The first cycle through the Colorado Rockies rotation was a mixed bag of results. It was the one aspect of the team that was left relatively untouched during the offseason by general manager Bill Schmidt and the team’s plan of attack seems to simply hope and pray that they perform better in 2023. With reinforcements down in Triple-A that don’t necessarily blow you out of the water, there is a sense of pressure for the starting pitchers to outperform their own expectations if the Rockies hope to show forth any type of competitive nature this season.
As a group
It’s still incredibly early in the season, but the rotation seems to have continued some trends from years past. Once again, this rotation is not going to strike out many opposing batters. Entering Thursday the Rockies rank 28th with a 6.23 K/9 and have allowed the fourth most walks at 13, but rank ninth with a 10.2 BB%. Due to the fact the Rockies won’t necessarily wrack up strikeouts, it becomes even more imperative that they severely limit walks.
The reason for this is that the Rockies are going to give up a lot of contact. So far, the Rockies starters are finding success with the ball in play, posting a .221 BABIP which is second lowest in all of baseball just behind the Miami Marlins. On the other hand, the Rockies are inducing more flyballs than they are groundballs at the moment, which is playing with fire. A 44.4 FB% is made when worse you realize that the Rockies have given the second-most hard-hit balls in all of baseball.
With over 47 baseballs registered with an exit velocity of over 93 mph, the Rockies trail only the Toronto Blue Jays to start the season. The rotation has also allowed an average launch angle of 16.5 degrees, which ranks fifth in the majors. Over 46% of pitches hit off of Rockies' starting pitchers have been recorded as hard-hit balls, that number has to get better for this group, otherwise more players like Jason Heyward are going to look like they are back in their prime.
A good point of reference is the fact the Rockies have recorded three quality starts and have pitched into the sixth inning four times. A quality start may just have to be the standard expected every time a pitcher takes the mound because you don’t want to fall into a situation like Saturday against the Padres and Monday against the Dodgers.
It looked like through Spring Training and Opening Day that perhaps Márquez was going to get back to his ace form for what is essentially a contract year. In his first start against the San Diego Padres, Márquez did what he needed to do, allowing two runs on five hits in six innings of work and striking out five. It was a solid first outing and was exactly the type of start the Rockies need him to make the majority of the season.
Unfortunately, he was hit hard by the Dodgers, giving up three home runs, and had trouble finding the zone at times and missing bats. The key for Márquez will be to stay ahead of hitters and reduce the times that he is making little mistakes over the plate that quickly dig a hole for himself and the team. Luckily, it doesn’t appear this start has phased him much which is a good first step to continually improving.
Márquez has to find a way to clear his mind and get back to pitching the way he did when he was named an All-Star in 2021 and not whatever he became since that moment. If he can’t figure it out, the Rockies will have to look for a potential trade this season, or decline his $16 million option for 2024 and try to re-sign him at a different salary.
While this isn’t a contract year for Freeland, it’s a year in which he will have to prove that he is worth the lucrative contract extension he signed last year. After two solid outings in the World Baseball Classic, Freeland showed flashes of his 2018 Cy Young Award-worthy season in his first start of the year. Freelands’s success will come when he is deceptive and pounds the zone. He won’t overpower his opponents, evidenced by the one strikeout in six shutout innings last Friday, but he needs to keep throwing strikes and inducing groundballs.
Freeland has been inducing more flyballs, which is not typical of him. He had an even 1:1 GB/FB rate in his first start, which will play out fine on the road, but he’ll have to be careful at Coors Field that he doesn’t leave something high and over the plate that results in a ball 415 feet in the left field stands. Freeland is going to have to be the leader of this rotation, responsible for being the heart and soul that can pull the starters together and help them elevate as a group. He has the passion and vocal ability to do it, and if he can lead by word and deed, this rotation will be better off.
Out of the five members of the rotation, Ureña may have the shortest leash if he turns out more performances like his first start of the season. Lasting just 2 1⁄3 innings, he allowed four runs on five hits and issued four free passes. He threw 71 pitches and induced just four ground ball outs. The Rockies need Ureña to pitch more like his 2022 self where he pitched into the sixth inning in the majority of his starts because of his ability to throw strikes and get grounders. There isn’t much cost sunk into his contract, so when Antonio Senzatela is able to return in a month’s time, the Rockies will need to take a good long look at Ureña.
Aside from a pair of home runs in the third inning, Austin Gomber turned in solid start that you will take every time out of your fourth starter. Allowing three runs on four hits and striking out four with a walk in six innings of work was a welcome sight for Gomber. After losing his rotation spot in an abysmal 2022 campaign, the Rockies need Gomber to perform and try to salvage the rapidly delaying corpse that is the Nolan Arenado trade. Only Gomber, Elehuris Montero, and Jake Sommers to a degree, remain from the five players that came to Colorado from St. Louis.
Gomber has the potential to be a solid contributor is if efforts to incorporate a new fastball at home pay off and he can remain consistent with his elite curveball and ability to spin sliders. He doesn’t have to blow us away, but if he can deliver five to six serviceable innings each time that gives the Rockies a chance to win, that’s the best we can ask for.
Things were looking like a fairly solid first outing of the year for Ryan Feltner against the Dodgers. Aside from an early two-run home run by Chris Taylor and three walks, Feltner was battling and keeping things moving with a career-high seven strikeouts in the game. Unfortunately, a missed call by the home plate umpire in the bottom of the fifth allowed Will Smith to reach and extend the inning with two outs. Things quickly unraveled for the Rockies, but especially Feltner. It seems that after that missed call that would have struck out Smith and ended the inning with the Rockies leading 4-2, Feltner lost the mental part of the game that resulted in another walk to load the bases.
The Dodgers went on to score seven runs in the inning and went on to win the game 13-4. A key point of growth and learning for Feltner this year will be to not let things spiral out of control when things don’t go your way. He had battled around some walks and pitched a solid game until that missed call. He is still young, but that is part of growing at the big-league level. Feltner has the potential to be great, he just has to solidify his mental fortitude and continue to execute when things beyond your control don’t go your way. I’ll be watching for that in his next start.
Live or die by the rotation
We will harp on and complain about the Rockies' offense quite a bit this season and rightfully so, but the 2023 Rockies’ fate will be determined by their starting pitching. The bullpen has some solid pieces, and the offense has plenty of potential, but it will be the starting pitching that gives the team the chance to win. They don’t have to be a team of Sandy Alcantara’s out there —though that would be nice — but rather a solid group that can toss out six solid innings with two walks and five to six strikeouts and bridge the gap to the bullpen and gives the offense the confidence to support their starters.
If they don’t, 100 losses will loom closer and closer.
★ ★ ★
Do you like sports gambling? Well, regardless if you do or not you’re going to see a lot of more of it at Coors Field going forward. The Rockies announced on Wednesday they have entered a three-year deal with bet365 with the latter employing more advertising in the stadium that will be visible to physical patrons as well as viewers at home. Got to make up for that lost RSN money somehow right?
★ ★ ★
On the Farm
The big hit became hard to come by as Albuquerque dropped game two of the series to Salt Lake by a score of 4-2. Noah Davis started the game and turned in a solid outing, allowing just one run on five hits, the lone run coming via the home run, with three strikeouts and three walks in five innings of work. Thanks to a Michael Toglia home run in the bottom of the second and a run scored on a double play, the Davis left the game with the Isotopes leading 2-1.
Unfortunately for Albuquerque the offense would stop there as Salt Lake scored a run against Stephen Jones to tie the game in the sixth and score the go-ahead run in the seventh inning off of Riley Pint. Both had solid innings of work with Jones striking out three and Riley allowing just one hit after the walk, but it was enough to lose the game. Following a clean inning by Eli Lingos in the eighth, Salt Lake scored an insurance run against Matt Carasiti who also ended up with three strikeouts in the ninth. As an offense the Isotopes totaled seven hits with just two extra-base hits, while striking out five times and going 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position.
★ ★ ★
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