DENVER (AP) — In years past, the sight of the Colorado Rockies’ bullpen doors swinging open was usually accompanied by groans from their fans and players alike.
There’s a whole different vibe in 2017.
Led by setup men Adam Ottavino and Mike Dunn and new closer Greg Holland, the Rockies’ refurbished relief corps posted five saves and two wins in the first week of the season, providing an early positive return on general manager Jeff Bridich’s offseason fix.
Slugger Carlos Gonzalez said it’s comforting to know that when the starting pitcher hits the showers, the Rockies finally have a bullpen that can finish the job.
“This is a team that scores a lot of runs but also in the past we blew a lot of games late,” Gonzalez said. “So, if they can keep us in and win games and secure games, we’re going to be in the mix.”
For the franchise’s first playoff appearance since 2009.
Last season, the Rockies’ beleaguered bullpen blew 28 saves and posted a 5.10 ERA.
The Rockies won three of four in Milwaukee to start the season and their pen posted a 1.88 ERA in the series, allowing just eight hits and three runs over 14 1/3 innings.
“It is a small sample, you watch those games that we’ve played, it’s tough to have anything but praise for the way they’ve pitched,” Bridich said. “I think they were the bright spot of the series against the Brewers.”
Star Nolan Arenado said that made for a different feeling in the dugout, an assurance that if the Rockies could get to the seventh with even a one-run lead, they’d be just fine.
“Yeah, absolutely, it’s a great feeling right now,” he said on the eve of the Rockies’ home opener against the Dodgers. “We saw it the first four games, they could do some good things for us. It’s still early, I don’t want to overblow it or spruce it up too much.
Playing here is a different feeling for these bullpen guys. So, we’ll see how they do here. But at the end of the day I’m very happy with who we have in there with Dunn and Holland and Otto and all those guys.”
The Rockies took two of three from Los Angeles and their pen allowed one run and one walk to go with 10 strikeouts over 6 2-3 innings in the first two games, both wins, before the relievers allowed four earned runs in four innings Sunday.
With Ottavino, Dunn and Holland unavailable Friday, the Rockies turned to Carlos Estevez and Scott Oberg, both of whom threw a scoreless inning to set up Jake McGee, who struck out the side in the ninth for his first save of the season and first since losing his closing job last year when he was hampered by a sore knee.
“It was great to sit there and let them do their thing and soak in a great win,” said rookie left-hander Kyle Freeland , who picked up the win in his major league debut.
Another positive sign was seeing McGee hit 98 mph.
“We knew from the first couple of weeks in Arizona he was going to be a different pitcher,” manager Bud Black said. “Last year really impacted his performance. The knee was an issue. He fought through it. He pitched through discomfort. The arm was fine but it really affected his delivery. He was able to compete and get through it but we knew if he was healthy that you might see performances like you saw today.”
It’s more of a necessity than a luxury anymore to have that second closer who can give the No. 1 guy a break.
“The structure of the bullpen has changed the last couple of decades but the teams that are successful have multiple guys that you can count on … We feel good about the eight guys we got now.”
Especially Holland, who signed a one-year, $7 million contract in the offseason. Holland was the Royals’ closer through most of 2014 and ’15 when they made back-to-back trips to the World Series before he underwent elbow reconstruction surgery.
Bridich didn’t consider signing Holland a big gamble.
“All these Tommy John surgeries are now in the same genre of rehab, people don’t stray a whole lot,” Bridich said. “So, as long as that’s normal, it’s almost kind of sickly comforting that the guy has had Tommy John and he has recovered from it and he’s going to be able to pitch well again.”
In his first week with the Rockies, Holland posted four saves in four tries without allowing a hit or a run. He walked one and struck out six.
By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Sports Writer
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