Somewhat hidden in the Colorado Rockies’ 11-7 Cactus League victory Tuesday night against Cincinnati was a solid outing by starting pitcher Chi Chi Gonzalez.
While staked to eight early runs in the first four innings by his team’s offense, which included a three-run homer by Connor Joe and a solo blast from Yonathan Daza, Gonzalez kept the Reds at bay for 3.2 innings allowing just one earned run.
Making his fourth appearance of the spring and third start, the four-year MLB veteran cruised through the first two innings by retiring the first six Cincinnati batters he faced.
After allowing a couple of hits and an unearned run in the third inning following a Rockies fielding error to open the frame, Gonzalez ran into trouble in the fourth.
Two singles and a walk loaded the bases with one out. Gonzalez then struck out Kyle Farmer but followed that by issuing a run-scoring walk to Aristides Aquino, the No. 9 hitter in the Reds lineup.
The walk to Aquino, Gonzalez’ second of the game, ended his night. Manager Bud Black brought in Zac Rosscup from the bullpen and Rosscup responded by getting a strikeout of Dee Strange-Gordon to avoid any further damage.
What pitching role could Chi Chi Gonzalez have with the Colorado Rockies in 2021?
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A former first round draft choice (23rd overall pick) by Texas in the 2013 draft, Gonzalez is battling several players, namely recent Rockies acquisition Austin Gomber, for the fifth spot in Colorado’s starting rotation.
What has the Oral Roberts University product been most pleased about with his performance on the mound this spring?
"“Most improved is my attack,” said Gonzalez, who has now allowed four earned runs in 9.2 innings this spring for a 3.72 earned run average.“My biggest focus is to attack,” he added after his four-strikeout performance agains the Reds. “I was always focused on throwing the ball down, throwing the ball down, and essentially just not carrying it enough to get (it) there. So I know if I am driving the ball to the glove instead of to it, through it, I’ll be doing great.”"
The two walks that Gonzalez surrendered against the Reds were his first of the spring.
"“Just the fact that I am putting the ball everywhere in the zone, not only just down. I feel like that is my biggest improvement,” he said."
Gonzalez, who battled injuries a year ago in fashioning a 6.86 ERA in 19.2 innings, noted that better confidence in his pitching arsenal has bolstered his success on the mound this spring.
"“I didn’t have much of it (confidence) last year with the shoulder injury,” he said. “Struggling, walking guys, throwing behind (to) guys. So this year, (I am) coming in there, being the best I can be, being confident in what I got and attacking guys.”"
The words by Gonzalez following the Cincinnati contest on Tuesday echo those made by Black about his right-hander earlier in the day.
"“In simplest terms, he has got to pitch well with that very critical eye form the coaching staff,” Black told media, including Rox Pile, on Tuesday morning in reference to Gonzalez and the competition taking place for the final spot in the starting pitching rotation. “We are evaluating every pitch, the quality of the pitch, the results.“The good thing with Chi Chi is that his fastball velocity is up a tick, which is nice. So he feels good physically. The arm feels great. He has got good action on his pitches.”"
Black noted some past problem areas for Gonzalez, who made four starts a year ago with two relief appearances while compiling an 0-2 record.
"“With Chi Chi, his biggest challenge is to throw some quality strikes in the strike zone because his stuff is good enough. Where Chi Chi gets into trouble a little bit is some deeper counts. There might be a walk in there. But his pitch count seems to get elevated a little bit.”"
The Rockies manager also outlined some ways in which Gonzalez, who re-signed with Colorado as a Minor League free agent in December, can make strides on the mound.
"“I think efficiency is important for Chi Chi,” he said. “Get the ball in the zone early, get the ball in play early. Trust that your stuff is good enough to get outs. When you are attacking, don’t pitch on the fringes (but) attack. I think if Chi Chi can do that, his success rate will be better.”"
Should Gonzalez not secure a spot in the starting rotation to begin the season, Black pointed out on Thursday that Gonzalez would still be a part of the team’s pitching plans for 2021.
"“We are looking at a lot of different options with potentially a 13-man pitching staff or a 14,” Black said. “We are not sure which direction we are going to go. But Chi Chi is definitely in the mix for our pitching staff.”"
Colorado’s 11 runs against the Reds matched their top scoring outing of the spring (also scored 11 runs against Arizona on March 9).
Daza finished 4-for-4 at the plate with a double and two singles to go along with his homer while also scoring three times. He is now hitting .464 this spring.
Joe also scored three runs and had a double in addition to his home run to improve his batting average to .368. Garrett Hampson, batting leadoff, crossed the plate three times as well while Ryan McMahon, who recently reflected on the one-year anniversary of COVID-19 shutting down spring training, drove in three runs with a pair of hits in the Rockies 15-hit attack.
Elias Diaz boosted his hitting mark to .455 with three hits while also driving in two runs.