DENVER – If being a major league pitcher is a difficult job in itself and pitching at altitude makes things even more complicated, inhabiting the long relief role for the Colorado Rockies might be one of the more thankless, challenging jobs on the planet. Nor is it suited for everyone. On a day when Eddie Butler, who struggled to adapt to that role with the Rockies, made his debut for the Chicago Cubs, ex-Cub Chris Rusin came into Friday’s game after starter Tyler Chatwood was pulled early and the Rockies were down 5-2. Rusin was up to the task, throwing 22⁄3 shutout innings, which kept the game close and saving other bullpen arms from being used.
When asked about Rusin’s performance in the post game interview, Rockies manager Bud Black noted, “He did a great job. I think he’s got a nice way of stabilizing things. He comes in and zeroes go on the board. It’s a huge part of the game to keep it close at 5-2. . . . The game didn’t get away from us. Meanwhile, they had to use a couple guys out of their pen to maintain their lead.”
Though he started the season on the disabled list, Rusin has racked up innings since his return, leading the Rockies bullpen with 202⁄3 innings thrown. For a bit of context, that’s more innings thrown this year than injured starter Jon Gray. Sporting a 2.61 ERA and 0.919 WHIP, Rusin has been reliable in producing quality outings. He has only yielded a run in three of his eleven appearances and allowed more than a single run just once. Many of his outings have been like Friday’s, where he has thrown multiple innings without allowing much in the way of baserunners or runs.
When Rusin was activated from the disabled list on April 9th, Black expressed what he thought Rusin brought to the team. “Let’s get an experienced major league baseball pitcher up here to complement our bullpen. He’s able to do a couple different things whether it’s throw three innings, 45-50 pitches or a one inning outing with some pairings we feel good with him going against.”
Though Rusin has two wins to show for his efforts, his early game role means the usual statistics for bullpens such as saves and holds haven’t properly accounted for his value. Nonetheless, his ability to eat innings has given Black the opportunity to keep his bullpen rested and flexible.
As Black remarked back in April,
“Chris has proven to pitch well. It gives you options to get matchups. It all goes on the availability of the guys that night and what you’re looking for. I hate saying it, but every game is different based on what’s happened the previous nights and how guys feel and how their stuff is and all that. But on a given night you’d like to think with three lefties and five righties you can do things on the matchup side that give you an end of game advantage.”
In previous years, the Rockies would have gone through more arms just to get through a game like Friday’s that they let get away early. Some vestiges of that challenge are still around, as Jordan Lyles has struggled to adapt to that long relief role. Yet, with the series tied at one game apiece, the Rockies enter today’s contest with their closer Greg Holland and setup men Mike Dunn and Adam Ottavino rested. Even though the Rockies ended up losing, Rusin is a big reason why Black is thankful that the Rockies bullpen should have an end of game advantage for the remainder of the series.