Rockies Rotation: Youth Is Served

SCOTTSDALE – In the ever-changing world of Major League Baseball the Rockies are looking to take a page out of the game’s history.

In a game that puts a premium on experience in a pitching staff, the Rockies underwent a major overhaul last year – in part because of injuries – and created the groundwork for a rotation that won’t have a rookie in 2018 but will still be the youngest contingent in Major League Baseball.

With youth comes some challenges, but Steve Foster and Darren Holmes, the Rockies pitching gurus, are confident in the young arms they oversee, and they have some history on their side.

The Rockies did, after all, advance to the post-season a year ago with a rotation in which four rookies – Kyle Freeland, German Marquez, Antonio Senzatela and Jeff Hoffman – not only combined to make 93 starts, but were a combined 38-28.

That wasn’t merely the best record for rookies in a rotation in the big leagues in 2017. It was the fourth best win total for a group of rookie starting pitchers since at least 1913, according to Stats, Inc.

Only the 2006 Marlins (43-21), 1937 Boston Bees (40-19) and 2012 Oakland A’s (40-30) had more wins from the rookies in their rotations. Those 40 wins by the Bees came from a couple aged rookies, Lou Fetters (20-9 at age 30) and Jim Turner (20-10 at age 33).

And while Foster and Holmes don’t mention comparisons to other teams in discussing an expected rotation, the talk about the potential conjures up memories of the late `60s Orioles, which in 1969 made the first of three consecutive World Series appearances with a rotation of Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally, Tom Phoebus, Jim Palmer and  Jim Hardin.

Cuellar was the elder statesman at 32, but the other four were 27 or younger. Their combined age that season was 133 years – at least two years older than a projected Rockies rotation that will be taken from the group of six of Chad Bettis (29), Tyler Anderson (28), Jon Gray (26), Kyle Freeland (25), German Marquez (23) and Antonio Senzatela (22). Jeff Hoffman (24) would also be in consideration, but what is termed a minor shoulder soreness has sidelined him for at least 10 days this spring.

There is a confidence that this group will step forward, and not fall victim to that sophomore jinx.

“Most of all they have a great deal of humility and a great work ethic,” said Foster.

Holmes agrees.

“They are so engaged with where they are,” he said. “Because they came through the system for the most part and the way our system runs in the minor leagues is a very regimented way, so when they get here they have a foundation to build off.”

The Rockies were careful with the demands they put on their staff last season. Marquez was the only pitcher on the team to reach the 162-inning mark necessary to qualify for an ERA title. He also led the team with 29 starts.

The workloads were tempered either by injuries (Bettis, Gray and Anderson) or design (Freeland, Marquez, Senzatela and Hoffman). They all spent time in the bullpen, although Marquez did not get called on in the first 10 days of the season in that role, after which he was sent to the minor leagues for a brief spell before being recalled and put in the rotation.

“Are you familiar with the bamboo shoot?” said Foster. “The bamboo shoot if planted and if given proper nourishment will grow two-tenths of an inch per year its first four years,” he said. “In year five if given the same sunlight and nourishment it will grow up to eight and a half feet.”

It takes proper nourishing to get the job done with the bamboo and with young pitchers.

“Last year the guys were really good early and a little tired past the All-Star Game. Scouting reports were compiled,” said Holmes. “They made adjustments. They got their rest. And they are ready to get back in and go after it.”

And the Rockies are looking for each of them to take another step forward in 2018.

The Rockies 2016 rotation had the third-best winning percentage, second-highest win total, fifth-best ERA and the fewest hits allowed in a 162-game season.