McGee Embraces the Challenge of Pitching at Coors Field

SCOTTSDALE, Az. – Jake McGee has embraced the challenge of Coors Field.

Any doubts were erased in December.

After two years of working out of the Rockies bullpen the left-hander was on the free agent market, drawing serious interest from a hand full of teams, McGee didn’t hesitate signing a three-year, $27 million offer to return to the Rockies.

It wasn’t much different than the deals he had from the A’s, Mariners and White Sox, and there always were several others who had approached his agent with two-year deals that included options and might have turned into three-year deals.

“I had a good amount of offers if I wanted to go some other place,” he said.

But he didn’t.

 “It was always on my mind to come back, especially with the bullpen situation,” he said. “I was all about coming back.”

He spent the past two years with the Rockies. He knows all about the dry air and altitude and Coors Field. It doesn’t bother him. He, in fact, embraces the challenge. And he and his family enjoyed the environment away from the park.

Just go down the check list and the Rockies checked out on each issue.

“My family still lives in Reno and it is easy for them (to get to Colorado),” he said. “There are direct flights from Tampa to Denver, which is where my wife’s family lives so that’s convenient.”

Check mark.

“We found a house in a good neighborhood,” he said.

Check mark.

And more than all of that . . . .

“I am comfortable and know this team is going to be good,” he said. “You see the young (starting pitchers) and know good things can happen.”

Exclamation point.

And there is that bullpen situation.

The Rockies enjoyed success thanks to bullpen depth a year ago, thanks in party to a trading deadline effort to beef up the relief corps, and then focused on building off that bullpen depth in the off-season.

On the same day the Rockies announced the re-signing of McGee they announced the signing of a right-handed compliment, Bryan Shaw, to a three-year deal also worth $27 million, and when last year’s closer, Greg Holland, initially balked when negotiations opened they quickly filled the closer role by luring Wade Davis with a three-year, $52 million deal, which was a relief pitcher record $17.3 million annual average value.

All that goes along with the fact they already had control of right-handers Adam Ottavino and Scott Oberg, and left-handers Mike Dunn and Chris Rusin.

And don’t overlook the fact that McGee feels he has proven he can handle Coors Field.

He did, after all, have a 3.61 ERA in 62 appearances with the Rockies last year, enjoying an injury-free season. That came after a 2016 debut with the Rockies in which he seemed quite comfortable in the environment at Coors even though he did not have full strength in his left knee – which he uses to push off the mound in his delivery – until he threw that June 5 pitch that the Padres Wil Myers hit for a go-ahead home run, seconds after McGee heard the knee pop as he delivered the pitch.

His numbers soared after that. Even though his velocity was down to open the season, McGeee converted 15 of 16 save opportunities with a 3.43 ERA prior to that game. Starting with that game, however, he finished the season without another save and an ERA of 5.89 the rest of the way.

“I was still healthy enough I felt I could pitch, but I couldn’t push off,” he said.

It never became an issue because McGee isn’t about to make excuses for failure.

What it did was add to his focus on enjoying success in 2017.

“I knew I had been able to go out and pitch and get guys out when I didn’t have full strength (prior to the knee popping),” he said. “I knew if I was healthy it wouldn’t be a problem.”

He proved that point.

And then, in the off-season, with the opportunity to escape Coors Field he proved he had no fear.

He accepted the Rockies invitation to return for at least three more years.

Tracy RingolsbyComment