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Even if Márquez and Freeland bounce back, the Rockies need to re-establish a core rotation

Colorado Rockies news and links for Friday, February 17, 2023

Since 2017, two starters have been the core and promise of the Colorado Rockies. As go Germán Márquez and Kyle Freeland, so go the Rockies.

Márquez will turn 28 on Feb. 22 and Freeland will turn 30 in May. Even though a possible Rockies window for postseason contention is still a few seasons away, now is the time for Márquez and Freeland to right the ship and deliver on their potential. With Márquez and Freeland splitting their time between Salt River Fields at Talking Stick and the World Baseball Classic, this spring training could provide the perfect opportunity for the Rockies two best starters to get their groove back. At the same time, the next pieces of the rotation need to step up as more innings will be available to prove their stuff in Márquez and Freeland’s absence.

Márquez debuted in 2016, only making three starts, but then made 29 starts in 2017 and he’s made at least that many each season since (with the obvious exception of 2020). In 2017 and 2018 when the Rockies made back-to-back playoff appearances, he went 25-18 in 62 starts with a 4.05 ERA with 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings. In 2019, Márquez’s ERA jumped from 3.77 in 2018 to 4.76 and the Rockies record went from winning 91 games to losing 91 games.

In the first half of 2021, Márquez was lights out with a 3.36 ERA, an 8-6 record with three complete games in 19 starts with 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings. After earning his first All-Star bid, he struggled in the second half, posting a 6.12 ERA over 67 2/3 innings in 13 games. That same downward trend continued in 2022 when he put up his highest ERA in a complete season in his career at 4.95 and failed to win 10 games for the first time in a full season in his six years in MLB.

Freeland debuted in 2017, putting up a 28-18 record over 61 starts in his first two seasons with a 3.39 ERA. Then came the downfall. In 2019, Freeland’s development regressed as he posted a 3-11 record with a 6.73 ERA and was sent back to the minors to try to fix the problems. He’s slowly improved over the last three seasons, putting up an 18-22 record and 4.43 ERA and passing the 30-games started mark in 2022 for the first time since 2017.

The Value of Competition

Márquez figures to be a key figure in the rotation for Venezuela, who will be playing in the WBC in Miami March 11-15, and possibly all the way up to March 21 if Venezuela makes it to the finals. Freeland, after initially not being named as a member of Team U.S.A. last week when the rosters were announced, is now officially on the team, having replaced the injured Nestor Cortes. He’ll be playing in Phoenix March 11-15 and could be off to Miami through March 21 depending on how well the U.S. does.

Both starters could benefit from playing in competitions where winning matters and the world is watching. That hasn’t been the case for the Rockies since they were eliminated from the playoffs by the Brewers in Game 3 of the NLDS on Oct. 7, 2018 — 1,594 days ago. Freeland thrives on competition and is mentally as tough as they get. He’ll also be playing along one of the best lefties in the game in Clayton Kershaw and playing under another lefty great, pitching coach Andy Pettitte. It seems like the perfect environment to get back on track.

For Márquez, he was a kid when the WBC debuted in 2006. In 2017, the last time the WBC was held, Márquez was fighting for a place in the Rockies rotation and couldn’t afford any distractions. This year, he’ll be able to play for this country for the first time.

“From when I was a kid, I wanted to have the ‘Venezuela’ letters on my chest,” Márquez told’s Thomas Harding back in August. “It’s going to be a dream, and I have to be ready.”

This could be the opportunity he’s needed to regain his control and confidence.

In the best-case scenario, if Márquez and Freeland stay healthy and have good seasons, they will still only combine to start maybe 37% of the Rockies games. Both have new mindsets for 2023, as Harding highlighted earlier this week. No matter how they do, they still need help.

In an interview with MLB Network earlier this week, Freeland spoke about the importance of the Rockies arms.

“First and foremost, we gotta be healthy,” Freeland said. “It’s going to come down to our pitching and I believe us five [the starting rotation] are going to be the leaders of this team and it will be carried on our shoulders whether we are going to make it to the playoffs or not and how deep we go.”

Depth in the Rotation

Antonio Senzatela, who turned 28 in January, is also key to the Rockies future. He continues to complete rehab after surgery to repair a torn ACL he suffered on Aug. 18 and isn’t expected to be back in action until May. Even then, it would be wise to ease him in slowly, especially when you consider that the trio of Freeland, Márquez, and Senzatela “have combined for 2,428.2 innings, more than any other trio for one team in MLB since the start of the 2017 season,” as reported by The DNVR’s Patrick Lyons in December.

Senzatela posted the highest ERA of his career in the Rockies downturn year of 2019 at 6.71, but rebounded with 3.44 in 2020 and 4.42 in 2021 before going back up to 5.07 last season. His health and his success are almost just as important as Freeland and Márquez.

If the Rockies are going to make steps in improving from a 68-94 2022 record (probably not .500 yet), and begin to re-establish (anything to avoid the word “rebuilding”) a solid rotation, Freeland, Márquez, and Senzatela need to be the core. But they also need support from the No. 4, No. 5, and probably a No. 6 arm, as well as a strong contender for more backups and a long reliever to help weather the 162-game marathon season.

In 2017, the Rockies only had a combination of six pitchers who started games (Márquez 29, Freeland 28, Tyler Chatwood 25, Senzatela 20, Tyler Anderson 15, and Chad Bettis 9). They only needed seven in 2018 (Freeland and Márquez 33 each, Anderson 32, Jon Gray 31, Bettis 20, Senzatela 13, and Jeff Hoffman 1). The rotation splintered after that due to struggles and injuries with 11 different starting pitchers in 2019 (Márquez 28, Gray and Senzatela 25 each, Freeland 22, Peter Lambert 19, Hoffman 15, Chi Chi González 12, Tim Melville 7, Anderson 5, Bettis 3, and Roco Garcia 1).

Ignoring the pandemic-shortened 2020, the Rockies needed 12 different starters in 2021 (Márquez 32, Gray 29, Senzatela 28, Freeland 23, Austin Gomber 23, González 18, Ryan Feltner and Lambert had two each, and Lucas Gilbreath, Austin Goudeau, Ryan Castellani, and Jhoulys Chacín each started one game). The list of starters got shorter last season when it shrunk back to eight (Márquez and Freeland 31 each, Chad Kuhl 27, Sentazela 19, Gomber, Feltner, and José Ureña 17 each, and Ty Blach 1).

This season, the number needs to continue to stay low with Márquez and Freeland in the 30s and Ureña proving 2022 wasn’t a fluke. But who will take Kuhl’s innings? Who will step up until Senzatela comes back?

This is the time for LHP Austin Gomber (29), RHP Ryan Feltner (26), and RHP Peter Lambert (25) to prove if they belong or not, while LHP Ryan Rolison (25) is still about a month away from action as he continues to recover from shoulder surgery. They will be challenged by new Rockies RHP Connor Seabold (27), RHP Jeff Criswell (23), and RHP T.J. Zeuch (27), as well as other non-roster invitees and prospects, like RPH Noah Davis (25), trying to crack into the lineup.

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Rockies spring training report: Kyle Freeland says “we can’t accept losing anymore” | Denver Post ($)

This is why we love Kyle Freeland. He’s not complacent. He’s not dreaming of a .500 season. As reported by Patrick Saunders, he’s determined to change the mindset in the organization, saying, “If we are OK with losing, it’s going to be another long year. It’s time to go out and expect to win a baseball game and not just hope to win a baseball game.” This is a good one to read to feel more encouraged about the vibe Freeland is setting in the clubhouse.

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