Think back to the start of the 2015 season. Think back to a time when hope sprung eternal for all MLB clubs, including the Colorado Rockies. Think back to a time when the Rockies began the season with a 7-2 mark, including six consecutive road wins. Do you remember the starting pitching staff who helped the Rockies to that hot start and gave everyone in the Mountain time zone a reason for optimism? Colorado’s opening week rotation included Opening Day starter Kyle Kendrick, Jordan Lyles, Eddie Butler, and Tyler Matzek.
Flash forward to September. After the Pittsburgh Pirates took their second consecutive win at Coors Field with a 6-3 decision, the Rockies stand at 63-88. Kendrick is still in the rotation after battling through right shoulder inflammation, but he is now joined by Chad Bettis, Chris Rusin, Jon Gray, and Christian Bergman. The starting rotation’s metamorphosis is symbolic of what has been a tumultuous, strange, injury-riddled season on the mound for Colorado.
Matzek lasted just five starts before facing what he described as “mental demons” and leaving the Rockies. Lyles suffered a season-ending toe injury in early June. Butler bounced between Albuquerque and Denver on his way to a 3-10 record in 16 starts and currently isn’t on the active roster.
And the injuries, problems, and circumstances don’t just stop at the starting rotation. Don’t forget that Adam Ottavino began the season as Colorado’s closer before being lost to Tommy John surgery. John Axford took over the closer role, needed personal some time away from the team, lost the role, then regained the role along with his dominant form. Veteran LaTroy Hawkins was dealt to the Toronto Blue Jays in a trade and fellow veteran Rafael Betancourt was designated for assignment in late August.
The injuries also haven’t slowed down as the season winds down. Just this week, Colorado’s Jorge De La Rosa and Yohan Flande have been scratched from their respective starts because of injuries. It’s unclear if either will see the mound again in 2015.
In all, Colorado has used 12 different starters this season. Compare that to the Pirates, who are on their way to the playoffs and have used just eight different starters in 2015.
Prior to Tuesday’s game with the Pirates, Colorado manager Walt Weiss took a few moments to not only reflect on his revamped starting rotation, but also some of the pitchers who could comprise a big part of the Rockies’ 2016 pitching plans.
“Chad Bettis has come a long way,” Weiss said. “He was getting his brains beat in last year but he’s been a great pupil. He was open-minded in spring training and now the stuff he learned is playing out in the game.”
Bettis is now 4-1 with a 3.66 ERA in his last seven starts and has established himself as a solid starter.
“Chris Rusin has been a pleasant surprise as well, considering he didn’t even break camp with us,” Weiss said.
Rusin took the loss on Tuesday night, giving up eight hits and six runs in four innings as his ERA climbed to 5.39.
“I’m also encouraged by what I’ve seen from Jon Gray,” Weiss said. “I believe he’ll be a very good pitcher for us.”
After nine starts, Gray is still looking for his first MLB win and has admitted he is having trouble adjusting to the difference that pitching at altitude can have on a baseball.
Weiss and the Rockies are hopeful that the pitching trauma they’ve endured in 2015 will pay off with experience toward the 2016 season. It’s the only silver lining that can be imagined in the dark cloud that’s hung over the Colorado pitching staff all season.