Projecting The Colorado Rockies’ Rotation: August 1st
Which five pitchers will be starting for the Rockies the first week of August? An exploration of some possibilities.
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A fun thing about being a Rockies fan is the constant musical chairs that is the starting rotation. Pitchers are always getting injured or having mental hiccups or just plain sucking.
The rotation at season’s end is never what we think it will be at the beginning. This is not so uncommon in the major leagues, but the Rockies are consistently on the list of teams who run through the largest number of pitchers in a season.
We’ve already seen some changes here as we approach midseason. Eddie Butler, Jordan Lyles, and Tyler Matzek are out; David Hale, Chad Bettis, and Chris Rusin are in. The only mainstays in the rotation have been Jorge De La Rosa and Kyle Kendrick (hey, we knew going in that one of his biggest upsides was his health). In some ways, three out of five isn’t bad. At least we’re not looking at a total rotation makeover by September. But there have been some surprises along the way.
Chad Bettis is the biggest for me. I was just not a Bettis believer after seeing him pitch in spring training in 2014 and then watching him implode at Coors Field. But I have to say, I’m starting to come around. In his 9 starts this season, he’s rocking a 3.35 FIP and a 1.24 WHIP, both best among the starters. He’s striking out almost as many batters per 9 as De La Rosa. I don’t know that I’m totally ready to hitch a ride on the Bettis Bandwagon, since he is still throwing the occasional stinker (see: June 15th in Houston), but I am glad to have him aboard, and better him than any number of other possibilities.
Chris Rusin has been a surprise too, in that he exists. The Rockies quietly snagged him off waivers last September and then stashed him at AAA until they had need for him, which happened maybe sooner than they thought it would. Before major league hitters learned who he was, Rusin was terrific, but now that they do know he isn’t so hot. Rusin stands to be the first member of the rotation to go when another change is made.
Many have been clamoring for Jon Gray to be the pitcher who replaces Rusin, and I see the argument. Maybe he’s had all the minor league seasoning he needs; maybe it’s time to see what he can do in the show. I think it’s important that we view Eddie Butler as a cautionary tale, though. He was certainly rushed, and he’s still trying to remedy the effects of that.
Plus, Gray did this on Saturday. He shows flashes of brilliance, but those are intermixed with outings in which he really struggles. One of the most important things for a starter in a Rockies uniform is to go deep into the game; let’s not use that overworked and underperforming bullpen any more than we have to. Gray threw 101 pitches in 4 1/3 innings in that game.
Then there’s Butler, still trying to figure stuff out. He started out solid in AAA, with a 7-inning start in which he only gave up 2 runs. But he followed that with 5 runs, then 7, then 3. Like Gray, there is no consistency. Like Gray, we need Butler to be awesome SOON if there is any hope that this team will contend before the end of the decade.
And last but not least, Matzek. We all knew Matzek’s struggles were primarily mental when he was in the minors, and the Rockies did a lot to help him work those out. It even seemed like maybe he had when he finally got his call up last year. But this year he was a total mess, and now he’s all the way down in Boise. The Rockies sent him pretty much as far down as they possibly could because they want him facing the easiest possible hitters.
We know Matzek can get major league hitters out. The question is, can he maintain his focus and his poise long enough to do it? He’s still walking a lot of batters. A poll conducted on this site is damning: an overwhelming majority thinks that Matzek’s issues are career-threatening. I tend to agree. We would have seen more success from him by now if he truly had it in him to be great in the big leagues.
So where does that leave us on August 1st? The other thing about that day is that it’s right after the midseason trade deadline. I don’t necessarily see the Rockies acquiring a solid starter in whatever dealings they may conduct, though if they want to go after Cole Hamels, I say yes please. Or maybe they’d be willing to give Aaron Harang another look? It’s more likely that they’ll deal a utility guy like Wilin Rosario or Brandon Barnes and grab a prospect or two. Extra depth is never bad. It’s probably not going to make much of an impact in the rotation.
I do not think it’s prudent to bring Gray up yet when this team isn’t making a push for the playoffs. Give him plenty of time to get the seasoning he needs and then let him take his shot. Perhaps that shot is in September; I hope it’s no earlier. Rusin probably has to go soon, but I’d like to see Christian Bergman replace him rather than Gray or Butler.
Hale just gave up two two-run home runs in one inning in Oakland, but he’s been solid enough. De La Rosa and Kendrick are healthy at least, though DLR has had that weird cut thing that’s probably going to turn out to be a flesh-eating disease, knowing the Rockies. Let’s be optimistic, though. I predict that pitching in St. Louis and against Seattle at the beginning of August will be DLR, Kendrick, Hale, Bettis, and Bergman.