At this point in the season, you don’t need me to tell you that the Colorado Rockies season hasn’t exactly been a parade of highlights.
In general, the pitching has not been up to snuff to combat the skills of opposing offenses, and the bullpen has once again become a fairly significant pain point. They own the fifth-highest ERA and fourth-highest WHIP in the National League and have recorded just three saves which, as you may have guessed, is tied for the fewest in MLB.
So, yeah, it’s not great right now.
In the darkness, though, there is always light. The light in the bullpen in April has been Brent Suter.
There was palpable excitement when the long-time Brewer agreed to a one-year contract with the Rockies this past offseason, though some fans felt trepidation as well. After all, Colorado’s recent history with free agent relievers has been a roller coaster ride that seen highs such as Wade Davis’s single-season club record 43 saves to Jason Motte and Bryan Shaw’s... tenure in general. Suter, 33, was one of the most consistently effective relievers in baseball while playing in Milwaukee, and the Rockies were quick to snatch him up when he was somewhat surprisingly placed on waivers by the Brewers.
Suter was glad for the opportunity, and not intimidated by the prospect of pitching at altitude.
“I pitched in Colorado Springs across three Triple-A seasons so I knew my stuff, how it was affected by altitude and what I could do about it,” Suter said. “I’ve felt like it was a challenge to be embraced and it’s an environment that, if you can show you can excel here, it really proves a lot.”
He’s right about that. Pitching effectively at mile high is no easy feat, and yet he’s been able to find success in his first month as a Rockie. He owns a sub-1.10 ERA through his first 11 games in purple pinstripes and is allowing some of the softest contact in the league. That may be due to a change in pitching philosophy — now more than ever, Suter is mixing his pitches and using his fastball in conjunction with his offspeed arsenal.
“My pitches are working well right now,” said the southpaw. “If I can just stay as even-keel as I can, as consistent as I can, day to day with my routine and my preparation and my pitches, I think the results at the end of the season will be what they’re supposed to be.”
(He’s got a mean pickoff move too).
Suter’s performance on the field is off to a hot start, but less immediately tangible is his impact away from the diamond. Entering his eighth season in MLB, Suter has experienced the trials and tribulations that come with being a big-leaguer, and is trying to give back by acting as a mentor figure to some of Colorado’s young arms.
“I try to pour myself into the guys — be a resource for them, give them advice, reach out to them after good or bad outings. [I] just try to be there for them and let them know like, ‘Hey, what do you need?’”
That kind of leadership is a boon for a Rockies team that carries more than a few hurlers still in the springtime of their youth. Of the current group of arms assembled, seven have three or fewer years of MLB experience, and more than half of those are rookies. Suter wants to be a part of their development not out of obligation, but because he believes in their future.
“There’s a lot of really good young arms here in this organization,” he said. “It’s really exciting. [There’s a] really good makeup to these guys, it’s impressive.”
After yet another scoreless appearance in Sunday’s victory over Arizona, he’s more locked in than ever. While the offense has sputtered and struggled at times to back up the efforts of Colorado’s hurlers, Suter’s trying to make the bullpen a point of pride for Colorado.
“I’m trying to give (the rookies) some helpful pointers if I can,” he continued. “I’ve been around for a little bit at this point. I try to impart some wisdom and some good energy to the young guys.”
Speaking of good, clean energy, Colorado made for a favorable landing spot for Suter not just for its baseball facilities, but for its natural elements as well. A vocal environmentalist, Suter has been a leader in eco-conscious behavior for years now, and has found the transition to the Centennial State an easy one.
“I love how everything’s planet-friendly, very well-advertised” said the left-hander. “I got in touch with some folks at CU Boulder to get an event going this fall. The people [in Colorado] are so friendly, nice, and chill. It’s been really fun to get the feel of community. My family and I love it here.”
His love for his team and the state he now calls home is evident, and the managerial team is all too happy to allow him opportunities to shine. Everyone has good things to say about Suter, including general manager Bill Schmidt. The Rockies had expectations of Suter upon his signing, and Schmidt is happy to see the results so far, saying, “he’s done a good job. Hopefully he continues on because Buddy has a lot of confidence in him, and he’s going to be crucial situations for us.”
It’s early, of course, and Colorado’s overall results from April haven’t been sterling. but Suter has been a significant bright spot for his new team. As he continues his initial season with the Rockies, it will be exciting to see what changes he brings to their bullpen stability and to their culture overall.