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BSN Exclusive: Carlos Estevez experiencing a renaissance

Drew Creasman Avatar
May 15, 2019

The beginning of the Colorado Rockies 2019 season was a purposefully designed feeling out process.

You might be inclined to argue that this approach cost them a great deal especially during an eight-game losing streak that had some fans and media members reaching for the panic button.

But they’ve also learned a lot so far and one of the big question marks for the bullpen may have a resounding answer in the form of a revitalized Carlos Estevez.

“I haven’t felt like this since the end of 2017,” he told BSN Denver.

It might feel like so long ago, but Estevez emerged to become Bud Black’s go-to right-handed power reliever down the stretch in the most important games the franchise had seen in nearly a decade at that time. And he came through against the likes of Giancarlo Stanton and Jesus Aguilar.

His dazzling performances earned him a spot on the postseason roster. He faced two batters in that Wild Card game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, striking out Ketel Marte then surrendering a single to Paul Goldschmidt, a baserunner that eventually scored on hits against Greg Holland.

After he had been thrust into a closing role far too early in 2016 – less than a year removed from High-A baseball – and after he spent all of that season battling himself and his coaches on which delivery to employ, he was in the best groove of his professional career at a time when the stakes were the highest.

“And that’s how I feel right now,” he says. “But even better because I’m commanding my slider more than I used to.”

Unfortunately for Estevez, the ups-and-downs of his career were not in the rear-view mirror after that 2017 breakout. He found himself sidelined for all of 2018 due to a series of odd and mentally trying injuries.

When I asked Bud Black in Spring Training about all the missed time on the day that Estevez was optioned to Triple-A (despite pretty good numbers in camp) he granted the premise that it was a major factor in why he wasn’t on the 25-man roster for Opening Day.

And Estevez admits he wasn’t happy about it.

“I got sent down… but I felt good and my stuff felt good. So after a couple of good outings, I just said ‘why am I mad? I’m gonna get my opportunity. I’m just gonna keep doing my thing. And I’ll be ready.”

And he has been ready.

It hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows. He has given up three home runs in 19.1 innings of work, but he has also managed to limit the overall damage for a decent 3.72 ERA. Considering the home ballpark factor, his ERA+ of 135 suggests he has been well above league average. That mark also is tops in the Rox ‘pen.

Estevez believes this is a more sustained kind of success.

With the natural ability he possesses, sitting in the high-90’s and even regularly touching triple-digits this season, the 26-year-old Dominican has been able to get away with some mistakes in the past and been bitten hard by others.

But he is learning from each mistake now and says, rather than surprising people with his blazing fastball, he is beating hitters with quality pitching.

“It feels really good,” he says. “When someone gets me, I feel like ‘Ok, you got me the first one, but I got you now.’ It feels really good with the way I’m commanding my pitches.”

That’s not to say he doesn’t still look for those moments to fire the fastball right by dudes. He has done that to great effect this season as well, perhaps most notably striking out Manny Machado on three straight up-and-in all at 98 or 99 mph.

Doesn’t it get tempting, I asked, knowing that you’ve got a better handle on your slider now, to go to it in those 0-2 counts after a couple of great fastballs?

“It goes through your mind,” he laughs, “But when you get the call again from the catcher, you tell yourself that this guy can’t handle your fastball so it’s time to throw again.”

He will trust in them and even says he loves the few times he’s been asked to throw a change-up and has gotten good results on those. The mix and command “That’s getting me up there into those (high leverage) situations, so what else can you ask for?”

For the third time in his MLB career, Estevez has had to work his way back up the totem pole from not even on the roster to middle-relief to once again being handed the baseball by Bud Black with games on the line.

He was most recently trusted with pitching the bottom of the ninth in a tie game against the defending champion Boston Red Sox. After getting squeezed a bit in a full-count leadoff walk to Jackie Bradley Jr., Estevez had to face the heart of the order with the potential winning run aboard.

A moment that might have phased any other version of Carlos Estevez, he narrowed his gaze and dialed up some nastiness in a strikeout of Andrew Benintendi.

Even more impressively, he then managed to jam two of the best hitters in baseball, Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez to send the game his team would eventually win into extra innings.

The young man I met in 2013 as a primary translator for Raimel Tapia has had to prove himself to everyone over and over again. Overlooked for the hundredth time by so many coming into the 2019 season, he has proven to be a stabilizing force in a Colorado Rockies bullpen still looking for some steadiness in a post-Adam Ottavino world.

And he has done so by keeping it calm and keeping it simple… though still with a bit of that fire that makes him who he is.

“Go up there and do your thing then get ready for the next day,” he says. “And have some fun.”


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