The scene was July 11, 2020. Coors Field was empty. The Colorado Rockies were in uniform. COVID-induced summer camp had just begun, and the presumed future face of Rockies pitching was on the hill — wearing number 80.
Ryan Rolison has not touched a big league mound since 2020 summer camp, and his fate since then has been absolutely gut-wrenching.
The young left-hander was confined to the COVID alternate site in 2020, shut out of minor league innings. He picked back up in Triple-A in 2021, but after just 25 days of action, appendicitis shut him down for two whole months. For part of those two months, he couldn’t even walk. Just to make things worse, he fractured a finger in his throwing hand that year while shagging batting practice.
This guy just couldn’t catch a break.
In 2022, Rolison will open the season on the 60-day injured list due to a shoulder strain. Only time will tell the severity of the strain itself, but as each ticking second passes, it’s another second without his presence in the big leagues.
He was supposed to be a staple in the MLB rotation by now. Instead, he’s stuck dealing with things that are largely out of his control right now — and largely preventing his big league dreams from being fulfilled.
The Diagnosis: How serious is ‘left shoulder strain’?
We don’t know.
We do know Rolison has received two anti-inflammatory shots, but those aren’t exactly magic injections that project his path to the mound again. Media reports have not disclosed the exact location of Rolison’s shoulder strain (and medical privacy could prevent it from surfacing), but there is a lot going on in any shoulder and some locations are more favorable than others.
We also haven’t seen any reports that Rolison will undergo medical imaging for a full muscle or tendon injury, which is a great sign. It doesn’t mean he’s in a ‘great’ spot because of it, but it suggests there isn’t structural damage and he can (hopefully) recover without surgical intervention.
In March 2020, Rockies starter Peter Lambert was diagnosed with a forearm strain that was initially “mild to moderate.” This eventually progressed to Tommy John surgery (the repair of a ligament that attaches bone to bone — not tendons), and while an escalation like that is not always common, it goes to show how a diagnosis of ‘strain’ can be vague and subject to an unknown timetable.
For now, at least, anything shy of an MRI for Rolison is a good sign.
Rolison won’t be able to work his shoulder like normal for as long as his strain persists. This could prompt the Rockies to remain cautious over his debut until he regains key measures of shoulder strength, but how long is the organization willing to wait when Rolison has already been forced to wait so long?
He will turn 25 in July — and he could have debuted at 23.
When could he have debuted?
The Rockies were in need of some rotational help in September 2021 as Jon Gray landed on the injured list in September (right forearm tightness; Gray is now Texas’ Opening Day starter a few months later). Colorado called upon the services of Ryan Feltner straight out of Double-A, and it would have presumably been Triple-A Rolison getting the nod if appendicitis didn’t have him sidelined.
Colorado initially brought on Jhoulys Chacín for long relief help last year, one day before the season started, and he finished the year as a short-relief setup guy. It goes to show how long-inning guys were at a premium for the Rockies last year, and a guy like Rolison would have been perfect to groom and shape in the wake of Gray’s departure this year.
Let’s rewind the clock to another ‘could-have-been’: the Rockies were short on left-handed relievers in 2020 and Rolison was available if the club were willing to break his starter billing. Over half of the National League made the postseason that year in the special COVID realignment, prompting teams like the Rockies to bolster their bullpen with pickups for arms like Mychal Givens.
Some starters, like Tampa Bay’s Shane McClanahan, debuted in a 2020 reliever fashion. (McClanahan even debuted in the postseason, which was a first in MLB history.) This would have at least allowed Rolison to get his feet wet, arbitration clock be damned.
Colorado has instead opted to play the long game on Rolison, waiting to open a competitive window where the young lefty can serve as the next homegrown starter.
2022 is a year to root for Ryan Rolison, just like 2020 and 2021. It’s an understatement to call his debut a long-anticipated one, but it can make a hopeful debut that much sweeter.
Remember your optimism on Opening Day in two days. Be mindful of your enthusiasm — and know that Rolison deserves every ounce of that enthusiasm when his time comes.
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Rockies Select Ty Blach | MLB Trade Rumors
The innings that Ty Blach will be receiving are the presumable frames that Rolison would be in line for. Bill Schmidt landed Blach and Chad Kuhl before Cactus League action began, and with injuries to both Rolison and now Peter Lambert, those deals could be vital in providing depth.
MLB rosters are open for 28 players for the first month of the season, which will provide a little bit of a pitching cushion.
Rockies Mailbag: What can we expect from Kris Bryant? What’s the plan for Connor Joe? | The Athletic
Nick Groke published an awesome article on Monday that captured some ballpark atmosphere that becomes a welcome sight on Opening Day. He also covers the fan-favorite Connor Joe and new fan-favorite Kris Bryant, suggesting how their contributions can play into that very atmosphere at 20th and Blake.
Cactus League: Brewers 8, Rockies 7
Germán Márquez tossed five innings on Monday night in his final tune-up, holding the Brewers to three hits and two runs. The Rockies then ran out their A-list bullpen in Alex Colomé, Daniel Bard and Carlos Estévez; they allowed a combined eight hits in three innings of work, letting up three runs.
Yonathan Daza was the only Rockie to record multiple hits, going 2-for-2 with two singles. Charlie Blackmon hit his second home run this spring in the seventh inning.
Colorado will take on the Cleveland Guardians this afternoon at Salt River Fields, breaking camp and heading to Denver upon conclusion. The beloved Salt River will then await some top minor league prospects upon return of the Arizona Fall League this October.
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