September 2019 was a strange month for the Colorado Rockies. It was the team’s third-best month by record and a significant improvement over a dismal July-August stretch. The month also featured several surprising performances from young players looking to make a bigger impact in 2020.
We’ve already discussed position players Garrett Hampson (here) and Sam Hilliard (here), and bullpen members Jairo Diaz (here) and Carlos Estevez (here). Next, we’ll take a look at the rotation, starting today with Chi Chi Gonzalez.
The Rockies’ rotation at the end of the year was unrecognizable from the one penciled in on Opening Day. But if there were positives to glean from the injuries, it was the opportunities afforded to pitchers like Chi Chi Gonzalez, who registered his first big league win since 2015 on September 10 when he threw six one-run innings against a very good St. Louis Cardinals team.
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That performance was no anomaly for Gonzalez, who posted a sparkling 1.65 ERA in five games in September while striking out nearly a batter an inning and surrendering just five earned runs in those five games. Gonzalez’s only issue was a continual high pitch count that prevented him from pitching a full seven innings once all season. At the same time, he showed excellent poise under pressure, often escaping jams without allowing the opposing team to score.
If Gonzalez can keep up his September domination while pitching more economically, he has a good chance to sneak into a rotation looking for at least one additional member. If he doesn’t step into the Opening Day rotation, he showed enough last season that he will likely be one of the first arms called on in case of injury.
Another option would be to put Gonzalez in the bullpen where he could serve the kind of role Chris Rusin did a few years ago — pitching in both long relief and occasional high leverage. Though, unless the Rockies find a way to add some starters this offseason, their current lack of starting pitching depth makes such a move unlikely.
You can’t judge a starting pitcher off of just one month, but Gonzalez stunned everyone in September. Especially when you consider he was pitching against playoff teams giving their all down the stretch in four of those five games (Los Angeles Dodgers, Cardinals, Dodgers again, and the Milwaukee Brewers).
Whether or not Gonzalez makes the starting rotation, he earned himself a good look this Spring Training and, if he can capitalize on that chance like he did on his chance in September, the Rockies may have stumbled upon a very important piece to their 2020 rotation.