Colorado Rockies notebook: The bullpen has quietly had a good stretch

Entering the 2021 season, the Colorado Rockies bullpen was viewed as one of the team’s biggest weaknesses, if not the biggest.

And that view was based in fact. In 2020, the Rockies had a bullpen ERA of 6.77, which was 29th in baseball and in 2019, they had a bullpen ERA of 5.18, which was 28th in baseball.

But since April 17 (the start of their last homestand, which started against the Mets), the Rockies bullpen has an ERA of 3.69. That is fifth-best in the National League in that span.

While it has been a small sample size (10 games played), there have been a few relievers who have been playing well, particularly their set-up men.

Set-up man Robert Stephenson

Robert Stephenson has been very good for the Rockies in his first season with the team.

In his last seven apperances (7 2/3 IP), Stephenson has only allowed three hits and one earned run while not walking a batter and striking out seven. Batters are hitting .111/.111/.259 against him in that span.

This comes after he allowed two earned runs in his first three innings.

He spoke with us on Wednesday about what has changed for him since.

“(I’ve changed) the way I’m attacking hitters,” said Stephenson. “I’ve been trusting my fastball a lot more … (I’ve really) been pushing on using that fastball more and I feel a lot more confident right now and I think that’s what has really helped me.”

He has been working on his changeup too, which he said has been difficult to figure out in the past. He said that he has used a circle-change up grip, a straight-changeup, and a vulcan changeup grip in the past but he has settled on the split-change grip, in which the pitch is a crossover between a splitter and changeup.

He also said that he has been working on it everyday when he plays catch.

His recent performances have brought his ERA down to 2.53.

Set-up man Mychal Givens

After struggling with the Rockies in the bullpen in 2020, he has done much better in 2021. Entering Wednesday, Givens has an ERA of 2.70 and he has been even better recently. After his first appearance of the year, he has an ERA of 1.00, allowing one earned run in nine innings, allowing six hits, walking nobody, and striking out 10.

But there’s been a big difference in what he throws at the plate from 2020.

In 2020, he threw his changeup 20.7 percent of the time but heading into Wednesday, he threw it exactly 30 percent more: 50.7 percent of the time.

Why is that number up so much? We asked Givens on Wednesday.

“I knew going into this year, it was working and don’t change what’s working right now,” said Givens. “The changeup is working really well (for me). Since it’s working really well and (I’m) making adjustments … and just knowing I’m getting guys out with that, I’ll keep using that until they make adjustments off of me.”

In addition to that, Bud Black said that he suspected that he faced more left-handed hitters and Givens uses it (and most right-handed pitchers) more against left-handed hitters.

And Black was correct as he has faced 22 left-handed hitters and 17 right-handed hitters in 2021, with some drastic splits.

Givens vs. lefties: 5 2/3 IP, 4 H, 1 R/ER, 1 HR, 2 BB, 7 K’s, 1.59 ERA
Givens vs. righties: 4 1/3 IP, 4 H, 2 R/ER, 1 HR, 0 BB, 4 K’s, 4.15 ERA

For the Rockies in 2020, Givens numbers were similar as he was much better against lefties.

But the Rockies most importantly reliever has still been struggling, despite the bullpen pitching much better lately.

The Rockies closer: Daniel Bard

Daniel Bard has been one of the few relievers that has been struggling for the Rockies of late. In his last five appearances, he has an ERA of 9.00 and batters are hitting .400/.444/.760 against him (10-for-40). He also has allowed at least one earned run in four of his five last outings, including Tuesday in San Francisco.

Bud Black thinks that it is because one main reason: pitch location.

“(Bard’s) stuff is solid (and) he is attacking the zone,” said Black on Wednesday. “The only thing I see that there has been too many pitches that have been up in the zone and out over the plate a little bit as opposed to the combination of low strikes and elevating the ball when you need to, to certain hitters and certain counts.”

Black specifically said that he has seen a lot of pitches “from the mid-thigh to the belly button.

If you want to see Bard’s pitch location thus far in 2021, here is what it looks like.

On Tuesday, he was lucky to only have one run score against him as he gave up a lot of long foul balls.

The Rockies will need him to turn the corner to be more confident in securing wins in the ninth inning or they may decide to turn to Givens, Stephenson, or someone else to close out games.