Hoffman Wants To Show He's Better This Year

SCOTTSDALE, Az. -- Jeff Hoffman was the Opening Day starter for the Rockies on Friday afternoon – in the Cactus League.

Hey, everyone must start somewhere.

The key is he was the starter. He is in camp. And very much among the seven candidates for the five spots in the Rockies rotation.

And this year he is mentally, as well as physically, ready for the challenge of the spring, unlike a year ago when there was the expectation before camp even opened that Hoffman would step right into the rotation.

He was, after all, the ninth player selected in the 2014 draft and the key player in the package the Rockies received from the Blue Jays in exchange for Troy Tulowitzki in that July 2015 trading deadline deal.

But while rookies Antonio Senzatela and Kyle Freeland opened the season in the Rockies rotation, and German Marquez found himself starting, as well, by the end of April, Hoffman was taking the mound on a regular basis for Triple-A Albuquerque.

He made two quick trips to the big leagues, when the Rockies got caught in weather and had two make up doubleheaders, but after each start he went back to Triple-A before finally getting a real callup to join the rotation June 4.

It was a learning experience. And, Hoffman said Friday, he learned the lesson well.

“Coming in last year, being one of the guys who got called up (in September 2016), I felt like I almost had a step up on some of the other young guys, which was not good,” he said. “It was like I was trying to guide those other young guys. I didn’t need to be doing that. I just needed to worry more about taking care of myself and learning what I needed to learn.”

He is ready to take advantage of this second opportunity. He did give the Rockies an upbeat look when he came up last year – initially. In his first 10 starts – the two in those May doubleheaders and first eight after his June 4 call up he was 6-1 and the team was 7-3. In the one loss he suffered – against the D-Backs – he was charged with nine earned runs while retiring only eight batters. In his nine other starts he not only was 6-0 but had a 3.05 ERA.

He struggled after that initial success and found himself back in the minor leagues in August, but after two shutout innings in the Rockies spring opener on Friday he quickly said that what he experienced a year ago was beneficial.

“Last year I got a taste of what it is like and this year I feel I know what I need to do,” he said. “When you get passed over it makes you want it that much more.”

Want it, yes, but more importantly it made Hoffman realize what he needed to do to reach his goal. He was not looking for someone to blame. He knew that he was in control of what happened a year ago and didn’t control it.

This year he vows won’t be a repeat.

He knows there are no guarantees. There are seven legitimate candidates for the Rockies season-opening rotation.

Chat Bettis, at 28 the graybeard of the group, had an off-season to get himself back into the best shape possible after being sideline until mid-August last year by a recurrence of testicular cancer.

Jon Gray was out for nearly two months with a fractured foot but started both the regular-season opener a year ago and the wild-card game against the D-Backs, putting him in place to be the No. 1 starter.

That leaves five pitchers for three rotation spots – Hoffmann, Kyle Freeland, Senzatela, German Marquis and Tyler Anderson.

Hoffman sees that as a benefit for all five.

“It is great to see all of us have success (last year),” said Hoffman. “Obviously being a competitor, you want to be better than the next guy. You want to make the staff. We are all competitors and want to be great.

“You don’t want to see any of them fail. You want them to be good, so I try to be better. That’s great for all of us. The competitive nature in all of us finds it something to motivate.”

It’s an attitude the Rockies welcome.