There has been much talk early in the season about the Colorado Rockies bullpen. It seemed the clear achilles heel for the team in Miami after poor outings from Wilton Lopez and Matt Beslisle in addition to a few other uninspiring moments from Chad Bettis, and even LaTroy Hawkins uncomfortable save.
And that's all without even mentioning Rex Brothers' signature velocity seems to have abandoned him. Except now I mentioned it.
But fear not, lads and lasses of Rockie Town, for it has been told in legends long past that the bullpen is a fickle thing, oft at the mercy of the whims of a season.
Gazing deep into the crystal ball will show that if the Rockies could pick one problem (and one problem alone) to have, it would be an early-season bad bullpen. This is not to promise that they will keep hitting like they have (which is really, really well) or that the starting pitching will maintain decency or even improve with the expected returns of Tyler Chatwood and (eventually) Jhoulys Chacin.
But grant for a moment in argumentville that those things will happen. And -- although far from given -- let us assume that the current issues with the bullpen persist. Wilton Lopez is simply unreliable. Matt Beslisle is done. LaTroy Hawkins is not nearly dominant enough to be a legitimate closer. And Rex Brothers now tops out at 93. What then?
First let us take a look at a bevvy of in-house options the Rockies have in case they need to shake things up in the 'pen.
Tommy Kahnle and Chad Bettis
Kahnle and Bettis are already in the pen and I am a believer in both moving forward to be integral parts of the bullpen should their elders fail to remain on the roster. Both still have a lot to prove as neither has exactly been dominant yet, Kanlhe has been impressive in pressure situations and Bettis continues to show and ability to miss bats.
Kanlhe's cutter and Bettis velocity are the main tenants of their game that I think should play out well over the course of a 162 game season.
The Rockies activated Boone Logan and optioned Corey Dickerson yesterday. Logan projected to be a late inning lefty for the Rockies coming into the season before hurting his elbow, and well, I suppose he still is. He struck out three of the four batter he faced in a rehab start in Colorado Springs, and has been a pretty consistent pitcher for most of his career.
Logan got a 3 year, $16.5m contract this off season so the Rockies expect him to produce. His return should immediately stable the bullpen some, and depending on how well he settles into his surroundings, Boone Logan could end up being a life-saver for the Colorado Rockies bullpen.
Remember, Morales was slated for the bullpen before Chacin's injury. His first outing was promising and hopefully he can back that up again while he remains in the rotation. However, when Chatwood and Chacin do return, Morales is very likely to find his way into the bullpen as he represents both another left-handed option and can be a more-than-serviceable long reliever.
Morales finished well with Boston last season and seems to be at least throwing a lot more strikes than the Frankie-Mo I remember. If it turns out that he has figured out how to stay in the zone with the nasty movement he has on his pitches he could even move up the bullpen throughout the season as he produces and others falter.
It should not be dismissed that Juan Nicasio could finish this season in the bullpen. If he keeps throwing out performances like he did his first time out, it will be hard to remove him from the starting rotation. But suppose he sandwiches a few of those around some vintage Nicasio outings of melting down in the fifth or sixth innings.
In that case, if the rest of the rotation produces at a high level, and Jordan Lyles keeps doing well -- or if Eddie Butler and/or Jon Gray come knocking down the door mid-season -- they could decide to deploy Nicasio's electric stuff and ability to dominate a lineup first time in a crucial bullpen role.
Depending on the performances of a lot of people -- Jhoulys de la Chatwood, Brett "the Hitman" Anderson, Jordan "Smiles" Lyles, "The Gray Wolf" Jonathan Gray, and Eddie "OMG" Butler -- the Colorado Rockies may find the best place for Juan Nicasio is taking the ball from these guys and slamming the door shut.
Pretty much all the same reasons I said about Nicasio but less emphatic. There are a few scenarios under which Lyles could end up in either the rotation or the bullpen depending on the health and effectiveness of the guys above him. The Rockies shouldn't hesitate to get what they can -- wherever they can -- out of Lyles this season if they are competitive and he is determined to have a break-out season.
Christian Friedrich, Tyler Matzek, Tyler Anderson had stellar outings to start their 2014 seasons.
Friedrich struck out nine in only six innings in the season opener. Before a miserable and (hopefully) forgettable 2013 for Friedrich due to injury, he showed an ability to pitch well at the major league level. If he has returned to health and form he could be a weapon down the road for the Rockies. He may have to continue to miss more bats than plots from the Riddler, but if he does and the rotation has no place for him (and the bullpen is melting away) you better believe Friedrich would be in the mix for a phone call.
Tyler Matzek was even better at perplexing bats than Friedrich when he managed to strike out eleven batters in only five innings, allowing one run. Matzek still has a lot to prove when it comes to consistency, but he has shown flashes and has wicked, wipe-out stuff. If his issue really is that he works too hard for strikeouts and throws too many pitches, then the bullpen is the perfect place for him. You obviously don't want walks out of the 'pen (Matzek walked two and has a history) but he certainly shouldn't be discounted as possible bullpen depth.
And finally, Tyler Anderson, while an unlikely choice, is not an impossible one. He, too, excelled in his debut this year in Tulsa. He surrendered just one run on five innings, striking out six. Anderson was originally drafted for his proximity to the big leagues and has been hampered by injuries pretty much ever since. He has a big league curve-ball and his time off the field, while frustrating, has helped him mature into a deeper understanding of the game.
If Anderson finds his groove (yes, that's about the 103rd "if" statement in this article) the Rockies have shown a willingness before to jump players straight from Double-A to the show. Anderson is 24 years old so if (there's that word again) he is going to materialize in to what the Rockies thought they had with him, it will likely be soon.
Will a trio of first-round draft picks finally realize their potential and find a way to save the Rockies floundering bullpen? What will Boone Logan's impact and role be? Will the emergence of talents like Jon Gray and Eddie Butler push a current starter or two into relief service? What is the future for Chad Bettis and Tommy Kahnle? And isn't there a chance that Wilton Lopez has just been unucky, Matt Beslisle is crafty enough to work through some issues, and both Rex Brothers and LaTrow Hawkins will be who we (or at least I) thought they were?
Certainly none of that is impossible. Also, remember that impact relievers are often floated at the trade deadline. If the Rockies manage to stay at all in contention (which is the only time a bad bullpen would be a killer anyway) they have plenty of trade chips that could bring some new blood to the 'pen if desperately needed. One of our extra outfielders or Josh Rutledge (love ya, Foxy) or something in that area could be moved if absolutely necessary.
Bullpens are fluid.
Yes, it seems to me that a shaky bullpen is the best problem the Rockies could have right now. Or at least, the most easily fixable.