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Who will be the Rockies' No. 5 starter?

@JakeDRill
March 7, 2020

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- While assembling a starting rotation, Rockies manager Bud Black makes his approach sound simple. “I think you’re looking for your best five, that takes precedent,” Black said.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- While assembling a starting rotation, Rockies manager Bud Black makes his approach sound simple.

“I think you’re looking for your best five, that takes precedent,” Black said.

It’s nice to have a mix of right-handed and left-handed starters. Maybe it’s best to have both a wily veteran and a top prospect, so that knowledge can be passed on. And in this era, perhaps it’s beneficial to get creative by utilizing an opener and having only three or four conventional starters.

But Colorado will open 2020 with its five best starters in its rotation, whatever that may look like.

“It’s a situation where you just hope that your best five take as many starts as possible over 162 [games],” Black said. “You want your most talented guys out there all the time. They give you the best chance to win.”

With less than three weeks until Opening Day, four pitchers likely have locked their spots in the Rockies’ rotation -- right-handers Jon Gray, German Márquez and Antonio Senzatela (who is out of Minor League options) and left-hander Kyle Freeland.

That leaves one opening to be decided. And after right-hander Wes Parsons was reassigned to Minor League camp on Friday, there appears to be four pitchers in the mix for that spot. Now that each of them has made three Cactus League appearances, here’s a look at where the candidates stand.

Chi Chi González
2019 MLB stats: 5.29 ERA, 46 strikeouts and 33 walks over 63 innings in 14 games (12 starts)
Cactus League stats: 9.00 ERA, five strikeouts and three walks over seven innings in three games (two starts)
Minor League option remaining: Yes

González got off to a slow start this spring, allowing seven runs on seven hits and three walks over four innings in his first two outings. But he had better results last time out, as he tossed three scoreless innings vs. the Royals on Thursday and notched three strikeouts, more than he had in his first two starts combined.

Not only were González’s stats better, but he was also more effective with his slider, which could be a key to whether the 28-year-old can repeat the success he had at the end of last season, his first with Colorado. The right-hander had a 1.65 ERA in five games (four starts) last September.

If González doesn’t make the rotation, he could head to the bullpen, as he has experience pitching in relief. So, it seems probable that he’ll be on the 26-man roster in some role.

Jeff Hoffman
2019 MLB stats: 6.56 ERA, 68 strikeouts and 34 walks over 70 innings in 15 starts
Cactus League stats: 6.35 ERA, four strikeouts and three walks over 5 2/3 innings in three games (one start)
Minor League option remaining: No

Hoffman also started slow this spring, allowing seven runs (four earned) in 3 2/3 innings over his first two appearances. He was better last time out, tossing two scoreless innings in relief vs. the Rangers on Wednesday.

In that outing, Hoffman didn’t throw his slider, instead relying on his fastball, curveball and changeup, and he was effective with that mix.

Hoffman will need to be either the No. 5 starter or part of the bullpen if the Rockies don’t want to expose the 27-year-old right-hander to waivers. It wouldn’t be surprising for him to be on the Opening Day roster in some capacity.

Peter Lambert
2019 MLB stats: 7.25 ERA, 57 strikeouts and 36 walks over 89 1/3 innings in 19 starts
Cactus League stats: 4.50 ERA, six strikeouts and three walks over six innings in three games (two starts)
Minor League option remaining: Yes

Only 22 years old, Lambert may need more time in the Minors after getting his first taste of the big leagues last season and struggling down the stretch. In his most recent spring start, the righty allowed two runs over two innings vs. the White Sox on Thursday, although Black was pleased with the outing.

“Peter threw the ball better than the stat line,” Black said.

Although Lambert has the least experience among this group, he could force his way into the rotation if he continues to pitch well and show impressive stuff this spring.

Ubaldo Jiménez
2019 MLB stats: N/A
Cactus League stats: 8.44 ERA, two strikeouts, two walks over 5 1/3 innings in three games (two starts)
Minor League option remaining: No

Jiménez is back with the Rockies, who he pitched for from 2006-11, attempting a comeback after last pitching in the Majors in ‘17 with the Orioles. After a solid start to the spring, Jiménez had a rough outing vs. the Dodgers on Saturday, allowing seven runs (three earned) on five hits and a walk in 1 1/3 innings. He struck out two, but he hit two batters and gave up a leadoff homer to Max Muncy in the second.

“I have to learn from the mistakes I made and get ready for the next one,” said Jiménez, who continues to feel good even if the results aren’t quite there yet.

Black said there’s an “understanding” between Jiménez and the club that the right-hander would consider staying in the organization and opening the season in the Minors should he not make the Opening Day roster. That would allow the veteran to continue to get reacclimated before potentially helping the Rockies at some point in the season.

“It’s a normal process, but I think for him to totally get to where he needs to be, there’s going to have to be multiple starts, multiple innings pitched, just the reps with all his pitches,” Black said. “It’s going to take a while.”

That doesn’t necessarily rule out Jiménez being the No. 5 starter, but it could be a longshot.

Jake Rill is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JakeDRill.