Contact CU Independent Assistant Sports Editor Justin Guerriero at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @TheHungry_Hippo
While CU students were spending their spring breaks on sunny beaches or snowy peaks, Justin Guerriero was in Scottsdale, Arizona at the Colorado Rockies’ Spring Training for the second consecutive year to preview the team’s upcoming season.
Nolan keeps on rollin’
Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado is having himself one heck of a Spring Training. The 2015 All-Star and Silver Slugger winner has been crushing Cactus League pitching. As Opening Day draws nearer, Arenado commands a .553 batting average thus far, which is the best mark in baseball. He also leads all players this spring in on-base percentage (.569) and slugging percentage (.957).
In 15 games played, Arenado has displayed magnificent plate discipline, striking out only three times. He’s registered 26 hits in 47 at-bats and has 12 RBI.
Defensively, the three-time Gold Glove winner has been sharp, too. He’s committed just one error in 76 innings of work at third base.
The perpetual pitching problem
Since last making the playoffs in 2010, the Rockies have exhibited a theme of hitting well but pitching badly. In recent years, the end-of-season stat lines have seen team hitting rank near the top of the MLB and team pitching fall toward the bottom.
Last year, the Rockies used the services of 12 different starting pitchers. The staff as a whole registered a league-worst 5.04 team ERA. In other words, a lack of consistency plagued the revolving door that was the Rockies’ starting rotation.
The Rockies recently named veteran lefty Jorge De La Rosa as their Opening Day starter. The 34-year-old has been a workhorse for the Rockies’ starting rotation since joining the team in 2008. His 78 wins in a Rockies uniform is a franchise record, as is his career .763 winning percentage at Coors Field.
Right-hander Jon Gray was shut down on Thursday with a strained rectus abdominus, an injury that will likely sideline him for a few weeks. With Gray out, the Rockies could run with a four-man rotation consisting of De La Rosa and righties Tyler Chatwood, Chad Bettis and Jordan Lyles. Some forgiving off-days on April 7, 11 and 21 would allow a smaller staff for the time being, presuming Gray returns sometime around then.
But right-handed reliever Christian Bergman could provide manager Walt Weiss with an option for a fifth starter. Bergman, who will likely be a fixture in the bullpen this season, started four games for the Rox last season. He’s posted a 2-1 record and a 3.38 ERA this spring.
“He’s so versatile, and has been so good as a long man in the ‘pen,” Weiss said of Bergman. “It’s a hard role. It’s really difficult to perform well and he’s done it. So we get caught in between over where do you settle [him] in, but now there’s some opportunity there. He’s built up more than the other candidates.”
Lyles was shut down prematurely in 2015 with a toe injury, and he has performed poorly so far in Spring Training, going 0-3 with a 7.88 ERA. He’s surrendered 21 hits in 14 innings of work and opposing batters are hitting .313 off of his pitching.
As for Chatwood, he’s played well this spring, posting a 3.21 ERA through five games played. But he has experienced some control issues, allowing seven free passes while striking out the same amountf. He will look to bounce back in his first season back from Tommy John surgery in July of 2014.
There are high hopes for Bettis this season. The 26-year-old went 8-6 with a 4.23 ERA last year for the Rox, and was the only other starting pitcher besides De La Rosa to have a winning record. Management is hopeful that he can tap into the flashes of brilliance that he displayed last year. So far this spring he’s 2-0 with a 3.12 ERA.
Bettis posted an ERA of 2.96 in the month of May last season, and later in September had a 2.54 ERA. Extended performances of that caliber would give the Rockies some much-needed stability throughout the season.
The case for Trevor Story:
As Spring Training winds down, a looming question mark is who will start at shortstop on Opening Day, April 4, against the Diamondbacks in Arizona.
Enter Trevor Story. Last season, he split time between Colorado’s AA New Britain and AAA Albuquerque minor league affiliates, hitting .279 with 20 home runs and 80 RBIs. This spring, Story has been putting up impressive offensive numbers.
He’s hitting .378, and his six homers, 13 RBIs and 17 runs scored lead the Rockies. Story has been in a position battle with the Rockies’ utility man Cristhian Adames, who’s also been performing well, but to a somewhat lesser extent. Adames owns a .283 batting average this spring and has knocked in eight runners.
Story can play the position, too. All signs seem to be pointing to Arenado at third and Story at shortstop as being rock solid, as the latter has also committed just one lone error this spring.
“I’ve seen him make every type of play this spring,” Weiss said of Story. “[He can go] left, go right…he defends very well.”
For 23-year-old Story, he’s making quite the case for himself to be the Rockies’ Opening Day shortstop. With incumbent starter Jose Reyes, who has not reported to Spring Training, on paid leave due to a pending domestic violence case that began last November, the Rockies will have to prepare to play without him for an extended period of time. Reyes is due to stand trial on April 4, Colorado’s Opening Day.
The Rockies will continue to play in Arizona through the start of the regular season, as they face the Arizona Diamondbacks in Phoenix on Opening Day. First pitch is at 7:40 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on Root Sports.