Jason Jennings pitched nine seasons in Major League Baseball and following a trade to the Houston Astros in 2006, he never returned to pitch at Coors Field again.
As the 2002 National League Rookie of the Year Award — the only winner in 30 years for the Colorado Rockies — he probably deserved a respite from appearing in the least pitcher-friendly ballpark in the big leagues.
“It’s not so much the home runs as it was just the space that our outfielders had to cover,” Jennings said ahead of the Rockies’ first 30th Anniversary celebration of the season. “The bloop singles and doubles and triples that are normally outs on the road really present a huge challenge as a pitcher.”
Welcome back to Coors!
As a part of our 30th anniversary celebrations, Ubaldo Jiménez, Brad Hawpe, and Jason Jennings threw out the first pitches before today’s game. pic.twitter.com/PvRoynpfXi
— Colorado Rockies (@Rockies) May 28, 2023
What was true two decades ago for a 23-year-old rookie leading a pitching staff with high-priced free agents Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle still stands to this day.
Colorado’s pitching is always among the worst when viewing the batting average against them because of the green expanse in Denver. This season, opposing hitters are batting .297 at Coors Field, worst in the sport by 20 points. On the road, that drops down to .245 and ranks 10th-best.
Somehow, the Rockies have been able to course correct since losing 20 games in April for the first time in franchise history. They’ve won 15 games in May and entered Memorial Day with the third-best record in the National League this month.
You’ve probably heard the secret Jennings and many in his class of starting pitchers learned, several of whom contributed to the 2007 World Series roster. Sure, “It’s not about the run you just gave up, it’s about the next one.” That’s common, but there’s also an old school adage that also rings true. It’s something you could say the 2023 rotation has been able to put into effect.
“Our mentality for the guys that came up through the system was just pitch better than the other guy,” Jennings, now 44, shared.
This was never more evident than on Monday during Colorado’s 7-5 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Karl Kauffmann went four innings and surrendered all seven runs. His counterpart, Ryne Nelson, wasn’t great, but he was better: five innings and five earned runs.
Kauffmann’s three-start audition with Colorado appears to be over as the club will need his roster spot to complete their 17 consecutive days without an off-day. His 11.37 ERA may not be inspiring at this point, but it doesn’t tell the entire story.
Earned run average is commonly used to gauge a pitcher’s value, but all that should be thrown out the window for those suiting up in purple. According to Jennings, who owns and operates Pastime Training Center in Prosper, TX just north of Dallas, a certain mentality towards ignoring ERA is developed in the minors.
“Nothing I accomplished here would have ever happened without some of the struggles that I experienced in Colorado Springs,” he explained. “They knew our stats were going to be a little higher, but just pitch better than the other guy… Once I got here, even if I gave up four or five runs, I knew we’d probably score seven or eight. So, long as I could just eat up some innings, keep us in the ballgame and give us a chance to win. That was really my main goal.”
On Sunday, both Austin Gomber and Tylor Megill of the New York Mets gave up six runs over four innings in what ended in an 11-10 victory for Colorado. Saturday featured a lopsided matchup on paper with future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander facing off against Chase Anderson, a pitcher who was claimed off waivers only two weeks prior. Anderson bested the three-time Cy Young Award winner during a 10-7 win for Colorado.
But Anderson, a veteran of 10 big league season, is well aware of how he can contribute to the Rockies during this time in flux for the starting rotation. With four starters on the injured list — Germán Márquez, Antonio Senzatela, Ryan Feltner and Noah Davis — manager Bud Black needs a steady, veteran hand and Anderson has provided that.
“I was just able to mix the ball around the zone a little bit better tonight and keep them off balance for the most part because that team is really really good,” he said after third start for the club.
Through three starts with Colorado, Anderson is unlike his peers who rely upon strikeouts. He has only eight in his 15.2 innings pitched, yet all have come at Coors Field. Place that alongside an impressive 1.72 ERA and you can understand why a 35-year-old veteran is having such success utilizing an approach Jennings and his generation of Rockies pitchers learned.
“(It’s) not necessarily trying to miss the bat, just trying to miss the barrel. If they can miss it just enough to keep it in the yard or give a chance to our guys to make a play on it,” Jennings said. “The more I learned that, I think the better pitcher I became.”
The rotation will get more experienced with addition of Dinelson Lamet, who is scheduled to be activated from the injured list on Wednesday in Arizona. Lamet, 30, has served as a reliever during his time with Colorado and will make his first start since June 26, 2021 when he was a member of the San Diego Padres.
His fourth-place finish in Cy Young Award voting in 2020 following a 2.09 ERA over 12 starts seems unreasonable to replicate, but one earned run in 10.2 innings with the Albuquerque Isotopes during his rehab stint suggests that competitor is still inside of Lamet.
Dinelson Lamet participated in live BP today after going on the IL with lower back stiffness on May 4. #Rockies Bud Black said he looked healthy and the focus will be on improving his delivery and confidence when returning. pic.twitter.com/fdXWoBsgtw
— Patrick Lyons (@PatrickDLyons) May 13, 2023
“Very good reports from the AAA staff. Back to back good outings for Dinelson. It’s good to see,” Black said. “We’ll continue to monitor this, but that’s a good sign for him.”
More good news for rotation came in the form of Ryan Rolison being activated off the 60-day IL and back on the Isotopes active roster for the first time since September of 2021. Left shoulder sidelined him for all of 2022 and a series of unlucky injuries cost him time the prior season. He’s another depth piece that further strengthens the potential of the pitching staff.
Jennings advice for finding success at altitude is apt for 2023 and is influenced by the first player to have his number retired by the organization: no. 17, Mr. Rockie, Todd Helton.
“I say Todd played baseball with a football mentality. And I feel like I had a little bit of that in me as well. And I think that helped me get through some of those tough times.”