Colorado Rockies: Chris Rusin could hold key to bullpen’s success

MILWAUKEE, WI - OCTOBER 04: Pitcher Chris Rusin #52 of the Colorado Rockies throws in the sixth inning of Game One of the National League Division Series against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on October 4, 2018 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WI - OCTOBER 04: Pitcher Chris Rusin #52 of the Colorado Rockies throws in the sixth inning of Game One of the National League Division Series against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on October 4, 2018 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /
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For all of the weeping and gnashing of teeth that has occurred in recent days with the Colorado Rockies losing arguably their best reliever (Adam Ottavino) in free agency, there is a golden opportunity for several players who underperformed last year to help fill that void.

While Bryan Shaw and Jake McGee will certainly draw scrutiny and attention because of the contracts they signed to help the form the “super bullpen” that really wasn’t for the Colorado Rockies last season, it is perhaps another reliever who could well hold the key to Colorado’s middle- and/or later-inning success in 2019.

Chris Rusin has been singled out this offseason by both general manager Jeff Bridich and manager Bud Black as someone who could not only rebound from a tough season, but also play a big role in fortifying Colorado’s bullpen by doing it. Bridich talked about a potential Rusin rebound in this article while Black brought up the 32-year-old left-hander during Winter Meetings in December in Las Vegas.

"“Chris Rusin pitched probably not to the level of expectation, but I thought found his way a little bit at the end of the year,” Black told Rox Pile and other media members in Las Vegas."

That “little bit” at the end of the year was a September that saw Rusin post a 2.08 ERA and scatter six hits in 8.2 innings of work spanning nine games. Take away the two earned runs Rusin gave up on September 3 against San Francisco and the southpaw finished the regular season by allowing four hits and no earned runs in eight innings.

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His batting average against that month was .194, easily the lowest of a season that saw hitters post a .268 against him as he posted his highest ERA (6.09) since joining the Rockies in 2015. Yes, Rusin struggled in 2018 but found his way toward the end of the campaign.

Rusin stayed strong in the postseason, needing just seven pitches to throw a scoreless inning in Chicago in the Wild Card Game and stayed unblemished in all three games against Milwaukee in the National League Division Series, surrendering two hits in three combined innings.

One of the keys for Rusin to rebound this season? Recapturing his ability to strike out a batter. After seasons of 86, 69 and 71 strikeouts in his first three campaigns with Colorado, Rusin whiffed just 47 batters last year. His K/BB ratio of 1.81 was the lowest he has recorded with the Rockies.

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Rusin is one of four left-handers in the projected 2019 Rockies bullpen, joining Mike Dunn, McGee and Harrison Musgrave. He thrived in 2017 (5-1, 2.65 ERA, .240 BAA and 1.11 WHIP) in multiple roles from specialist to stopper (posting a career-high 12 holds). A return to that form would be key for a Rockies bullpen that will be likely mixing and matching its middle relievers early in the season.

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