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After rain wipes out Cactus League opener, Rockies try again Sunday

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Rockies news and links for Sunday, February 23, 2020

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Rodgers (shoulder) way ahead of schedule | MLB.com

After waiting 146 days to see the Rockies back in action, even if it is just a Cactus League game, it turns out we have to wait one more due to Phoenix’s heaviest rainstorm since 1913.

Is it a sign? Can a rainout for a spring training opener be a good sign? Washing away the 2019 season for a new beginning? Or is it an ominous stormy start to the 2020 schedule? Maybe it means nothing at all. Dang it. We all were so ready to see a box score and have plays to talk about.

Instead of a home-home opener against the Diamondbacks, the Rockies will now face the Angels in Tempe at 1:10 p.m. Mountain Time on Sunday. Jeff Hoffman, who was scheduled to start Saturday’s opener, will still take the mound as starter today. This moves back the Rockies new home Cactus League opener to Monday with a 1:10 p.m. showdown against Cleveland.

In happier news from Thomas Harding’s spring training roundup, Brendan Rodgers’s shoulder is healing faster than expected, so much so that the Rockies’ top prospect might be able to play as a designated hitter in spring training as soon as March 3. He initially targeted May for a comeback date, but now says he “wouldn’t cross it off” as a possibility for Opening Day on March 26. While the Rockies have been very careful to ease Rodgers back into action, especially fielding, he is now able to throw 160 feet without pain.

The field-good story of the day goes to Giants’ shortstop Brandon Crawford, who hosted a charity golf tournament on Friday for ALS CURE Project, a non-profit started by Oakland’s Stephen Piscotty after his mom was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) in 2017.

Sam Hilliard, whose dad has ALS, has been trying to raise awareness for the disease and to raise money for more research and a cure.

Hilliard, along with Nolan Arenado, Garrett Hampson, Josh Fuentes, prospect Max George, and several Colorado coaches, played in the tournament on Friday.

Freeland pitching with peace of mind | MLB.com

In the year where it all went wrong for Kyle Freeland, there was just too much to correct in the middle of the 2019 season. While recovering from a groin injury, he was able to start working on a few things and then test them in two short outings at the end of the season, which definitely did go better for Colorado’s homegrown lefty.

He’s been building from those performances, as well as working with pitching coaches Steve Foster, Daryl Scott, and Steve Merriman, who are using technology to diagnose and treat problems instead of the old-school trial-and-error method. The results are the disappearance of the “flamingo pause” and a more consistent release point that will hopefully get more late movement and sharpness to Freeland’s pitches.

This feature has lots quotes from Freeland about how the practice is paying off so far as he is getting more consistency and increasing his own knowledge of what’s going right or wrong. The most promising quote from K-Free is “Even talking to hitters in the past two live BPs and they’re saying, ‘Between your fastball and your changeup, we can’t tell the difference out of your hand.’”

Behind Tyler Kinley’s darting slider, Rockies are digging deep for bullpen help | The Athletic ($)

This feature from Nick Groke on Tyler Kinley can straight up make you excited about the Rockies bullpen. Let me explain.

It’s not in the bounce-back potential of Wade Davis, Bryan Shaw, or Jake McGee, but in the promise of the slider of newly-acquired Kinley. Groke points out that according to Quality of Pitch, Kinley’s slider ranked third best in the MLB last year behind a guy named Justin Verlander and ahead of guys named Clayton Kershaw and Chris Archer.

Kinley’s slider can drift out of reach and make players look down-right silly or settle for making meager contact that could lead to double plays. The problem for the former Marlin, who the Rockies signed to a minor league deal over the offseason, is control. In 52 games spanning 49.1 innings, Kinley had 46 strikeouts, but also 36 walks. The lack of control got Kinley waived by the Marlins. Jeff Bridich has had his eye on Kinley for a few years and used the opportunity to finally bring him in.

In a throwing session on Thursday, Groke writes that a crowd of coaches and the front office members gathered to watch Kinley’s live bullpen session. Catcher Dom Nunez is helping Kinley with his control, telling Groke, “That’s one of his big focuses, to attack the zone more. Just throw strikes. His bread and butter is the slider away, the wipeout slider. So if he can get it to the front hip, he can throw the fastball in that same tunnel. And if he can throw that fastball with some ride, pop a fastball in and stand a guy up, then go back to the slider down.”

The bullpen is an open competition. Outside of Scott Oberg, Jairo Díaz, and Carlos Estévez, Bud Black gives the impression that he’s willing to give innings to whoever can be most effective, whether they have a big price tag or not. It’s awfully exciting to have a possibility of a slider like Adam Ottavino’s returning to the Rockies bullpen arsenal.

With improved motion, Lambert finding his form | MLB.com

While there are many ifs and coulds in this update on 22-year-old Peter Lambert’s offseason training to tweak his mechanics, it’s an optimistic take from Thomas Harding that Lambert shouldn’t be counted out of the competition for the starting rotation.

As we remember, Lambert dazzled in a pair of wins against the Cubs to start his Major League career, but then struggled as the team did the same. Down the stretch, he went 3-7 with a 7.25 ERA before being shut down with a week left in the season. He’s been working this offseason to modify his arm motion in order to keep his pitches sharp and keep his velocity higher and more consistent, which will benefit his entire arsenal.

There are lots of hopeful quotes from Lambert and Bud Black about Lambert’s ability to compete at the major league level with physical talent and confidence to last through a 162-game campaign. Lambert has to prove it in spring training to see if he’ll start the season on the 40-man roster or in Triple-A.

Saunders: Rockies’ Trevor Story primed to be face of franchise | Denver Post ($)

In this column, Patrick Saunders believes that by 2021, Nolan Arenado won’t be a Rockie, even saying that he thinks he could be traded this summer. With this view, he argues that the organization should turn its focus to All-Star shortstop Trevor Story becoming “the long-term face of the franchise.”

Saunders’s reasoning is pretty solid in that Story is already the best shortstop in baseball, he isn’t in a feud with the front office, he has Nolan’s same work ethic and desire to win, and Bud Black praises his strength and toughness. The downside of this is that it assumes Nolan is gone, which might be true, but is not a conclusion I am ready to face. I am still hoping the relationship can be saved, but the only thing that might be able to do that is winning. Therefore, if a lot of winning doesn’t happen, and Arenado gets dealt or leaves after 2021, then the double whammy comes in the realization that if we get to that point and the Rockies aren’t a winning team, what will make Story want to stay here when his current contract is up in 2021?