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Though Austin Gomber isn’t heading for the injured list just yet, the Colorado Rockies already battered starting rotation has taken another hit.
Gomber will miss his next scheduled start on Sunday against the Toronto Blue Jays after exiting his previous outing on Monday with back soreness. Chase Anderson will be activated from the 15-day injured list to make the start with Colorado native Kevin Gausman taking the ball for the Jays.
“Having some back tightness, a little bit of pain that I’ve been dealing with for a couple of weeks, I guess probably closer to a month now,” he said on Aug 28. “Been able to kind of get through it. Tonight was just a little bit different. Didn’t specifically feel like more pain or more tightness or anything.”
The Rockies had just returned from the east coast and the flight back to Denver from Baltimore was one of the longest of the season. Gomber hoped to rebound citing the stiffness hadn’t actually gotten worse before the decision to leave the game early was made for him.
“His arm felt fine, he just couldn’t really get into his legs and really couldn’t get that extension and really get the full effort that pitchers need,” manager Bud Black said.
The team is hopeful that the 29-year-old will be able to start again on the road next week, either in Arizona or San Francisco, especially considering the lack of severity to his back and the absence of a trip to the 15-day IL.
“As far as my daily life, I can walk around and live my life completely fine,” Gomber shared. “So even right now I feel fairly normal. So that’s why there is confidence at least for me that I’ll be good to go.”
After losing his first four starts of the season and posting a 12.12 ERA, the southpaw opened up post-game on April 19 about the lingering emotions from being part of a high-profile transaction such as the Nolan Arenado trade saying, “I just feel like I put too much pressure on myself trying to live up to the reason I — or how I got here.”
Besides a 4.62 ERA over those 23 starts, his pinpoint command saw a streak of 29.2 consecutive innings without a walk set a new franchise record. He even went at least six innings in a career-best seven consecutive starts from June 30 to Aug 6, at which time he went 5-1 with a 2.51 ERA (43.0 IP, 12 ER), six walks and 26 strikeouts.
“He’s been a guy that’s been durable, especially the last couple of months performing,” Black said of Gomber. “You can arguably say that he’s been one of our best starting pitchers, probably as in performance wise. So, I feel for him, as does the team because on the days he pitches we feel like we’re gonna win, right, just because of the way he’s throwing.”
Gomber has set a career-high with 27 starts. In the process, he’s bested Denny Neagle for the sixth-most starts by a left-hander in franchise history.
This isn’t the first time he’s dealt with these issues. Gomber missed the final month of the 2021 season with what was diagnosed as spondylolysus, a stress fracture in the lower back that is considered common. According to others in the Rockies clubhouse, the back issue this season has probably impacted him much longer than a month.
“I always have a hard time I feel like the first day getting back here (after a road trip). That’s something I’ve noticed over the three years,” Gomber said. “Anytime I’ve pitched on the first day back, it’s usually been harder for me to get going and then obviously dealing with something kind of adds on to that.”
Though Gomber seems inclined to work through the issue, the organization clearly doesn’t want the injury to become anything more serious. With Germán Márquez and Antonio Senzatela set to miss the first few months of the 2024 campaign, it will be imperative for Gomber to rejoin Kyle Freeland as the foundation of the rotation once again next season.
Chase Anderson made two starts with Triple-A Albuquerque while on the injured list for right shoulder inflammation. The 35-year-old went a combined 5.2 innings and allowed three runs on seven hits and five walks.
But what happens if Gomber will miss significant time? Will Anderson be the permanent solution for the final month? Or will the club give an opportunity to a starting pitcher that will not be 30 years old?
Peter Lambert, 26, is poised to be the only member of youth in the rotation following a return to the form first displayed when he debuted with Colorado in 2019.
Ty Blach deserves to get the ball every five days given his success since joining the rotation on July 23. His 2.86 ERA (34.2 IP, 11 ER) during that time suggests there could be a place reserved for him in the back of the rotation for next season. Chris Flexen, who walked six batters in his Rockies debut on July 29, has been much better over his last six starts with a modest 5.23 ERA (32.2 IP, 19 ER).
If Colorado wants to get younger, other options will need to be explored.
Ryan Feltner made his first rehab start on Friday since sustaining a concussion and skull fracture on May 13. With the Rockies’ High-A affiliate Spokane, Feltner went three innings and gave up one while striking out three. Though he may still need one to two more rehab starts before making a triumphant return, the 27-year-old will get that opportunity if he’s ready.
— Spokane Indians (@spokaneindians) September 2, 2023
Down in Triple-A, an entire rotation of players are waiting for a chance at turning heads and moving up the depth chart. Noah Davis was impressive during his first two starts in April. Connor Seabold strung together five weeks worth of starts between May and June. Karl Kauffman would like another shot as would Jeff Criswell, a pitcher acquired via trade last offseason. He’s yet to make his debut with Colorado and has four consecutive quality starts in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.
Feltner made his Major League debut in Sept 2021 after having jumped over Triple-A from the Double-A Hartford Yard Goats. It was the first time Colorado had allowed for such a promotion since Senzatela finished 2016 in Hartford and began 2017 on the Rockies’ Opening Day roster.
Last season featured a similar situation when Davis and reliever Gavin Hollowell made move from CT to CO. If the same thing should happen again this season, RHP Connor Van Scoyoc could be the most likely to get the boost.
Meanwhile in Spokane…
RHP Connor Van Scoyoc made his Rockies’ debut with High-A Spokane tonight.
The prospect acquired in the Mike Moustakas trade to the Angels delivered on the hype:
6 IP, 8 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 7 K pic.twitter.com/wr9z0ugHGk
— Patrick Lyons (@PatrickDLyons) June 28, 2023
Acquired from the Los Angeles Angels in June for INF Mike Moustakas, Van Scoyoc made four successful starts with High-A Spokane before being promoted to Double-A on July 27. Excluding his initial three starts in the Eastern League, the 23-year-old has posted a 3.06 ERA (17.2 IP, 6 ER) with four walks and 15 strikeouts over his last three outings.
Since he’s eligible for the Rule 5 draft again this December — as is Criswell and RHP Tanner Gordon, who’s sporting a 1.88 ERA (14.1 IP, 3 ER) in his last three starts between Double-A and Triple-A — Colorado may need a better look to know if they should reserve a spot on the 40-man roster for him this offseason.