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What's next for the Rockies bullpen following loss of Tyler Kinley?

Patrick Lyons Avatar
June 17, 2022

Tyler Kinley, the one player who seemed most destined to represent the Colorado Rockies in the 2022 All-Star Game in Los Angeles on July 19, will undergo a procedure that should end his season prematurely. 

“Tyler has got an elbow sprain. And he’s got a flexor tear from the imaging that was taken over the last couple of days,” manager Bud Black. “It looks like it’s probably going to cost him the rest of the season.”

The 31-year-old reliever was in the midst of a career year with the Rockies, surrendering just two earned runs in 24.0 innings pitched.

Not only was his 0.75 ERA the third-lowest in the National League on June 12 when he was first place on the injured list, but it was the lowest in franchise history for a reliever through their first 25 games in nearly a decade. (Left-hander Rex Brothers held a 0.39 ERA to open 2013.)

As one of Black’s two setup men alongside Alex Colomé, the loss of Kinley throws a wrench into the late-game picture for Colorado.

What’s Not A Problem

After opening the year with a 6.23 ERA over his first nine games, Colomé has been downright dominant. He hasn’t allowed an earned run dating back to May 11 and has stayed away from the long ball in his last 33.1 innings, the second-longest streak of his career. 

Closer Daniel Bard has also tossed up his share of zeros, racking up 11 consecutive scoreless outings. Over the last 30 appearances dating back to last year, he has a 2.05 ERA and 13 saves. (In all likelihood, Bard leads MLB in cool bullpen entrances this month.)

Step Up Candidates

Heading into the season, righties Robert Stephenson and Carlos Estévez were viewed as critical options in high-leverage situations.

However, both players have not been able to replicate their previous success through the club’s first 64 games.

Stephenson led regulars with a 3.13 ERA last year in his first season with Colorado following a trade from Cincinnati. His 2022 was halted abruptly with a trip to the COVID-IL just before Opening Day, postponing his first appearance until April 20. 

A second stint on the COVID-IL in May has further segmented things for the 29-year-old. Despite the setbacks, he’s been charged with only one earned run in his last seven innings of work and owns a 5.89 ERA in 20 appearances so far this season.

Estévez has had better results despite some less than stellar performances. He didn’t record his first strikeout until his 10th game nearly one month into the season. 

Though he was unfairly hung with two losses last week because of walk-off errors by the Rockies’ defense in extra innings, his 4.05 ERA in June is still less than the club was hoping from their veteran hurler.

What About Him?

One of the best surprises a year ago is back at it again. 

In his rookie campaign, he pitched to a 0.69 ERA from July 17 until the end of the season, stranding runners 93.2% of the time in the process. 

Colorado Rockies relief pitcher Lucas Gilbreath (58) delivers a pitch during a game at Petco Park in San Diego, Calif., Saturday, June 11, 2022.

His sophomore season has produced similar results in the form of a 0.73 ERA since May 14, including eight consecutive scoreless appearances.

Over the last month, Kinley led the club with a 92.9% left on base percentage, most in the ‘pen. Gilbreath is next at stranding 90.9% of base runners, ahead of both Colomé (85.7%) and Bard (80.9%)

Unknown Commodities 

Jake Bird and Chad Smith are the two most recent additions to Colorado’s arm barn. 

Bird made his MLB debut in a scoreless ninth-inning on Thursday during the 4-2 loss to the Cleveland Guardians. 

A fourth-round pick in 2018 out of UCLA, Bird has shown success at every level with the organization. He came on the Rockies’ radar last season with a 3.38 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A in 2021, not to mention a successful campaign in the distinguished Arizona Fall League.

Smith was plucked from the Miami Marlins via trade in 2020 and was quite remarkable in Triple-A West (aka Pacific Coast League) last season pitching to a 2.97 ERA that’s made even more impressive when considering the league average was a 5.39 ERA.  

Justin Lawrence, currently at Albuquerque, has been fine for the Isotopes since being sent down on May 27. Though he didn’t play as the 27th man during the doubleheader on June 11, his inclusion on the roster suggests he’ll have an edge over other relievers on the farm like Jordan Sheffield and Julian Fernández. 

Jhoulys Chacín (6.53 ERA) and Ryan Feltner, who’s more suited for long relief as his future is still as a starting pitcher, could provide more valuable innings as everyone moves up a spot in the absence of Kinley. 

A three-game sweep at the hands of the Guardians was more about the performance of the rotation costing the Rockies a chance at victory – not to mention spotty defense, questionable base running and trouble driving home runners in scoring position.

At this point, worrying about a strong backend of the bullpen may be more of a luxury for a team that has gone 11-26 since (.297) since May 8 and is now 10 games under .500 (27-37) on the season.


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