The Rockies entered Monday night with a 20-20 record with 20 games to go in 2020. That’s a wild stat. However, the fun was relatively short-lived. Since then, they have lost two straight games at the hands of the San Diego Padres — a 1-0 walk-off on Monday and a 14-5 thrashing on Tuesday.
In the midst of everything, though, there are some things to take note of as we finish the short 2020 season:
We’ll start with something both good and surprising —the arrival of infielder Josh Fuentes. Fuentes, like his older cousin, started as a third baseman. But due to the presence of said older cousin playing third base for the Rockies, Fuentes was transitioned to the other side of the diamond (much like Ryan McMahon before him, and many other Rockies infield prospects).
Due to a combination of injuries (notably a hamate bone injury in February and an oblique injury in June), the 2018 Pacific Coast League MVP only hit .254/.298/.448 in 101 games with the Albuquerque Isotopes in 2019 compared to .327/.354/.517 in 135 games the year before. Fuentes did have two brief major league campaigns in 2019, hitting 218/.232/.400 in 24 games.
But beyond the numbers, he’s always been a bit overshadowed:
“I’m always kind of waiting in the shadows,” Fuentes said. “I’m going to do everything I can to get better and be ready. Because I know eventually, my name will get called a couple times. I don’t want to let go of my opportunities.”
Nick Groke draws attention to the fact that not only does he have a fairly famous cousin (ever heard of Nolan Arenado?), but he also didn’t make his high school varsity team until he was a senior and then was signed as a free agent by the Rockies for just $10,000. Even now, his claim to fame is still that he’s “Nolan Arenado’s cousin” and he’s still living in the shadows of veteran first baseman Daniel Murphy. However, those tides may be turning a little bit. Fuentes was recalled from the Alternate Training Site on August 20 and has seen his name in the starting lineup six times. In the other five, he has been used as a pinch hitter.
In his 11 games, Fuentes has hit .370/.400/.593, including his first home run on September 6. With Murphy becoming more and more of a defensive liability at first — and only hitting .161 (10-for-62) with just one double and five strikeouts since August 11 — maybe it’s time for the Rockies to solidify Fuentes as their first baseman of the future and give him more opportunities for the rest of this shortened season.
One of the things that makes Kyle Freeland so successful is his emotions. He wears his heart on his sleeve and thrives off of the crowd noise. Other athletes prefer a quieter atmosphere to help them focus. Right now, everything is quiet with no fans in the stands. So how is a guy like Kyle Freeland coping? He’s fabricating his own intensity (as much as he can, anyway).
“You’ve got to do your best to fabricate that intensity,” Freeland said. “To lock into your zone and get to that mental state where it’s almost like there is a crowd there and you can feed off that adrenaline. I’m one of those pitchers when I’m locked into my zone, I have that intensity where it doesn’t matter if there are 50,000 people at Coors Field screaming or absolutely nobody in the stands.”
So far it seems to be working, as Freeland pitched six scoreless innings on Monday against the Padres — allowing just three hits, three walks, and six strikeouts. His 3.60 ERA is second only to Antonio Senzatela (3.33).
Yency Almonte, who has seen himself in late-inning relief situations more and more this season, agreed with Freeland’s sentiment. He said that the crowd noise helps him because his situations tend to be more “do-or-die right now.”
After watching the Nuggets game on Monday, I think I’m a fan of virtual fans in the stands. It allows fans to still be involved without the cardboard cutouts, and perhaps it can help guys like Almonte and Freeland who thrive more on crowd participation. If MLB ends up with a playoff bubble, I think they should consider that as an option.
While the rotation is rebounding a bit, the bullpen has been volatile recently. Most notably, Carlos Estévez has been struggling. He was the one to allow the walk-off on Monday night.
Kevin Henry notes that both batters Estévez faced had two-strike counts on them before reaching base — Greg Garcia singled on a 1-2 pitch and Jurickson Profar doubled on an 0-2. The latter ended up being the difference in the game. Estévez has given up seven runs over his last three appearances.
Henry also mentions that through Monday, batters who had an 0-2 count against Estévez had a slash line of .294/.412/.706, and are slashing .333/.333/.436 against him when he is ahead in general. Not great. Batters are also jumping early — slashing .455/.500/1.182 on the first pitch in 11 at-bats. He did get hit on the hand on August 16. It wasn’t broken, luckily, so hopefully this isn’t lingering from that.
In the above Denver Post article, Bud Black portrayed confidence in the 27-year-old righty:
“He’s a valuable part of our bullpen based on his track record and what we think he can do as a late-inning reliever,” Black said. “He’s got big stuff, a big arm and the weapons. What stood out to me is that he’s been ahead in the count over the last number of appearances, has made a bad pitch, and they haven’t missed it.”
Black always preaches velocity, location, and movement as the keys to successful pitching. When all three click, pitchers perform well but if one is off, they tend to struggle. Something to keep an eye on going forward.
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