DENVER -- Even after losing 11 of their last 15, the Rockies remain at the center of a jam-packed race in the National League West.
Colorado entered Thursday's game three games back of the division-leading D-backs, tied with the red-hot Dodgers -- winners of 10 of their last 11. All that only adds to the importance of the Rockies' 10-game road trip against the D-backs, Padres and Dodgers, a stretch that begins Friday in Arizona and takes them into the All-Star break.
As manager Walt Weiss noted, there's a case to be made that each road trip is critical. But with 10 games coming against the three opponents nestled around them in the standings, this trip takes on greater significance.
"The fact that it's in our division, there's no question that it makes it really important, especially with our division as tight as it is," Weiss said. "The Dodgers are hot right now, but the rest of the division is grinding right now and trying to tread water."
The Rockies are 16-23 (.410 winning percentage) on the road this year, and struggled mightily with a 2-7 record on their last road trip.
CarGo exits with back strain, expects to play Friday
DENVER -- Rockies left fielder Carlos Gonzalez strained his back on a swing-and-miss in the fifth inning of a 9-5 victory over the Dodgers at Coors Field Thursday night but said he expects to return to the lineup Friday.
He said the back tightness is something he's dealt with before, which made him more confident he will be back soon.
"I swung and missed on a slider and I felt something in my back," Gonzalez said. "I'll be playing tomorrow."
Rockies manager Walt Weiss said Gonzalez is day to day after suffering what he called a "strained upper back."
"He said he's done it before," Weiss said. "So we're not too concerned. But it was enough of an issue to get him out of there. So there is some concern."
Gonzalez remained in left field for the top of the sixth, but outfielder Corey Dickerson pinch-hit for Gonzalez in the bottom of the inning and replaced him in the field.
Gonzalez chased down an RBI double off the bat of Adrian Gonzalez in the sixth, slowing down as his feet touched the warning track and covering his head as the ball careened off the middle of the wall. Though not a routine play, Gonzalez did look hesitant to throw his body against the wall in an effort to make the run-saving catch.
"Seen him make some great plays out there," Weiss said. "I think it was bugging him."
The Rockies slugger leads the National League with 23 home runs and was 1-for-3 with an RBI double in the first before he left the game.
Returning before break still possibility for Tulo
DENVER -- Troy Tulowitzki strolled through the clubhouse Thursday afternoon with a bat in each hand.
It was a welcome sign for Walt Weiss and Co., as the Rockies shortstop took batting practice before Thursday's series finale against the Dodgers for the first time since he broke a right rib three weeks ago. Tulowitzki said he has not ruled out returning before the July 16 All-Star Game, but emphasized that he will not rush the recovery process.
"There could be three or four days where I feel great and say, 'Hey, let's go on the rehab assignment,'" Tulowitzki said. "It could be another week or two where, 'Hey, now this thing feels good,' after the [All-Star] break. I just don't know."
Weiss said he would not hold Tulowitzki back if he does feel ready before the All-Star break. The skipper looked on as his star slugger took a few swings and agreed everything went smoothly in the latest step in the rehab process.
"I'm all for that, if he's good to go before the break," Weiss said. "We're not going to hold our breath to that, but if that were the case, that would be great."
Despite taking what he called "very easy swings" on the field, Tulowitzki still smoked a few balls over the left-field wall. It was just a taste of competitive baseball but enough for him showed more than just a hint of excitement to have a bat back in his hands.
"I came away very happy about it -- it's not like I had to stop and say, 'It's too much pain,'" he said. " … Now it's all about getting treatment and taking steps in the right direction."
Weiss said Tulowitki will join them on an upcoming 10-game road trip, which includes series against three National League West teams. He will be re-evaluated each day on the trip, his workouts and activity increased accordingly.
Tulowitki, who injured the rib diving for a ground ball, has been fielding grounders before the game for several days. He said he has fieldd without discomfort but did feel tightness when swinging.
"Defensively, I'm fine," said Tulowitzki, who was in the midst of an MVP-type season with a .347 average, 16 homers and 51 RBIs through 61 games. "Right now I can throw the ball and field the ball, it's just all in the swing. I'll know. Once the ball has a little extra carry and there's less pain, it should be ready."
Despite missing the last three weeks, Tulowitzki still held a comfortable lead in the All-Star voting among shortstops and said he probably will attend the All-Star Game at New York's Citi Field if he wins the fan vote, even he is not fit to play.
Rox not fazed by rare misstep from Brothers
DENVER -- Rex Brothers has been so dominant this year that any slipup comes as a relative shock.
So it was a surprise when Brothers gave up home runs in the ninth on Wednesday to Dodgers sluggers Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp. The only outing this year in which he allowed more than one earned run arrived just five days after Brothers snapped a streak of 30 straight scoreless innings dating to early April.
Ramirez's homer came on a pitch down in the zone, one that would not usually clear the wall in the deepest part of the park. Kemp's was more of a mistake pitch, Brothers said, coming on a fastball that hung over the plate.
But Brothers, whose ERA rose to 1.02 after dipping as low as a remarkable 0.27 at the end of the streak, is not worried. Such is the life of a reliever.
"I think that's the name of the game with a reliever, is you have to almost sometimes when things go bad create confidence from somewhere," Brothers said. " … It helps to have some success this year so far.
"Come back tomorrow and just create that mentality again, 'Hey, I'm going to get the job done today.'"
Rockies manager Walt Weiss, who also used Brothers as his closer when Rafael Betancourt landed on the disabled list, said he won't hesitate to put the powerful lefty back on the mound.
"I love having Rex in the game," Weiss said. "You're not going to dominate for six months the way he has in this league. He's been almost untouchable."
With regular time, LeMahieu finding his stride
DENVER -- He's acted quietly, but after his first full month in the big leagues this year, DJ LeMahieu is becoming a regular in the Rockies' lineup.
LeMahieu earned his 17th start in 20 games against the Dodgers on Thursday and is hitting .299 with four doubles, a homer and seven RBIs since June 13, the day both shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and center fielder Dexter Fowler first went down with injuries.
LeMahieu, primarily used as a second baseman, also appeared in 81 games for the Rockies a year ago, finishing with a .297 average and 68 hits. After getting the callup from Triple-A Colorado Springs in mid-May, he's starting to find an offensive rhythm in the big leagues.
"Just getting a consistent at-bat helps, I think anyone will tell you that," LeMahieu said. "I think the more at-bats I get, the more comfortable I feel."
Rotating between the top and bottom of the lineup, LeMahieu is just one piece of the puzzle as the Rockies' offense tries to produce without two of its most important bats.
"We miss [Fowler] at the top of that order, that's for sure," LeMahieu said. "We're not trying to replace him or anything, but just trying to contribute while he's gone."
Ian McCue is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.