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Rotation providing biggest strength to Colorado, signing of Kuhl adds critical depth

Patrick Lyons Avatar
March 15, 2022

“I don’t think it’s any secret that one of the strongest assets of our team is the starting rotation,” Austin Gomber said on Day Two of Colorado Rockies’ Spring Training. 

Helmed by a returning foursome of Germán Márquez, Antonio Senzatela, Kyle Freeland and Gomber, the entire clubhouse is confident of the staff’s ability.

The 11.6 fWAR by the rotation was 14th-best in MLB last year and was the highest since the 2017-18 rotation that elevated Colorado to consecutive postseasons.

“We know the responsibility that we have,” Gomber said in front of his locker in the first media scrum since March 2020. “If we wanna go where we wanna go – we want to make it to October baseball – we’re going to have to be a big part of it.”

The health of the rotation is very much going to be the large factor in an equation that results to the Rockies contending. Last year, all but Márquez spent a stint on the injured list with Senzatela, Gomber and Jon Gray, now with the Texas Rangers, making two trips. 

“Last year, we had quite a few hiccups with injuries, obviously starting with me in Spring Training,” Freeland reflected. “Throughout the season, it seemed we never had the full staff together healthy for one time for an extended period of time.” 

The shortened build up for Opening Day makes that goal all the more challenging as the typical six weeks of preparation for starting pitchers has been reduced to just three-and-a-half weeks.

For Márquez, who hasn’t hit the IL since late in 2019, his offseason preparation meant staying in Denver for his offseason training.

“I think it’s gonna help me a lot,” said the 2021 All-Star. “The altitude and all that, it was good. I was freezing a little, but it was good.”

Sep 27, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; Colorado Rockies starting pitcher German Marquez (48) delivers against the Washington Nationals in the first inning at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Senzatela said it best when it comes to the overall success of the Rockies in 2022. Regardless of how well the rotation does, it’s a full-team effort that dictates a club’s win-loss record.

“We have a good team,” Senzatela professed. “I think that we’ve got good hitters, too. So we have to put everything together at the same time to get a good season.”

Through Being Kuhl

The signing of Chad Kuhl on a one-year deal for $3 million, plus performance bonuses, says as much about the former Pittsburgh Pirates product as it does the state of the 40-man roster.

Protecting heir apparents in the rotation like Peter Lambert and Ryan Rolison is a critical move for the future of both the organization and the players.

Lambert, who returned late in 2021 from Tommy John surgery the year prior, is coming along slowly. It’s a similar story with Rolison, who missed much of last season due to appendicitis and a broken hand, two freak injuries that prevented the left-hander from making his Major League debut.

“​​I call organizations, you know, you do homework on all players. Touch the scouts,” manager Bud Black said of the process for signing free agents like Kuhl. “You touch the analytics. You network, people who’ve had him: coaches, teammates… for lack of a better term, the due diligence and you identify players.”

All those sources came together and pointed at the addition of Kuhl as a good move.

The 29-year-old from Delaware has been with the Pittsburgh Pirates for the entirety of his career since being selected in the 9th round of the 2013 MLB Draft.

His career 4.44 earned run average is highly indicative of his abilities on a seasonal level: his career year produced a 4.20 ERA and his worst was a 4.82 ERA. 

“It’s a good arm with a good fastball and good breaking ball with I still think has some upside-potential to realize his best stuff,” Black said of Kuhl. “And we’re going to give him an opportunity to be one of our starting pitchers.”

Kuhl is adept at inducing a ground ball. Since returning from Tommy John surgery in 2019, his penchant for worm burners versus moon shots has increased. That kind of profile, not to mention a history with new Special Assistant to the GM Clint Hurdle from their days together in Pittsburgh, is what brings Kuhl to Denver.

Though he made 12 relief appearances last season, Kuhl will be a starting pitcher with Colorado going forward, according to Black.

And despite being the final piece to the rotation with several more starters waiting in the wings, the Rockies are still in search of more depth.

“We’re always looking,” Black said of the ever-changing roster.

Missing Gray

For the first time in nearly a decade, Jon Gray is not a member of the franchise.

Drafted 3rd overall during the GM Dan O’Dowd’s administration, Gray helped lead the Rockies to back-to-back playoff appearances and earned himself a spot amongst the most successful starters in team history.

“I miss Jonny a lot,” Senzatela said with a gigantic smile on his face when reminded of Gray’s absence. “He’s one of the best guys in the clubhouse. So I miss him a lot. But, basically, you have to keep going.”

Oct 1, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Colorado Rockies starting pitcher Jon Gray (55) throws against the Arizona Diamondbacks in the first inning at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Perseverance is the name of the game, especially following an offseason highlighted mostly by a lockout that was all about dollars and cents. 

“It’s unfortunate, but that’s a part of the business,” Freeland explained of Gray’s departure. “It’s gonna happen. It’s gonna continue to happen. I wish all the best to Jon… I’m excited for him to be with Texas and let him do his thing down there.”

His friends may not have to miss Gray for very long as his new club will face off against the Rockies in two series this season. With the restructured schedule, he may even make his debut with Texas against Colorado on April 11-12.

Diamond Gems

Bud Black on the delicate nature of preparing his starting pitchers and hunting for more viable options on a shortened Spring Training schedule:

“We know our guys. The guys that we’ve had. We know they were working. They were working hard. They were doing the right things, but still you never know really what type of shape they’re in until they get here and they start going. So I think teams are trying to just get ahead of that by signing players, especially pitchers because you don’t know how it’s gonna unfold. And because of the potential pitch count issue – not issues, but realities – that you’re going to need some guys with some length. Because our starters aren’t going to be built up to 110 pitches on Opening Day. We’ll try to get them there as quickly as possible within the restrictions of time and our first priority to their health and their arms. So it makes logical sense to have guys who can go multiple innings (and) guys who can get the pitch counts out of the bullpen.”


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