Editor’s note: Prognosticators have issued dreary projections for the Rockies, but in this weekly series we're looking for reasons for optimism.
Daniel Bard tried his best to remain focused during his remarkable 2020 season, but it was hard when a story like his garnered so much attention.
“There were a lot of people who wanted to hear more about the story,” he said. “I was like, ‘I’m still living it. I’ve still got to go out and pitch every night.’”
Bard had been out of baseball since 2013, a casualty of the “yips.” He was in a coaching role with Arizona when he discovered the zip still existed on his fastball. He tried out with the Rockies, earned a spot on the team and by the end of the 60-game season he was the team’s closer and the National League’s Comeback Player of the Year.
Another feel-good story might be brewing in the Coors Field bullpen.
Scott Oberg is back after thoracic outlet surgery, an operation that removed a rib in an effort to curb recurring blood clots.
“I’m really excited with where I’m at,” Oberg said of recovery after missing the 2020 season.
The story of the Rockies bullpen could be even better if Bard (who brought a 99 mph fastball in his return last year) and Oberg (who posted a 2.35 ERA across 105 appearances in 2018-19) are at top form and can lead an intriguing group of arms in relief.
“I think we can be a nice surprise with what we bring to the table,” Oberg said.
Here’s look at some of the options the Rockies will have in relief, a group that has manager Bud Black saying “I think the talent level is there to have a really good bullpen.”
TOP BULLPEN OPTIONS
Daniel Bard, RHP
As good as Bard was last year in his return (3.65 ERA in 24 2/3 innings, 1.30 WHIP (walks plus hits, divided by innings pitched), 27 strikeouts), he thinks he’ll be better this year with a full offseason of workouts and the advantage of ramping up the intensity on his arm instead of throwing upper 90s in January tryouts.
Scott Oberg, RHP
Oberg’s 2018-19 stretch rivals that of any reliever in franchise history, as he went 14-2, posted a 2.35 ERA with a 1.04 WHIP, struck out 115 in 114 2/3 innings while walking just 35). He was instrumental in helping the Rockies have the National League’s best bullpen in 2017 and Nos. 5 and 6 the next two years. Without him last year it sank to the bottom of the league.
Mychal Givens, RHP
The side-armer was acquired at the trade deadline last year from Baltimore, where he had posted a 3.32 career ERA and started his career with an 18-3 record from 2015-17. He holds a career 10.7 strikeouts-per-nine-inning rate and a 1.14 WHIP.
Yency Almonte, RHP
Almonte kept the seventh inning on lockdown last year, posting a 2.63 ERA in the seventh while appearing 16 times. From the seventh through ninth innings he had a 3.00 ERA, held batters to a .242 average and was perhaps the team’s steadiest arm out of the bullpen.
Robert Stephenson, RHP
A former first-round pick, Stephenson found his footing in 2019 as a reliever with Cincinnati, posting a 3.76 ERA with 81 strikeouts in 64 2/3 innings. He pitched only 10 innings in 2020 and was acquired by the Rockies in a deal for Jeff Hoffman.
Tyler Kinley, RHP
The small sample size of the shortened 2020 season skewed Kinley’s numbers. He gave up five runs without recording an out in a blowout loss to Arizona at Coors Field in mid-August. Aside from that, he posted a 3.42 ERA and struck out more than a batter per inning in his first year with the team.
The odd man out
Assuming German Marquez, Kyle Freeland and Antonio Senzatela front the rotation, one of the trio of Ryan Castellani, Jon Gray or Austin Gomber will be relegated to the bullpen.