla, who will work for the Rockies' front office. "We had a great time in '95, but in those years we weren't that young."

Holliday also tripled and scored, and Baker added a triple to his homer. But Hawpe's swing might have been bigger.

The left-handed-hitting Hawpe has lost playing time in right field lately as the Rockies have taken a long, and thus far pleasant, look at the right-handed-hitting Baker.

Baker could be used at several positions in addition to right field, but Hawpe will have to produce offensively to get his starts in right. The ability he flashed on a homer, when he clubbed Yates' slider, could help make him effective off the bench when he doesn't start.

"It's been different, of course," Hawpe said. "Baker's got a good opportunity right now and he's run with it, that's good for him. I need to be ready whenever I get [at-bats]."

Edgar Renteria gave the Braves an 8-6 lead with a solo shot off Justin Hampson in the sixth. Holliday tripled and scored on Barmes' double in the seventh.

Jeremy Affeldt (4-1) escaped an eighth-inning jam, and closer Brian Fuentes overcame two hits in the ninth by forcing a two-out Renteria grounder for his 29th save.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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