It was one of the more disappointing seasons for the starting rotation during the Bud Black’s tenure as manager of the Colorado Rockies.
After running out eight different starters, including seven that made 17 or more starts, the 2022 rotation finished with a 5.23 ERA. It was only the second time Black’s rotation had an earned run average greater than 5.00 during his six campaigns. It was also just the third time it’s happened for the franchise in the last decade.
So far, the only changes has been re-signing José Ureña on a one-year deal that includes a team option for 2024. Seeing as though Ureña was already apart of the ’22 staff, it’s not much of a change to keep things the same.
The best of the Rockies’ farm system at a glance won’t turn up any names of starting pitchers who have spent significant time at Double-A or higher. However, an interesting situation is still brewing for the rotation.
“Two guys that haven’t come like we hoped are (Ryan) Rolison and Peter (Lambert), and that’s injury based,” Black said of his starting pitching next season. “I think those two guys, if healthy, can provide us some depth. I think those two guys are key, right?”
Lambert and Rolison have more in common than they’d each like to admit. Both were born in 1997 and drafted early by the Rockies, and the two have experienced similar speed bumps during their development to become big league regulars.
Drafted out of high school in the second round of the 2015 MLB Draft, Lambert made his Major League debut in 2019. He gave up two earned runs in 12 innings over his first two starts with Colorado before finishing with a 7.25 ERA in 19 outings.
During the 2020 Spring Training, he felt discomfort in his arm. Despite rest and a downtime due to the Covid-19 pandemic, he required Tommy John surgery to repair his torn UCL. Lambert returned to make two starts with the Rockies in 2021 and has been limited to 37.1 innings over the last two seasons.
In order to extend his 2022 season, Lambert participated in the Arizona Fall League. He looked good in his third start and was scratched from his next outing with more discomfort.
“I just think at that point, if you feel something or there was nothing major, everything’s checked out,” GM Bill Schmidt said of the scratch. “He should be ready to go in Spring Training. That’s what I’ve been told.”
Rolison was the 22nd overall selection in the 2018 MLB Draft out of Ole Miss. He looked poised to make his debut some time in 2020 before the pandemic wiped away 102 regular season games and forced him to miss a season of minor league development.
A slew of injuries in 2021 kept him to just 91.2 frames between the minor league season and winter ball before shoulder surgery in April erased all of 2022.
Track record not withstanding, the two 25-year-olds should be ready to contribute much more to Colorado this season. From the sound of things from Schmidt and Black, they should be healthy to start Spring Training in a good place.
“They’ll be on some sort of limited availability — I don’t want to say availability, but we have to monitor — they’re not going to bang out 180, 200 innings this year. So we’re going to have to monitor some of their work,” Black clarified.
Lambert and Rolison may currently be viewed as No. 6 and 7 starters at this point. But if 2023 is anything like this past year, they’ll be vital to contribute through the slog of the 162-game season, especially if injuries befall Kyle Freeland and Germán Márquez or if poor performances strike down the those such as Ureña, Ryan Feltner and Austin Gomber.
One of the biggest question marks regarding the upside of the rotation will be the health of Antonio Senzatela. A torn ACL in August for the 27-year-old brought into doubts about how the 2023 rotation will be able rebound as a whole with one of their most reliable starters requiring rehabilitation through the offseason.
“I was asking, ‘(When) will I be back? Two weeks, three weeks?’ They said, ‘No. You’ll be back next year, hopefully,’” Senzatela said of the injury sustained in St. Louis.
The original prognosis suggested Senzatela could possibly return in early April, but it’s beginning to look more like May, according to the Rockies’ skipper.
“He’s doing fine,” Black said of Senzatela’s health. “He’s hitting all his markers.”
Along with Freeland and Márquez, Senzatela makes up a core of three starting pitchers Colorado has been able to rely upon for quality innings over the last six seasons.
Together, the trio have combined for 2,428.2 innings, more than any other trio for one team in MLB since the start of the 2017 season.
Only the St. Louis Cardinals can claim three starters in the top 100 of innings pitched since 2017 thanks to their triumvirate of Adam Wainwright, Miles Mikolas and Jack Flaherty.