As a Rockies fan right now, I am in a very fragile psychological state. My rage towards Rockies ownership and the front office has led me to a decision I never thought I would make: I am not buying any tickets to watch the Rockies in person in 2021. After a year without sitting in one of my favorite places on the planet, Coors Field, the stretch will go on.
The dismissal of Nolan Arenado as the latest shipment of a superstar for a subpar exchange, the lack of communication, Jeff Bridich’s condescending nature and ability to make mistake after mistake without consequences or ability to learn from them, and the lack of analytics, on top of not having just any sort of plan that makes sense to the baseball world or Rockies fans, is just not something I can support right now. I understand my 10-20 games a year in the third level won’t mean much. The Rockies won’t notice, but I am also hoping I am not the only one. I can’t keep doing the same thing and expecting different results.
At the same time, I still love the players. With Opening Day seven days away, I can’t help but hope that Ryan McMahon and Raimel Tapia have breakout years, that Josh Fuentes keeps hitting the ball like a madman, and that C.J. Cron blasts 30 homers like the 472-foot shot he had Thursday. Parts of me want the Rockies to succeed and be the “snake in the grass.” It’s a contradicting hope-anger feeling that is tearing my baseball soul asunder.
I wasn’t sure it could get worse until this week, seeing Kyle Freeland throw his glove down, double over in pain, and grab his side under his left shoulder. It was brutal.
On Thursday, good news came when we learned that Kyle Freeland won’t need to have surgery. Three doctors and the Rockies training staff examined and tested Freeland, who was diagnosed with a strained left shoulder. It certainly could have been much worse. However, Freeland will miss at least one month and possibly longer, according to Bud Black. Black also said that Freeland will work on recovering and undergo more tests in a few weeks to see how things are progressing.
I was surprised by how hard that video of an injured Freeland hit me. The hope that was rising deep inside me turned out to be very brittle. Now pessimism is becoming the dominant feeling. Instead of looking forward to a rotation that could really be impressive and give the Rockies a chance, now I am worried that Antonio Senzatela’s hamstring injury will derail his stellar spring and promising 2020. It could totally be irrational, but him giving up two runs on eight hits in 2 2/3 innings in his first game back didn’t help.
Even that line drive that hit Jon Gray in the hand on Wednesday, not even forcing him from the game, has me thinking it will lead to a nagging injury that could eliminate Gray’s increasing velocity. Gray won’t miss time. It’s a bruise. He’s fine. But my Debbie-Downer attitude thinks it will get him off his game. Maybe it’s too similar to Carlos Estévez’s injury in 2020 that resulted in him posting an 18.00 ERA in his final 11 appearances of the season. He’s also struggled in spring training this year.
Rounding out the known rotation, Austin Gomber has been lights out in spring training. I am legitimately excited about him. He also thinks Coors Field is just another place to pitch and doesn’t think the altitude will affect his flyball-inducing pitching. To say I am nervous about him pitching in Denver is an understatement.
Then there is Scott Oberg. I love him, but am permanently stressed out about his health. He hasn’t pitched in an MLB game in 588 days. Even a perfect four innings this spring training hasn’t eased my fears.
None of my feelings – the extreme anxiety or the hope, how ever faint, – are rational. Now the dread is creeping in. The thing that I am worried about is that the dread could be the most logical. The starting rotation was the biggest glimmer of hope for this challenging time and it’s already experiencing turbulence. This is on top of a tricky 2021 coming on the heels of a 60-game 2020 season where keeping pitchers healthy and managing their arms will be a serious challenge for all teams, not just the one whose home games are at a mile high.
Now the Rockies will have to decide if they want to go with a four-man rotation or if someone will step up as a fifth starter until Freeland can return. Either way, the situation is likely to be taxing on the bullpen. This is the bullpen that had the second-worst ERA in baseball in 2020 at 6.77. With Oberg’s health, the struggles of Estévez and Jario Díaz, the 2020 disappointment of Mychal Givens, and the inconsistencies long relievers Chi Chi González and Dereck Rodríguez, who are also now vying to fill Freeland’s spot along with rookie lefty Ryan Rolison, this bullpen is also fragile. Extra pressure out of the gate is a lot to ask.
As we’ve seen the last two years, González is a wild card. You never know what you are going to get. Could he be the Chi Chi of September of 2019 who posted a 1.65 ERA and two wins in five appearances with 26 strikeouts compared to 11 walks? Or will it be 2020 Chi Chi who went 0-2 with a 6.86 ERA in six appearances, including the Sept. 8 game vs. the Padres when he walked three batters, hit another, and had to be pulled after only managing one out in 31 pitches in the first inning?
Rodríguez was great in 2018 when he went 6-4 in 118 1/3 innings with a 2.81 ERA in 19 starts (21 appearances) for the Giants. He’s been on a steady decline ever since. He only pitched four innings and still managed to rack up a 13.50 ERA in two games before being released by the Giants.
Rolison is the most promising, but he hasn’t pitched above High-A Lancaster. The 22-year-old is Purple Row’s top PuRP and why wouldn’t the Rockies go with the young guy? What do they have to lose?
Only the confidence and delicate development progression of a young pitcher. Just see Ryan Castallani, who went 1-4 with a 5.82 ERA in 2020 and will start the 2021 season in Triple-A Albuquerque. Or Peter Lambert, who went 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA in his first two MLB games in 2019, which included a nine-strikeout MLB debut, but then went 1-7 over his next 17 outings with an 8.15 ERA. He got hurt in spring training and is still recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Rolison could be good. Is he worth rushing? Not in my half-empty glass view.
The Rockies are fragile and breakable. As a fan, I am pretty unstable and broken. Maybe we are made for each other after all.
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After a month of an outstanding spring training, Austin Gomber finally had a bad day on Thursday. After giving up only two runs in his first four starts and zero home runs, Gomber gave up four homers and five earned runs in 5 1/3 innings against the Angeles. Luckily, they were also solo shots. The Rockies also had homers of their own as Chris Owings hit two homers (a two-run shot and solo homer) and C.J. Cron added another solo home run. Cron went 3-for-3 in the game, while Josh Fuentes added an RBI double, Raimel Tapia hit an RBI single, and Dom Nuñez went 2-for-3 with a run scored. Justin Lawrence, Tyler Kinley, Ben Bowden, and Daniel Bard combined for a scoreless performance from the bullpen to help the Rockies pull out the win.
The Rockies will be back in action on Friday against Cleveland and Antonio Senzatela will be making his second start since returning from his hamstring injury.
In weird news of the day, a chemical detector went off in an office inside Coors Field on Thursday, causing the Denver Fire Department to evacuate the stadium and close nearby streets.
Final update at Coors Field #DenverFireDepartment @DenverPolice & @Rockies found no hazards or dangerous chemicals. Crews will be gathering their equipment for a little while longer & will then open the streets once all personnel have left the scene.@CityofDenver @DenSafetyDept pic.twitter.com/ysSCAXm1K5— Denver Fire Dept. (@Denver_Fire) March 25, 2021
Luckily, no substance was found. After a three-hour search, everything was determined to be safe and Blake Street, 21st Street, Delgany Street, Park Avenue, and 22nd Street were all reopened. This is just a weird thing to happen one week before Opening Day. Or anytime really.
Bowden really is shining in spring training. The 26-year-old has the most appearances of all pitchers in spring training at nine. In the 7 2/3 innings over those nine games, he’s posted a 1.17 ERA, only giving up one run on three hits with 11 strikeouts and only two walks. The 2016 draft pick spent 2020 at the alternate training site and pitched for both Double-A Hartford and Triple-A Albuquerque in 2019. He’s now making a strong case to join the Opening Day roster.
★ ★ ★
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