Senzatela shakes off early trouble: 'He's a bulldog'

August 2nd, 2022

SAN DIEGO -- Four months of injury and inconsistency led to a first inning of frustration for Rockies pitcher Antonio Senzatela on Monday night.

But his turnaround, which came too late to prevent a 4-1 loss to the Padres at Petco Park, could be the momentum he needs.

Senzatela gave up three runs in the bottom of the first, which began with Jurickson Profar’s leadoff home run and included an uncharacteristic two walks. But the right-hander gave up no further runs while pitching through the sixth, and he finished with five strikeouts -- also uncharacteristic.

Senzatela’s performance could be a blueprint for the rest of the Rockies’ season. Player and team must find a way to find some kind of traction and make the difficulties of 2022 worthwhile.

“I feel like in the first inning, I couldn’t control my emotions right there,” Senzatela said. “I’d throw harder and harder every time. I had to calm down, and I did from the second through the sixth inning.”

This season, something has always tripped up Senzatela. A right hamstring injury in Spring Training led to a chain reaction up the back of his right side -- a back strain that forced him to the injured list in mid-May and right shoulder inflammation in early June. 

Senzatela returned for two competitive starts after the All-Star break, but his last start brought more untimely pain. He was leading the White Sox at home when, with two outs in the seventh, he took a hard-hit ball off his foot and had to leave the game. The injury cost him a possible win, although the Rockies triumphed in the end. Still it left him wondering what else could go wrong?

Monday night, it turned out, Senzatela went down the wrong path in the first inning.

Senzatela’s superpower, and his Achilles’ heel, is his strike-throwing. He stays in the zone and makes hitters swing. He has given up a .351 batting average against but has yielded more than three earned runs just four times in 16 starts. There may be hits but not walks. Senzatela’s fifth-inning free pass to Jake Cronenworth, who drew two walks, ended the pitcher’s run of games with two or fewer walks at 28 -- a club record and the longest such run in the Majors going into Monday.

Problem was, the Padres were ready for fastball strikes.

“He got a little fastball-heavy early, and he was missing spots,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “He missed the spot to the first hitter, missed a spot to Manny Machado [a double] after a number of fastballs, walked Cronenworth. Then he started pitching a little bit.”

At least Senzatela’s painful moment Monday didn’t leave a bruise. With two outs and the Rockies already down, 2-0, Nomar Mazara’s grounder bounced off the first-base bag before C.J. Cron could field it, and the third run scored. Senzatela needed an Elias Díaz pickoff of Ha-Seong Kim to escape the inning.

From there, Senzatela gave up only two hits, one walk and a hit batter.

“Every start is different than any other,” Black said. “Hopefully, he can gain confidence from this. He’s always really confident in his ability, as he should be. He never wavers from that. He’ll be ready his next start and his start after that. He’s a bulldog.”

The Rockies need his bark and bite. The club saw enough from him to sign him to a five-year, $50.5 million contract after last season. Senzatela has that in common with a few of his teammates, with struggles this year after earning long commitments.

“It’s frustrating because I feel really good,” Senzatela said. “But every time I was feeling good, something happened.”