Rusin Ready for Any Challenge That Arises

Chris Rusin is the Rockies pitching staff’s version of the Swiss Army Knife.

When in doubt, call on Rusin.

He may not pitch many complete games, but he is the game’s complete pitcher.

And he has become a fixture on the Rockies staff.

Three years with the Rockies, he has started, pitched long relief, and handled situational calls out of the bullpen. It is how the lefthander likes it.

“It’s good to be versatile, give options for the club to fit me in where ever they need me,” he said. “If they are missing a piece I can slide in there. I’ll do whatever I can that will help me in my career.”

He has become a fixture in the bullpen since the arrival of manager Bud Black, but in the two years before he did make 29 starts. He even pitched two complete games, which is one more than any other Rockies pitcher has pitched in the last three years.

The results, however, were uneven. He was either really good – 17 quality starts out of 17 games in which he pitched six or more innings – or struggled – a 10.59 ERA in the 12 starts of less than six innings compared to 2.64 in his 17 quality starts. He relies more on finesse than power, and when he does not hit his spots there are problems.

That is why when he returned from a four-week stint on the disabled list on Aug. 2, 2016 he assumed a permanent role in the bullpen, and since then he has a 2.75 ERA to show for 77 appearances.

And he embraced it.

“Same approach,” Rusin said in asked the difference in the role of a starter and reliever. “I don’t get caught up in what inning I come in, whether we are ahead, tied or behind by a lot. I just want to have the mindset of getting people out. I want to be as efficient as possible and get people out. It’s been working so I want to keep that mindset.”

It has been working, and Rusin enjoys it, even if he doesn’t know from one game to the next whether he’s going to be used in a situational role or a long role. In 94 relief appearances since joining the Rockies in 2015 he has worked three or more innings 14 times, and less than an inning 17 times.

“My first year (in Colorado),"Rusin said, "I went through some struggles and I was like, `My back’s up against the wall. It might be my last chance so I’m going to give it my all and trust my stuff.’ From that point on, I found success and was able to trust my stuff because it worked when I found the strike zone and had the correct movement.”

He finds his variety of pitches to fit better for him as a reliever than a starter.

“I am able to use all my pitches right when I go in the game,” he said. “As a starter I can’t throw the whole kitchen sink at them in the first inning. Being able to throw different combinations from the first batter until I came out of the game. I don’t have to hide any pitches. That helps. I know how to get quick outs.”

And he finds being on call every night helps him feel a more of part of what’s happening.

“You’re involved in more games,” he said. “As a starter you pitch once every five days. As a reliever you can pitch back-to-back-to-back for two or three innings, take a day off and come back. So, you feel more included in what is happening every day.”

In his first six years in pro ball, after being signed by the Cubs as a fourth-round draft choice, he made only 24 big-league appearances. And after being a waiver claim by the Rockies in September of 2014, he found himself back in the minor leagues, again, other than a one-day call up as the 26th man for a make up doubleheader, before getting called up on May 26, 2015. Other than four appearances on rehab assignments after being on the disabled list, he has been in the big leagues ever since.

But he hasn’t forgotten the challenge of getting to the big leagues in the first place.

“I don’t want to get complacent and comfortable because I wants to have something to work for and always try and get better, not like, `I made it and I can just relax,’” Rusin said. “I am always trying to get better and look for the next step to improve on.

“The game is always changing. People are always getting better. I have to find different ways to be good and perfect those ways.”

It is an approach that has worked well for Rusin so far. No sense changing now.

Tracy RingolsbyComment