Things are changing for the Rockies. They are off to the best start in franchise history, sitting atop the NL West, and about to embark on back-to-back series against the two teams chasing them in the division. Oh, and they have some big decisions looming.
Arizona, which is in third place in the NL West, a game back of the Rockies, opens a three-game series at Coors Field on Tuesday night. after that the Rockies fly to Los Angeles for a three-game weekend series against the Dodgers, who are a half-game behind the Rockies.
Meanwhile, Jon Gray and Tyler Anderson are on the verge of coming off the disabled list. Gray, out with a broken bone in his left foot, made his second rehab start on Monday, allowing five runs, one of which was earned, in 4 1/3 innings against Sacramento, the Giants’ affiliate. He gave up five hits, but struck out seven and walked one. The Isotopes won the game 11-6.
Before he left on the assignment Gray had said he was hopefully he would be ready to come off the disabled list following the start. That’s a decision the Rockies figure to make after meeting with him in Tuesday or Wednesday.
Anderson, meanwhile, made his first rehab assignment appearance on Sunday, also in Sacramento. He suffered a 1-0 loss, giving up the game’s lone run and five hits in five innings. He walked one and struck out six.
Anderson and Gray were both in the Rockies rotation to open the season. Their injuries, however, opened the door for the Rockies to look at some of their top pitching prospects, and that’s where the interesting decision enters.
The rookies have been impressive. Antonio Senzatela (9-2) and Kyle Freeland (8-4) are the first rookie teammates to have eight or more victories apiece the first 75 games into a season in 80 years. And the Rockies duo has done it working on a five-man rotation, instead of the four man that was in use 80 years ago. Lou Fette and Jim Turner both wound up winning 20 games for the 1937 Boston Braves.
Senzatela, Freeland, German Marquez (5-3) and Jeff Hoffman (4-0) are a combined 26-9 as starting pitchers for the Rockies. The 20 other rookies who have started a game in the NL this year are a combined 23-38.
So who goes to make room for Gray and Anderson when they return?
The first move could be to put Marquez back in the bullpen, where he opened the season. With dominating fastball and big curveball he has a 1-2 combo that could be impressive as a reliever. He could step into the spot opened up by veteran Chad Qualls going on the disabled list with back spasms. The Rockies could use the time Qualls is out to see if Marquez can adapt to the role. Carlos Esteves was initially called up to take Qualls spot.
Then there will be the Anderson decision. After being called up to make two spot starts because of doubleheaders earlier in the season, and winning both games, Hoffman got the call to step into the rotation when Anderson was placed on the rotation. He is 2-0 and the Rockies are 3-0 in his starts since replacing Anderson.
Hoffman has allowed three runs on 14 hits and four walks while striking out 19 in 18 1/3 innings of the three starts, and is scheduled to start Wednesday’s game against the Diamondbacks.
When Anderson is ready to be activated the Rockies will have to decide whether a second rookie starter is moved into the bullpen along with Marquez or sent to Triple-A to continue starting. The challenge is that the rookies have pitched so well.
Long-term, if the rookies continue to stay strong, the Rockies could consider checking the trade market for Tyler Chatwood, who would stir up interest from other contenders and bring the Rockies a solid return prior to the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline.
While Chatwood was dominating at Coors Field before undergoing Tommy John surgery and missing the 2015 season, but has struggled at home since. Before the injury he was 10-4 with a 3.83 ERA at Coors Field compared to 4-7 with a 4.20 ERA on the road. Since his return last year, he is 6-12 with a 6.21 ERA at Coors Field and 12-4 with a 1.97 ERA on the road.
The fact Chatwood is a potential free agent at season’s end, and the emergence of the young starting pitchers on the Rockies roster could make for interesting talks between the Rockies and other contenders as the deadline nears.
Right now the Rockies focus is on the Diamondbacks and then the Dodgers. They have won two out of three from Arizona in series at home and on the road so far this season. As well as the three-game series beginning Tuesday they have a three-game visit to Arizona June 30-July 2, but then won’t play Arizona again until Sept. 1.
The Rockies are 5-4 against the Dodgers, having won two of three from the dodgers at Coors Field April 7-9, and splitting a two-game series at Dodger Staidum April 18-19, and a four-game series at Coors Field May 11-14.
Following the weekend visit to Dodger Stadium the Rockies won’t play the Dodgers again until a four-game visit to Dodger Stadium Sept. 7-10. The two teams conclude the regular season with three games at Coors Field. Sept. 29-Oct. 1.