Brandon Crawford recorded the final out of the fifth inning on Friday afternoon. The routine pop-up to third base came down like any other, but everyone in purple basked in relief unlike ever before.
Scott Oberg pitched in a pro game for the first time in 19 months.
The bullpen gate at Scottsdale Stadium opened at approximately 2:30 p.m. local time on Friday, and Oberg would face four San Francisco hitters. In the words of Thomas Harding: “Oberg felt the adrenaline, then looked at the Giants’ hitters and figured it was not the best time to reflect on his painful journey back to game action.”
Wilmer Flores was called out on strikes. Buster Posey grounded out. Austin Slater singled to right field, and Crawford’s pop-up ended the frame. Oberg earned every second of reflection as Crawford’s pop-up descended toward Ryan McMahon’s glove.
(Video of Oberg’s outing can be found here.)
Adrenaline is extremely hard to fabricate, especially through months of rehab filled with lob throws, small dumbbells, resistance bands, basic weight training and vicious manual therapy. Those struggles were a mere fraction of what Oberg dealt with in his return to the mound, however. At least a brutal Tommy John surgery has a strong return rate; when Oberg faced blood clots for a third time, a retirement from baseball would have been a mere footnote compared to the grand picture of retaining his long-term health.
Oberg did work out with the Rockies during last year’s summer camp, but a return in 2020 was cut short due to another bout with blood clotting. He underwent vascular surgery last September and even had one of his ribs removed to alleviate pressure. “It is in the cabinet at the house right now,” says Oberg.
Limited-capacity crowds in the spring are not ideal for an ‘immediate’ adrenaline boost, but perhaps it serves as a perfect way for Oberg to build up his return to action as Opening Day approaches. About 1,000 fans were permitted inside Scottsdale Stadium for his spring debut. The game on Friday was not televised, but the stage will gradually grow for Oberg through the Cactus League as Salt River Fields currently permits around 2,000 spectators. When 21,000 fill up Coors Field to begin the season, his lasting image on the mound will no longer be the barren ballpark during 2020 summer workouts.
Most importantly, his lasting thoughts will no longer be if he can ever pitch again. Between Daniel Bard and Scott Oberg, the Rockies bullpen is one of the easiest to root for—ever.
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An offensive charge was led by homers from Trevor Story (1-for-3) and Elias Díaz (2-for-2). Díaz was the only Rockie with multiple hits, driving in a third of Colorado’s runs on the afternoon.
Also of note was Phillip Diehl’s scoreless fourth inning; the lefty struggled in his previous 2 2⁄3 innings this spring, allowing eight earned runs. Diehl recorded a walk, double play and a groundout.
Márquez recorded three complete innings of work and worked into the fourth, allowing three earned runs, three walks and collecting three strikeouts. It was his second appearance of the spring; his previous outing came on March 7 against the White Sox (3 IP, 0 R).
If San Francisco starter Kevin Gausman pitched to one more hitter, it would have been Greg Bird, his teammate from Grandview High School (Aurora, Colo.).
Diamondbacks beat writer Steve Gilbert gives us an NL West reliever preview, citing plenty of optimism for the Rockies on the heels of their highest bullpen ERA ever. “That may have been more 2020 weirdness than anything else.”
Carlos Estévez was drilled in the hand during a game last August and it impacted his performance for the remainder of the season. Paired with the loss of Oberg in 2020, the Rockies relief core became short-handed quickly. Colorado will see a jump-start to the bullpen with continued health from both over the duration of the year.
Gilbert further mentions a potential need for a long reliever in Colorado. Chi Chi González and Dereck Rodríguez are possible candidates, but with six days off in the first 50 days of the regular season, it could be Austin Gomber taking on those duties as a split-starter (and satisfying some left-handed relief needs).
“The 27-year-old does not fit the mold of the type of starting pitcher General Manager Jeff Bridich has acquired via trade during his tenure after numerous failed attempts at drafting or trading for elite-level prospects.”
Aniello Piro of Mile High Sports talks about a “similar trail” between Gomber’s departure from St. Louis and Márquez’s trade from Tampa Bay. Gomber has pitched exceptionally well in the Cactus League thus far, and seems on pace to break the mold of some underwhelming starting pitcher acquisitions since after Márquez came to Denver (Jeff Hoffman, Tyler Anderson, Jordan Lyles, Riley Pint).
(How would an Arenado trade look different if Riley Pint were a perennial big leaguer?)
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