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Lessons from the Rockies All-Star pitchers

Colorado Rockies news and links for Friday, July 16, 2021

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There was a lot to think about over this All-Star break. The welcomed distraction allowed for reflections on better times, moments to appreciate former and current Rockies All-Stars, and to prepare ourselves for what the second half may bring to the organization.

After delighting in Germán Márquez’s dominant performance in the fourth inning of Tuesday’s All-Star Game, it made me realize just how impressive it is that the Colorado Rockies – a team conventional wisdom has deemed destined to fail in part because of geography and Coors Field (we won’t get into the front office in this one) – has managed to have so many All-Star pitching selections.

When Márquez was selected to the team, it was common to hear phrases like “just the eighth Rockies All-Star pitcher.” In the context of 29 seasons and out of 55 selections, which represent a total of 27 players since many Rockies have been multi-year stars, eight doesn’t seem too bad. In actuality, 30 percent of Rockies All-Star players have been pitchers. It’s even more remarkable to think of it in this context when the Rockies didn’t have a Midsummer Classic pitcher until 2001 when Mike Hampton earned a spot on the roster.

Rockies can pitch. They can pitch at 5,280 feet or East 161st Street, and nothing proves that more than the Rockies performances in All-Star Games.

Rockies All-Star Pitchers

2021 Germán Márquez 0 0 0.00 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 3
2017 Greg Holland 0 0 0.00 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 4
2010 Ubaldo Jimenez as P 0 0 0.00 0 2 2 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 0 8
2009 Jason Marquis
2008 Aaron Cook 0 0 0.00 0 3 4 0 0 0 3 2 1 0 0 16
2007 Brian Fuentes
2006 Brian Fuentes 0 0 0.00 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 3
2005 Brian Fuentes
2003 Shawn Chacon
2001 Mike Hampton 0 0 0.00 0 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 5

While Rockies pitchers have only actually pitched in the big game five times, the overall stat line is impressive, especially when you remember that it’s against other All-Stars: Nine innings, seven strikeouts, one run, eight hits, four walks, two intentional walks. No homers. No earned runs.

One pitcher makes up for the bulk of those numbers: Aaron Cook. And it’s worth revisiting how amazing his three-inning performance in extra innings of the 2008 All-Star Game really was. While attending PlayBall Park on Monday as part of All-Star Game festivities, I was fortunate enough to listen to Cook reflect on his Yankee Stadium experience.

“It’s something I’ll never forget,” Cook said of the game. “It’s a highlight of my career, along with Game 4 of the 2007 World Series.”

His 2008 appearance was a dramatic, baserunner-filled, stress-inducing saga that featured 16 batters, two errors, four hits, and five free passes — intentional or otherwise. In other words, it was also the absolutely opposite of Márquez’s 2021 show. But the result was the same: zero runs.

When Cook entered the game in the 10th inning, at the direction of Rockies and NL manager Clint Hurdle, it was already after midnight. Being a groundball pitcher, Cook said he often told his infielders to be ready. This is also the message he gave to Miami’s Dan Uggla, but it didn’t work as well as he’d hoped. Uggla made back-to-back errors, leading to an intentional walk to load the bases with no outs. What did Cook do? Forced three straight groundouts — by Grady Sizemore, Evan Longoria, and Justin Morneau — and escaped the jam.

In the 11th, the defense showed up to support Cook. After Cook gave up a leadoff single to Ian Kinsler, Kinsler was thrown out stealing. Cook then walked Dioner Navarro and J.D. Drew followed with a single. When Michael Young also singled, it looked like Cook would be the losing pitcher on record, having given up the dreaded walk-off. But no, Pittsburgh’s Nate McLouth rocketed the ball in from center field to gun down Navarro at the plate. Carlos Quentin then grounded out and Cookie was in the clear again.

After the NL couldn’t capitalize in a bases-loaded scenario with one out in the top of the 12th (Uggla and Adrián González both struck out), Cook returned for his third inning. With two bases-loaded crises averted, Cook found a new challenge when Carlos Guillen led off with a double. A quick groundout and strikeout helped before the NL chose to intentionally walk Morneau. Then Kinsler grounded out again and Cook had held the AL All-Stars at bay for three innings.

“All these grey hairs I have in my beard are from Yankee Stadium,” Cook said with a smile on Monday.

No kidding!

He didn’t think about it at the time, but if the NL would have scored a run in the 12th, Cook could have been a candidate for the game’s MVP.

“People brought that to my attention later and I was like, ‘Dang it! I could have had a Corvette!’” Cook said.

Instead, the AL won 4-3 in 15 innings after Brad Lidge gave up a sac fly to Young to score Morneau. The MVP went to Drew, who hit a two-run homer to tie the game in the seventh.

Cook’s 2008 game is one of the most thrilling Rockies All-Star memories. And even though it took place in a game that doesn’t affect the Rockies at all, just like all the other All-Star Rockies hurlers, it says a lot about what’s possible.

Pitchers, whether they be starters or relievers, can be successful in Colorado. Whether draft picks who come up in the system (Cook, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Shawn Chacon), products of trades (Márquez, three-time Rockie All-Star Brian Fuentes, and Jason Marquis) or free agents (Mike Hampton and Greg Holland), they can be Colorado pitching All-Stars. The duration of success is obviously not guaranteed, but that’s true everywhere.

The current core of the rotation with Márquez, Jon Gray, Kyle Freeland, and Antonio Senzatela, as well as Austin Gomber, who has been pretty solid since being traded from the Cardinals, has potential to carry this team. The bullpen is another story and needs an overhaul.

Currently directionless, the past seems to dictate the future for the Rockies front office. Jeff Bridich’s big-three, $106-million-disaster signings of Jake McGee, Bryan Shaw, and Wade Davis won’t be forgotten anytime soon. The ghosts of Dan O’Dowd’s $121 million Mike Hampton deal and $51.5 million Denny Neagle deal also seem to forever haunt the offices at 21st and Blake. Outside of installing a culture of analytics to crack Coors Field hardships and offensive meltdowns on the road, the next permanent GM for the Rockies has to be willing to anchor the team in pitching and acquire pitchers who can work the altitude and readjust on the road. But they also need to realize that starting pitching isn’t everything and that the lineup needs more power to compete.

If there is one thing the 2021 team is continuing to prove, it’s that an effective rotation is possible Colorado. But the proof has been in the All-Star pitchers for years.

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Rockies GM Bill Schmidt on potential Trevor Story trade: “We are not a farm system for other people” | Denver Post ($)

If you ask the Yankees, they might disagree with you Mr. Schmidt.

Patrick Saunders also reported that Schmidt said, “I think we can find a good player in the draft, so we are not just going to give away players.”

There is a vast amount of evidence to the contrary to this as well if you were to ask the Cardinals, who were gifted Nolan Arenado and cash in the offseason.

But, maybe it shows a change in the Rockies front office thinking. Or, maybe it’s the same loyalty issues and denial of reality that can’t see players don’t want to stay in an organization that can’t seem to organize a plan for winning.

This has some interesting quotes from Schmidt. They could be curveballs to the media and other teams, or they could reveal real thinking. The next 15 days before the trade deadline will be interesting.

Keeler: Trevor Story in A’s green. Jon Gray in Dodgers blue. When asked about state of Rockies, national baseball writers weren’t kind | Denver Post ($)

In an interesting informal poll of sports reporters, Sean Keller solicited responses about the current and future state of the Rockies, as well as the fates of Trevor Story and Jon Gray, from the likes of ESPN’s Jeff Passan, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, The Athletic’s Eno Sarris, FanGraphs/ESPN’s Dan Syzmborski, and FanGraphs’ Ben Clemens. The headline summarizes the nature of the responses, but more specific words include “directionless,” “rebuilding,” “confusing,” “problematic,” and “disappointing” to name some of the terms. In the end, most think Story and Gray will be gone and that the biggest draw of the open GM job is being able to live in Denver. This is not a feel-good article.

Roundtable: A second-half breakout candidate for every team | The Athletic ($)

Nick Groke’s pick for the Rockies is catcher Elias Díaz. It’s a pretty good pick if Díaz keeps up his hot streak at the plate. From June 28 to July 11, Díaz hit .400/.477/.886 with a 1.333 OPS, five homers, nine RBI, six runs, and two doubles in 10 games.

On the farm

Triple-A: Albuquerque Isotopes 8, Sugar Land Skeeters 5

Ryan Vilade started this one off in style, hitting an inside-the-park home run in the first inning and also added an RBI double and scored another run in the third to help Albuquerque to a victory. Alan Trejo added an RBI double, Connor Joe and Taylor Motter chipped in RBI singles as part of a four-run third inning for the Isotopes. Motter added a three-run homer in the fifth that ended up being the difference in the game. Ryan Castellani (2-6) earned the win, giving up one earned run (two total) on three hits with two walks and four strikeouts in five innings.

Double-A: Hartford Yard Goats 5, New Hampshire Fisher Cats 2

Taylor Snyder hit a two-run homer and Coco Montes hit a three-run homer led the Yard Goats to victory. Snyder is now leading the Double-A Northeast division with 17 homers. With two solid innings of work, Will Gaddis (2-5) got the win as part of a five-inning shutout performance by the Hartford bullpen. The Yard Goats were down 2-0 before Synder and Montes hit their homers in the fourth and fifth innings.

High-A: Spokane Indians 14, Eugene Emeralds 11

Despite giving up a grand slam in the first inning, Spokane rallied back from a 9-1 deficit with a 10-run eighth inning for a thrilling win on Thursday night. The comeback started in the fifth, the Indians scored three runs when Nick Decolati hit an RBI single and the Emeralds issued two walks with the bases loaded.

But it was the eighth inning when things exploded. The Indians loaded the bases with no outs and Jack Blomgren started the scoring with a sac fly. Eugene then issued four bases-loaded walks, with an RBI single from Brenton Doyle in between, to cut the Emerald’s lead to 11-10. After spending most of the inning with the bases loaded, Daniel Cope cleared them with a double, which also put Spokane up 13-11. For good measure, Blomgren followed with another double to bring home Cope and give Spokane a three-run cushion that was more than enough as Dugan Darnell closed out a scoreless ninth for the save.

Low-A: Fresno Grizzlies 18, Stockton Ports 0

Hello Grizzly offense! Mateo Gil hit a two-run homer, Zac Veen and Ezequiel Tovar each added RBI singles, and the Ports made a two-run error as part of a six-run Fresno fourth inning on the way to a landslide win on Thursday night. Fresno was already up 10 after five innings, but a seven-run ninth inning added another level.

Veen finished the 4-for-4 night with two homers, six RBI, three runs scored, and two walks. Trevor Boone also hit a homer and every single position-playing Grizzly scored at least one run. Anderson Amarista started the game with five shutout innings with one hit, two walks, and two strikeouts. Tony Locey followed with three scoreless, one-hit innings with three strikeouts, and Anderson Pilar closed out the game with a perfect ninth.

★ ★ ★

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