Heading into spring training, Lucas Gilbreath was counted on by many to be a key piece in the Colorado Rockies’ bullpen after his terrific 2021 performance. As spring training went along, Ty Blach continued to impress and his chances to crack the Opening Day roster got better with each game. As the spring concluded and the regular season neared, Colorado’s left-handed bullpen options looked set with the addition of Blach in a long-relief role to complement Gilbreath’s middle-relief profile.
Unfortunately, Gilbreath landed on the COVID-19 injured list, causing a minor setback to the start of the season. No worries, though. Blach delivered four scoreless innings in the third game of the season and Gilbreath was expected back soon, so all was well. Fast forward to today and there is one word that can describe the Rockies left-handed relief situation over the first 26 games: unreliable.
Rockies LHRP 2022
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Heading into the 27th game of the season, the numbers from lefty relievers out of the Rockies’ pen have been dismal. The number of lefty options were thin to begin with, but with Gilbreath missing the start of the season the majority of the work has fallen on Ty Blach. Blach was sturdy in his first two appearances, but has thrown just one scoreless inning in his last four outings. His work has accounted for 11 ⅓ of the total 14 ⅔ innings thrown by a lefty out of the pen this season, which is the sixth lowest total of all 30 bullpens.
To say a minor league free agent hasn’t lit the world on fire after making the big-league roster is not an unexpected result, though. This is a pitcher that hadn’t pitched in the majors since 2019 and earned a spot on the roster as one of the lowest on the totem pole. It’s fair to expect a better performance from a big league pitcher, but one thing to consider is the fact that Blach is taking on the lefty role by himself due to the decline Lucas Gilbreath has experienced this season.
In 2021, Gilbreath was awesome. Over 42 ⅔ innings, he held down a 3.38 ERA with 44 strikeouts and opponents mustered just a .635 OPS against him. But this season, everything has turned for the worse. His fastball is down a full notch below his 2021 average, averaging at 92.2 MPH this season and opponents are taking advantage of it.
He’s carrying a 16.20 ERA in four big-league appearances with six hits and four walks allowed in 3 ⅓ innings. His ineffective performance earned him a trip to Albuquerque to straighten things out against Triple-A competition. In five appearances there, he holds a 9.64 ERA with opponents hitting to a .364 average and .849 OPS against him.
A relief pitcher’s numbers can vary wildly early in the season, and one rough night in his first outing back in Albuquerque is the culprit for his unsightly numbers. He has righted the ship since, throwing three scoreless innings in three outings since getting beaten around by the Sacramento River Cats (SF) on April 29.
If Gilbreath is on the mend and close to returning to his 2021 form, that will go a long way towards improving the bullpen. But if he is not able to regain his form, the Rockies don’t have many left-handed bullpen options behind him. Blach is still on the active roster, but has had trouble producing scoreless outings. Ben Bowden was recently scooped up by Tampa Bay after getting DFA’d at the end of April and the two other lefties on the 40-man roster – Ryan Rolison and Helcris Olivarez – are currently on the injured list with shoulder issues. In the minors, Reagan Todd or recently promoted Nick Kennedy are candidates from Triple-A to take on a big-league bullpen job, as is P.J. Poulin in Double-A Hartford. But relief prospects are rarely a given to succeed when called up to the majors, so an answer coming from that crowd will need to be seen to be believed.
The need for bullpen balance is not what it once was. The three-batter rule minimum officially killed the LOOGY so going with relievers who can fare well against hitters from either side of the plate regardless of their pitch handedness has rightfully become prioritized. But that doesn’t mean match-ups don’t still exist. The time will come to decide on who faces Freddie Freeman and Max Muncy in the late innings of a close NL West game, or any other team’s lefty-heavy part of the order in a similar situation. The Rockies may have to stick with a righty in that spot because the work from their left-handed options so far has not been good enough to trust in any high-leverage roles.
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Kris Bryant disappointment, why call-ups ride the pine and the top three relievers: Rockies mailbag | The Athletic ($)
Nick Groke touches on some recent questions from the fans. To start, he does see Kris Bryant being much better than he showed in his first 15 games, but only relative to his capabilities at this point in his career. He also touches on the struggles of Germán Márquez to start the season, how José Iglesias has fared filling Trevor Story’s shoes, the top relievers so far and what factors into starting a prospect after they get the call up to the major league team.
Rockies podcast: German Marquez’s struggles, Colorado’s road trip to Arizona and San Francisco, Kris Bryant injury update | Denver Post
Kyle Newman and Patrick Saunders put out their latest episode of the On the Rox podcast. On top of previewing the six-game road-trip, Newman and Saunders also discuss Germán Márquez and the timeline for Kris Bryant’s return.
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On the Farm
Alan Trejo gave Albuquerque an early lead with a two-run double in the top of the first inning, but the lead didn’t last long. Oklahoma City came out swinging early, posting six runs in three innings against Isotopes’ starter Dillon Overton. Former Rockies outfielder Kevin Pillar accounted for most of the damage, homering in the first and second innings before hitting adding another RBI with a sacrifice fly in the third. The Dodgers would add three more in the middle innings, but the three they posted in the bottom of the first would prove to be enough as Albuquerque went scoreless in the final eight innings. Wynton Bernard had two hits off the bench.
Karl Kauffmann was electric in his home ballpark, earning the victory with eight shutout innings against Bighamton. Kauffmann retired the first seven hitters of the game and allowed just five hits overall. He had multiple strikeouts in the first, fifth and sixth innings, finishing with nine total without issuing a walk. Willie MacIver hit a two-run homer (8) in the fourth to open the scoring and drove in all four runs for Hartford. Fineas Del Bonta-Smith finished the shutout with a perfect ninth inning.
High-A: Spokane Indians, Tri- City Dust Devils (PPD)
Brayan Castillo had a tough outing for the Grizzlies at home, surrendering six runs on seven hits in four innings, earning his second loss of the season. Down by two entering their first at-bat, Braiden Ward hit a two-run homer (2) to tie up the ballgame, but that is all Fresno would get on the board this evening. The Nuts would plate three runs in the third and one in the fourth, chasing Castillo and putting the game out of reach. Ward finished the evening with two hits, as did second baseman Juan Brito. Sergio Sanchez threw two scoreless innings of relief, lowering his season ERA to 1.88.
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