SCOTTSDALE, Arizona (CBS4) – There’s a new vibe for the Colorado Rockies at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Arizona. An aura of confidence abounds at spring training.
“You can see it in everything we do,” pitcher Jon Gray told CBS4. “The attitudes of the guys when we walk in. The chemistry. The way the manager is fired up about this year. Everyone is. It’s all coming together as one.”
The Rockies know that thanks to the new additions to the club, the setup is there for success. Now it’s on them to deliver.
“We can feel it in the clubhouse,” said reliever Adam Ottavino. “Even towards the end of last year. We might not be winning yet, but we feel like we’re right there. So those moves are welcome by everybody.”
“We’re ready to take that next step. At the same time it’s all talk right now, and we need to go out there on the field and prove it. And I think we’re ready to do that,” said second baseman DJ Lemahieu.
The Rockies knew going into the offseason they would have to improve their pitching, so they brought in Greg Holland and Mike Dunn.
But their biggest move might be the addition of a lefty who won’t even throw a pitch this year. That would be manager Bud Black.
In his first season with the Rockies, Black, 59, has injected new life into a club that’s looking to end a streak of seven years without a playoff appearance.
“The great thing about Bud Black, which is kind of cool, is he doesn’t even really talk about baseball sometimes. He’ll just ask me how my family’s doing. You know ‘How’s life? Or Where are you living?'” said third baseman Nolan Arenado. “It’s cool to see that he cares about more than baseball.”
“He’s high energy and generally wants to help people,” LeMahieu said.
The Rockies could certainly use the help, especially on the mound, which — not by accident — is Black’s strength. The former big league starting pitcher knows a trip to the postseason begins with pitching.
“I think it’s fair to say this team will go as far as the entire pitching staff will take it,” Black said. “I think the pitching staff as a whole is truly what drives a team’s success.”
“I don’t think you can outslug every opponent every night and expect long term success. You’ve got to pitch.”
Last year the Rockies led the National League in hits and RBIs. The lineup has gotten deeper with the addition of Ian Desmond. So offense shouldn’t be an issue.
The question is: Will pitching be the downfall yet again?
“Our guys are up for that challenge: to keep producing on the offensive side. The trick will be whether we can pitch to that level of what our position players are doing. And we think we’re getting closer to that,” Black said.
In 2016 the Rockies pitching staff had the second-worst ERA in the National League and had 28 blown saves, tied for third most in the majors.
It’s hard to tell which area needs more improvement — the starters or the bullpen. But the Rockies know both need to be better.
“Starting pitching for us is going to be big, because it’s a chance to eat up a lot of innings, which keeps our bullpen healthy and fresh every day,” said pitcher Tyler Anderson. “We have plenty of arms in the bullpen, so as long as we don’t overuse them and tax them, which is kind of our job as a starting role, then we should be in a good position.
“We don’t want to be that group that lets everybody down, so if the starters are doing their job and the hitters are doing their job, fielding well too, we don’t want to ruin that,” said Ottavino. “We’re trying to put ourselves as a strength for the team rather than that kind of weak link.
Black said “they’ve got go keep growing.”
“I think last year it might not have been reflected in the won-loss record and at times in the ERA, but these guys, I think, are proving that they’re major league pitchers.”
“They proved it in spurts last year. This year, we’re going to have to prove it hopefully over a longer duration of time.”
The talk about improving the Rockies pitching may sound like the same old thing that gets said at this time of year. But there’s really a different factor in the mix. Consider:
In 2000 the Anaheim Angels had an ERA that was 21st worst in the majors. Two years later they had the fourth best ERA and won the World Series.
The Angels’ pitching coach? Bud Black.