Last week I wrote about the idea that the success of the 2023 Colorado Rockies rests mainly on the performance of their starting rotation. After two turns through the rotation everyone, aside from José Ureña, has now turned in at least one serviceable/solid outing. It’s all a mixed bag of results but Rockies fans held their breath in worry after Germán Márquez left his start on Monday with some sort of right forearm injury.
Luckily, there isn’t any major damage, and is more of a strain, but this injury is worrisome because it would leave an already fragile rotation even more vulnerable should Márquez end up having to miss any significant amount of time on the injured list. The reason is that the depth for starting pitchers doesn’t appear as strong as it does for other positions on the team. So, should Márquez or any of the other starters go down, what are some of the contingencies that the Rockies can turn to in their time of need?
The first and most obvious solution should any of the starters go down (and until Antonio Senzatela comes back in May) is to simply move Connor Seabold to the rotation. Acquired from the Boston Red Sox in the offseason, Seabold turned in a strong enough campaign in spring training to earn a spot on the Opening Day roster. Thus far he has been used as a long reliever out of the bullpen tossing 5 1⁄3 innings across two games. It’s a small sample size, but Seabold hasn’t been quite as effective as he may have hoped to be. In those five innings, he has allowed five runs on seven hits, including a home run. However, he has seven strikeouts to zero walks, proving that he is finding the zone — maybe a little too much— which bodes well for a team that has struggled with walks. He’s at least worth a look in the rotation in some sense, especially if Ureña continues to struggle.
Peter Lambert is another hopeful that would be able to get the call, but his concern is that he is still trying to build up his pitch count after losing the past few seasons to injury. Lambert has thrown just 41 2⁄3 innings since 2019, last pitching in the big leagues in 2021 and throwing seven innings in the Arizona Fall League in 2022. He has thrown just 4 1⁄3 innings down in Triple-A Albuquerque this season, allowing three runs on six hits across two games. It’s going to be a while until Lambert is capable of bolstering the team in any way.
Noah Davis feels like the first option to call up from the minors if a need is to be filled. Davis appeared in just one game at the end of the 2022 season, allowing two runs on three hits in one inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He turned in a solid spring training this year, posting a 4.14 ERA in 13 innings across four starts. Down in Albuquerque, he’s turned in three so-so outings, tossing 12 2⁄3 innings in total and allowing eight runs, six earned, on 14 hits. Currently, Davis is struggling with his command, having issued seven walks to just six strikeouts and has hit four batters. He has to prove he can command his pitches and pound the zone and induce the weak contact he needs before he can truly be asked to get big-league hitters out.
There is, of course, the other option of having Ty Blach make some starts, but he seems to fit better into the left-handed long-reliever role at the current moment.
Down in Albuquerque the next man up should a spot be opened seems to loom over Karl Kauffman the most. Drafted in 2019, Kauffman has quickly risen through the ranks of the system and is now in his second stint in Triple-A. After arriving there in 2022, Kauffman has struggled slightly with the adjustment to pitching in the Pacific Coast League, a place notorious for difficult pitching. In two starts he has an 8.00 ERA having allowed eight runs on 14 hits in nine innings of work. He is also struggling with his command a bit, issuing four walks to five strikeouts. The potential is there and he can be a solid pitching option, but he needs to clean up a few things before that can happen.
Jeff Criswell might be the outside candidate for a job at the moment, but he’s quickly becoming an underdog favorite. In two games in Albuquerque (one start), Criswell has allowed three runs on six hits in 5 2⁄3 innings. It’s still a small sample size, but he’s got some zip to his pitches that has helped him tally seven punch outs to four walks. Again, the command is a theme for all these guys, but Criswell is proving that when he is on, he’s an effective pitcher and it’s going to be interesting to follow his development in his first season with the organization.
While he isn’t being used as a starter currently, Logan Allen is another option should the Rockies need one. Currently, Allen is being used as some sort of piggyback long reliever in Albuquerque. So far, things are looking good after 6 1⁄3 innings of work as he has posted a 2.84 ERA after allowing just two runs on four hits across three games. He currently leads the team with 11 strikeouts and has issued just two walks. As a low-risk type of option, the Rockies could decide to call up Allen to see how he does in the rotation and give the younger guys a chance to develop more before being rushed to the big leagues.
Beyond Triple-A, things get quite a bit more desolate as major league-ready talent just isn’t there yet. There are definitely strong candidates in Case Williams and Joe Rock, but they are in Double-A Hartford and need time to develop like so many others. The starting pitching is bottom-heavy in the organization, and the Rockies are willing to move guys up quicker this year if they prove they are handling their level.
There is of course the option to bring in some veteran depth to eat innings. The problem with that is the free agent market is fairly desolate of any significant help.
Perhaps the Rockies could go after Dallas Keuchel who has struggled the past few years but was drawing interest from multiple teams recently.
Perhaps they could go after Chris Archer who was okay with Minnesota last season but has seen an uptick in walks and fewer strikeouts but can get groundballs, something the Rockies love.
Perhaps they could scour the trade market and waiver wire to bring in some help to bridge the gap that is threatening the rotation. It’s too tough to tell, but the fact remains that some contingencies need to be in place to help the team.
Plan for the worst
The Rockies are intent on planning their future on the young guns coming up through the system. There is plenty of talent and potential in that belief but it still can’t blind you from preparing for the here and now. For too long the Rockies have banked on the general health of their starting rotation but that is getting more and more dangerous the older the rotation gets. At the moment, the prospect options aren’t quite ready for that jump to the big leagues. There are on the cusp but need a little more time. The Rockies need to patch up the holes in the foundation, otherwise, an already fragile structure is going to collapse and present problems and the bottom of the hill.
★ ★ ★
Rockies fans can breathe a sigh of relief as there is no significant damage for one of our most important starting pitchers. As mentioned before, it was a worrisome sight for him to leave with an injury, but a strain is better than something worse. He’ll remain day-to-day as he continues to be evaluated.
2022 first-round pick Gabriel Hughes is down in High-A Spokane to start the season, which is a nice connection since he pitched at Gonzaga and is quite familiar with the Pacific Northwest.
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On the Farm
The late-game offense resulted in a closer game than either team would have liked as the Albuquerque Isotopes won 13-8. Noah Davis started on the mound and allowed four runs, two earned, in 4 2⁄3 innings of work, issuing a walk and tallying a strikeout. The backend of the bullpen was roughed up with Matt Carasiti and Nick Mears surrendering seven runs in 2 2⁄3 innings combined. Offensively, however, Daniel Cope led the way with a four-hit, four RBI night, including a home run in the second inning. Hunter Stovall also turned out three hits and drove in a pair of runs. In total, the Isotopes pounded out 17 hits.
An exciting four-run top of the eighth by the Hartford Yard Goats was the difference maker as they took down the Fightin Phils 8-6. Chris McMahon started on the hill, allowing four runs on six hits in three innings of work, but did strike out five batters. Blake Goldsberry carried the torch effortlessly in three innings of relief, surrendering just two hits and giving way to Dugan Darnell for the win with Nick Kuzia recording the save. Bladimir Restituyo led the way offensively, tallying three hits, including a seventh-inning home run to go back-to-back with Julio Carreras. Zac Veen added two hits in the game while all but one starter in the game collected a base knock.
Gabriel Hughes turned in a fantastic first start of the year for Spokane, tossing five no-hit innings with six strikeouts and no walks. Sterlin Thompson led the way offensively with three hits while Braxton Fulford launched a home run as part of Spokane’s nine hits. Things got a little hairy as Eugene scored three runs off Tyler Ahearn in the seventh inning, but the rest of the bullpen held things in place to secure the victory.
Fresno loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth, but came up just short, losing 5-4 to Stockton. Caleb Franzen started on the mound and took the loss, allowing three runs on four hits in four innings of work with four strikeouts and two walks. Andy Perez had a strong night at the top of the lineup, going 3-for-5 with a double and scoring two runs. As a team, the Grizzlies totaled nine hits but struck out nine times, going 3-for-8 with RISP.
★ ★ ★
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