Entering the 2022 season, it became apparent that the rotation for the Colorado Rockies were the leaders of the clubhouse.
Even with the signing of Kris Bryant, which occurred after the 40-man roster had already reported to Scottsdale for Spring Training, the roster turnover in recent years had barely impacted Colorado’s stable of starting pitchers.
Since 2017, the trio of Kyle Freeland, Germán Márquez and Antonio Senzatela have helped bolster the best rotation in the club’s 30-year history.
Each man has made over 100 starts with Márquez (143, 5th-most), Freeland (128, tied for 16th) and Senzatela (105, tied for 52nd) comfortably in the top 75 of starters in wins-above-replacement, according to FanGraphs.
Their batterymates, on the other hand, have been a varied bunch, each with differing levels of experience behind the plate.
Elias Díaz has been the veteran presence since joining the club ahead of the 2020 season while players like Chris Iannetta, Ryan Hanigan, Jonathan Lucroy and Drew Butera have all occupied that role with the Rockies since the start of the 2017 season.
Together, those veterans started 350 games entering Thursday.
A group of younger, less-experienced backstops – Tony Wolters, Tom Murphy, Dustin Garneau, Dom Nuñez and now rookie Brian Serven – have started even more (401 games), with Wolters’ 259 games contributing to the bulk of that number.
Serven, the latest young backstop to debut for the Rockies, entered his name in the baseball registry last Wednesday with Freeland on the hill.
He may have been 0-for-2 at the plate, but he ultimately helped navigate his pitchers towards success in a 5-3 victory that snapped a 12-game losing streak to the San Francisco Giants.
“He did a great job. Very happy to have him behind the dish,” Freeland said of the 27-year-old rookie following a quality start that gave Colorado a total of 15 for the season, third-most in the National League at the time.
Serven is no stranger to the team’s roster as he’s been catching Rockies’ pitchers since his first big league camp in 2019. He even caught Freeland during both rehab starts in 2021 with Triple-A Albuquerque.
For the sixth-year starter out of Thomas Jefferson High School in Denver, he relishes the opportunity to work with Serven and aid in his development.
“He was coming over to me almost every inning asking questions,” Freeland said of his newest teammates. “He wanted to figure me out as quickly as he could so we’d get comfortable with one another. I got to credit him for wanting to learn in this game and wanting to learn at the big league level.”
After an 0-2 performance in his debut on May 18, Serven recorded his first hit in his second game, a two-run home run that gave Colorado a lead that would be enough for their only win against the visiting New York Mets.
Two at-bats later, he had his first multi-homer game, becoming only the second Rockie after Trevor Story in 2016 with home runs as the first two hits in his career.
While Freeland, Márquez and Senzatela made only a combined $3.3 million for their first two seasons together, the trio is set to make $25.6 million in 2022.
As such, their place in the clubhouse is one of prominence.
“That’s where the tables have kind of turned where I’m the veteran now,” Freeland acknowledged.
This was evident when the 29-year-old lefty took the ball on Tuesday night in Pittsburgh despite being compromised. Suffering from a cold and nearly becoming sick on the mound, he kept his team in the game until the fifth inning when he exited after 84 pitches.
Colorado went on to win that game 2-1 in 10 innings for just their second road win in a month.
For Serven, who spent parts of six seasons in the minors – not to mention an additional year of development in 2020 when MiLB canceled all games – it’s a culmination of a life’s work. And there’s still more to do.
“I think he’s going to be good because he’s so eager to get better and learn about us. It’s gonna take time,” Freeland explained following his most recent quality start. “There’s gonna be some lumps and some growing pains with him just like any rookie, especially when they’re trying to learn a big league staff. But I think he’s going to do a great job.”
With the support of the Rockies’ starting rotation, that progression will surely be smoother than any other time in team history.