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Austin Gomber has the opportunity to reclaim his starting spot

Colorado Rockies news and links for Thursday, February 23rd, 2023

For a few months in 2021 it appeared that left-handed pitcher Austin Gomber was one of the best players the Colorado Rockies got back in the Nolan Arenado trade. After a bumpy first outing against the Los Angeles Dodgers in which he walked seven batters he quickly became a solid pitcher on a solid starting rotation.

In his first season working exclusively as a starter Gomber finished the year with an ERA of 4.53 over 115 13 innings with 113 strikeouts. At Coors Field he threw up a shocking ERA of just 2.09 over nine starts and 47 13 innings with opposing batters hitting just .187/.257/.319 against him. In late June he landed on the 10-day IL with tightness in his pitching arm and struggled to regain form after returning. His season would then end prematurely due to pars defect—a stress fracture—in his lower back. Although it was a disappointing conclusion, Rockies fans seemingly had a lot to look forward to from a healthy Gomber in 2022.

Austin Gomber - Before and After IL

April 4 - June 19 15 78.1 3.68 .211 .270 .353 9 76 23
July 21 - August 31 8 37 6.32 .272 .257 .550 11 37 18

Gomber’s first two starts in 2022 came with mixed results after a shortened spring training due to the owner-initiated lockout. He worked 4 23 and 4 13 innings and in his second start he gave up four earned runs on eight hits and four walks. However, he quickly straightened things out and rattled off three straight quality starts. On April 23rd against the Detroit Tigers he struck out a season high eight batters while only giving up four hits and no walks in a six inning shutout performance.

After a May 9th loss to the San Francisco Giants, Gomber pitched another two straight quality starts. Though he only had five total strikeouts and gave up seven hits in the second start, overall he was pitching well. Through his first eight starts and 46 innings he had an ERA of 4.11 and a 4.18 FIP.

The wheels fell off on May 28th when Gomber got bullied by the Washington Nationals to the tune of eight earned runs on seven hits and three walks over just 1 13 innings of work. He followed that up with a clunker against the defending Champion Atlanta Braves where he dropped nine earned runs on ten hits, including two home runs. Gomber followed that up with a quality start before another tough outing—this time against the Cleveland Guardians—took him out of the rotation.

Gomber lost his spot in the starting rotation and was moved into the bullpen to operate in long relief. He ended up with only one less bullpen appearance (16) than he had starts (17) for the entire year.

Austin Gomber - Pitching by Role in 2022

Starter 5 7 5.75 17 87.2 101 59 56 13 25 68
Reliever 0 0 5.11 16 37 36 21 21 7 9 27
Total 5 7 5.56 33 124.2 137 80 77 20 34 95

Gomber struggled to adapt to pitching out of the bullpen, giving up at least one earned run in 13 of his 16 relief appearances. He allowed more than one run in seven relief appearances, with his worst coming on August 18th against his former team in the St. Louis Cardinals. In 2 13 innings Gomber gave up five earned runs with most of the damage coming off of one bat: Albert Pujols as a pinch hitter clobbering his 690th career home run. After Gomber loaded the bases with three walks and a single, Pujols took him deep on the second pitch of the at-bat for a grand slam.

Austin Gomber has his work cut out for him if he wants to reclaim his spot in the Rockies’ rotation for 2023, but it’s not impossible. He has multiple factors working in his favor, the first of which is that he’s finally fully healthy. After losing the end of 2021 to a back fracture, he not only spent the entire 2022 season without landing on the IL but also pitched 124 23 innings for a career high. I would argue this also helped him to get used to major league workloads. 2021 was Gomber’s first season pitching more than 75 innings and his first season working exclusively as a starter.

Gomber also has the advantage in the Rockies’ lack of starting pitching depth. The only two members of the rotation set in stone are Germán Márquez and Kyle Freeland. José Ureña is penciled in at no. 3 but no other starters are confirmed. Ryan Feltner will be competing for an opening day rotation spot. Antonio Senzatela isn’t expected back until at least May as he recuperates from his torn ACL while Ryan Rolison and Peter Lambert have had their struggles with injuries and not pitched much over the last two seasons. The majority of the remaining competition will be prospects such as Karl Kauffmann or Noah Davis.

Here on Purple Row, Mario DeGenz crafted an extremely in-depth game plan for Gomber moving forwards.

“Some might have given up on Gomber after his difficult 2022 season,” he concludes. “But I’m not one of those people. Lefties with a unique release point, no significant strike-throwing issues and three quality non-fastballs do not grow on trees, and I’m quite confident in Austin Gomber moving forward. He has a lot of tools to be a consistently good part of a Rockies rotation that desperately needs stability, and while the phrase “internal improvements” can be an eye-roll for many, in this case it’s warranted.”

Gomber still has a wicked curveball and a lot of tools to be successful at the big league level, and like Mario I’m not prepared to give up on him. It won’t be easy, but Gomber is being given an opportunity going into spring training: to reclaim his spot in a beleaguered rotation. I firmly hope he makes the most of it.

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If you haven’t yet, I strongly recommend reading Skyler Timmins’ three-part series exploring the life and career of Big Don Baylor. The third and final part released this week and it is an excellent exploration of the Rockies’ first manager.

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After a rookie campaign where he wasn’t utilized very much, corner infielder Elehuris Montero is going into spring training trying to earn a spot on the Opening Day 26-man roster. Skipper Bud Black would like to see him “[make] more contact, [be] a little more selective.”

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