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Senzatela shows new wrinkle with put-aways

Right-hander records eight outs on breaking pitches in 2019 debut
@harding_at_mlb
April 16, 2019

SAN DIEGO -- After missing the first 2 1/2 weeks with an infected blister on his right heel, Antonio Senzatela joined the Rockies on Monday night feeling it was his “first day in the big leagues.” What ensued just might have been the next day of Colorado’s starting pitching surge.

SAN DIEGO -- After missing the first 2 1/2 weeks with an infected blister on his right heel, Antonio Senzatela joined the Rockies on Monday night feeling it was his “first day in the big leagues.”

What ensued just might have been the next day of Colorado’s starting pitching surge. Senzatela limited the Padres to one run and six hits over 6 2/3 innings to help Colorado to its second straight victory, 5-2, at Petco Park.

The victories came after an eight-game losing streak that plunged the Rockies to their worst 15-game start in franchise history. The wins also pulled the Rockies (5-12) out of a tie with the Marlins, who lost Monday, for the worst National League record.

Senzatela’s work continued a pattern of starting pitching that could help make the poor start a mere memory.

On the current road trip, not only has no starter yielded more than three runs but Senzatela had the team’s third noteworthy start. Jon Gray, who will start Tuesday in the finale of the two-game set, held the Giants to one run and six hits in 6 2/3 innings of a 1-0 loss Thursday night. And righty German Marquez shut out the Giants on one hit, 4-0, Sunday afternoon.

“German told me last night, ‘Go get ‘em tomorrow,’” said Senzatela, who took the pass-it-on mentality literally by saying the same to Gray on Monday night.

“We had three rough ones at the end of the [0-5, season-opening] homestand, but we’ve bounced back and pitched well,” manager Bud Black said.

Senzatela, aided by Nolan Arenado’s second homer in as many games and Ian Desmond’s three RBIs (which included his ninth career homer at Petco Park), showed up for 2019 with a different twist.

Still just 24 and possessing a four-seam fastball he can spot to all quadrants of the strike zone, Senzatela threw it on 60 of his 89 pitches, according to Statcast. That’s the same rate as his rookie year of 2017. However, his put-away pitches showed maturity.

His eight outs on breaking balls -- four curves and four sliders -- matched his career high in any start. He did it once in ’17 (Aug. 23 against the Royals) and once last season (Sept. 27 against the Phillies).

“We liked what we saw out of his hand so much that we went after some pitches that probably weren't the best to hit,” said the Padres’ Wil Myers, who was 0-for-3 with a double-play grounder against Senzatela but homered off Scott Oberg in the ninth.

The fact Senzatela did it the first time out, after just seven Minor League rehab innings, could be a sign of a more diverse hurler.

“We’ve heard that from our people in extended spring training and in Albuquerque,” Black said. “So that’s the next step. You have to have a mix of pitches, and they have to be Major League quality. What we saw tonight was just that.”

A key for Senzatela, whose only blip Monday was Franmil Reyes’ opposite-field leadoff homer in the fourth, is deception. The chart below illustrates Senzatela’s progress in a key area, releasing each pitch from a similar point:

Also, Senzatela's strikes (swinging, called, foul or foul tip) showed solid "tunneling," or pitches traveling similar paths, then diverging late enough to fool a hitter. Rockies pitchers have been working on the curve (represented below as blue lines or dots), especially, so that it doesn't dramatically "pop up" out of the hand but follows the path of harder pitches.

Improving some key aspect is all the rage with Rockies pitchers.

Gray’s increased knowledge of his fastball and his willingness to use his curveball against left-handed hitters could push him up a level. Senzatela, projected to have a big year by analysts given to such pursuits, has developed a curve as formidable as a fastball and slider. Add to that lefty Kyle Freeland, who won 17 games last year, and the Rockies are counting on a roll from the group.

“The common denominator of being a great athlete is never being satisfied,” Rockies pitching coach Steve Foster said. “Our pitchers are always working to get better at whatever their craft is -- if it’s adding a third pitch, a fourth pitch or whatever, they’re always working.”

The early show, or no-show

Desmond’s two-run double in the second inning accounted for the Rockies’ first runs in either of the first two frames this season, 17 games old. According to the Elias Sports Bureau:

• The 16 games without scoring in either of the first two frames marked the longest such streak to begin a season in MLB history and also a franchise record for any point in the season.

• The streak of 17 games without a first-inning run is a franchise record to begin a season. The Rockies’ longest such streak at any point is 21 games, Aug. 10-Sept. 1, 1997.

Nails were bitten

Oberg coughed up Myers’ ninth-inning leadoff homer and Austin Hedges’ two-out double. Wade Davis walked Luis Urias on four pitches. Then Davis added excitement by going up 0-2 on Ian Kinsler, running the count to 3-2 and getting Kinsler to offer a check-swing at a high cutter.

Davis’ save was the Rockies’ first of 2019, in the 17th game -- the longest such wait in franchise history. The first save of the inaugural 1993 season came in Game 15. The last team not to earn a save until its 17th game was the 2015 Marlins.

Another for the injured list

Outfielder Noel Cuevas, who started after being called up from Triple-A Albuquerque on Monday, sustained a left quadriceps strain while reaching on a third-inning error by Manny Machado and is likely headed to the injured list, Black said. Raimel Tapia replaced Cuevas and went 1-for-2 with a triple.

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb and like his Facebook page.