Herz gets the full high-altitude experience in first Coors start

DENVER – DJ Herz’s start Friday night bore no resemblance to his previous outing, when he took Nationals Park by storm and struck out 13 Marlins batters over six innings of one-hit, shutout ball.

In this game at Coors Field, the rookie left-hander lasted only 3 2/3 innings, giving up four runs (three earned) on seven hits, all while throwing 76 pitches before getting the hook from manager Davey Martinez.

There was one similarity, though, and it was an important one that could bode well for future starts. As he did against Miami, Herz did not issue a walk against Colorado. He forced the Rockies to beat him, not giving them any help along the way.

“I thought it was good for the most part,” he said after the Nats’ 11-5 victory. “I’m happy about the amount of strikes, and the no walks again. Every time they scored, we answered, so it was good to see the run support and everybody hitting the ball tonight. It was really fun.”

Herz was hit hard, serving up three homers during a seven-batter span between the third and fourth innings. But two of those were solo shots, and the other was a two-run homer only because of third baseman Nick Senzel’s throwing error moments earlier. Herz didn’t create jams by losing control.

It helped that he was able to pitch with a big lead. The Nationals scored five runs in the top of the third, then four more in the top of the fourth to take a 9-1 lead over the Rockies. That allowed Herz to focus even more intently on throwing the ball over the plate and making the opposition earn it. He wound up with an impressive 53 of 76 pitches for strikes.

“Knowing we’ve got run support, all I’ve got to do is attack,” he said. “Just as long as we win the inning. At the end of the day, look at the bigger picture and realize we’re up a lot of runs.”

Herz’s first Coors Field experience will be one to remember. He found out the hard way how pitches don’t break downward the way they do at lower altitudes, with one of his surrendered homers coming on a high slider and another on a high changeup.

He also found out just how physically draining it can be to pitch at 5,280 feet, as evidenced by his long bottom of the fourth, when Martinez decided not to press his luck anymore.

“I think I mentioned earlier about pitching here. For starters, it’s tough,” the manager said. “When you go out and throw 25-30 pitches in an inning, you get exhausted. We started watching him, he started losing his mechanics a little bit. His legs started flying open, so he wasn’t staying in his legs. I talked to (pitching coach Jim) Hickey: Start getting somebody up. When I went out there, he looked like he was cooked.”

So, Herz’s fourth major league start couldn’t compare to his third one. But as so many other pitchers have come to accept over the years, the measure of success at Coors Field is different from what it is anywhere else.

“Right after he came out of the game, I said: ‘You should be proud of yourself,’” Martinez said. “‘It ain’t easy to pitch here. It gets everybody. This is your first time out here. But you did great.’ He pounded the strike zone like we asked him to. In this ballpark, guys are going to hit. He did really well.”

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