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Rockies, Jeff Bridich will remain patient with pitching prospects

Despite the big league staff's historic early struggles, the Rockies' GM won't force the issue with his impressive minor league pitching depth.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

DENVER -- While we're only two series into the 2016 season, it appears the Colorado Rockies are in for more of the same this year from a pitching staff that has been among the worst in the league for each of the last couple of seasons.

Rockies pitchers through six games own a league-worst 7.98 ERA and are third worst (152 ERA-) in the park-adjusted version of that metric. The rotation, which owns a 7.04 ERA, has lasted six or more innings in just two of six outings. The bullpen, admittedly due in part to an unexpected injury to Jason Motte, is awkwardly assembled and hasn't been overly effective.

In spite of all of that, Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich is remaining patient, particularly with the team's top pitching prospects. Kyle Freeland and Jeff Hoffman, arguably the most polished and advanced hurlers in the Rockies' minor league system, both turned in impressive early season outings. But Bridich understandably wants to see more from all sides.

"It's their job to put pressure on us at this level to make decisions," Bridich said before the Rockies' home opener last Friday. "Kyle did a very nice job throwing strikes and getting outs, putting [Hartford] in the position to win that game. He showed up very well in major league camp. Jeff Hoffman showed up very well in major league camp. Antonio Senzatela, Shane Carle -- I'm gonna miss a few guys here talking about it."

"It's nice to see," Bridich added, "but the main thing is take the ball every fifth day, stay healthy and focus on pitch to pitch -- outing to outing -- to make sure you're taking care of your business."

Hoffman did just that in his 2016 debut, tossing six innings of shutout baseball for Triple-A Albuquerque on Saturday. The performance led Baseball Prospectus to declare Hoffman good enough for the majors right now:

He has more than enough velocity to compensate [for "room for growth in his command"], and while he's not a finished product just yet, Hoffman looked like he was ready for the big leagues. We can't know how he'll take to Colorado, but he has the pure stuff of a no. 2 starter right now.

The "not a finished product just yet" part of that snippet -- along with the fact that it's so early in the season and that no major decisions need to be made right now -- is why Bridich and the Rockies' player development staff will continue to have Hoffman, Freeland and the others work their craft in the minors for the foreseeable future.

"We're looking for the best opportunities for all of our starters at the minor league level to get the innings and turns they need," Bridich said, adding that the Rockies' biggest question overall still needs to be answered.

"Do we stay healthy," Bridich floated, "and do these young starters who are pushing up and developing stay healthy?"

In the meantime, rotation incumbents Jorge De La Rosa and Jordan Lyles are going to have to get better. More length will help the bullpen work through its early season weirdness, simultaneously reducing the pressure Bridich and the front office might feel in regards to rushing prospects through the system quicker than they'd like.

Either way, Bridich will be paying close attention.

"There's a lot of following games on the phone," Bridich said of his commitment to keeping tabs on the minor leagues even after shedding the role of player development director following his promotion to GM in 2015. "If I can't get the games on, there's a lot of texting going on between myself, Zach Wilson and all the guys in player development. That's how we're wired."

"We're very interested in how all of our players and coaches are doing at every level," Bridich added. "It's a daily thing, and it should be. That's why we're in this business."

It's hard to imagine Bridich and his staff not being pleased about the early performances of Freeland, Hoffman, Senzatela and several other pitchers who are expected to play key roles on future Rockies teams. But there's still a lot of time for things to truly unfold.

"It's exciting to see those players do well at the minor league level but you've got to pay attention because there are guys who are going to struggle," Bridich explained. "We have to make sure we talk about that, too."