How little changes in Gomber's windup could change everything

February 29th, 2024

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Last year’s 59-103 record was a long way from good, but left-hander believes little improvements could change the Rockies' outlook.

“We have, if you want to call us, veterans, or middle-tier service time players that have had -- like I’ve had -- flashes here and there every year,” Gomber said. “I’ve yet to have that one really big year. It only takes a couple guys putting it together for us to be a lot better than people think we're going to be.”

Gomber, who lacked his usual command during a 21-pitch scoreless inning in Wednesday’s 3-1 victory over the Angels, has had strong snippets in three seasons with the Rockies.

Upon arriving in a trade with the Cardinals, Gomber had a 2.09 ERA at Coors Field in 2021. And after a rough stretch where he posted a 12.12 ERA through his first four starts last season, Gomber went 9-5 with a 4.62 ERA -- a competitive number given his home environment -- over his final 23 starts.

Within the good periods were sizzling hot streaks, but the ‘21 and ‘23 seasons ended with Gomber on the injured list with similar back injuries. Gomber also spent much of ‘22 in the bullpen, so going into the offseason the Rockies wanted him to focus on strength and durability.

For Gomber, 30, the path to a big year could be rooted in health. And the way to health is in some barely measurable changes.

(Warning: Biomechanics, but, hopefully, in understandable English.)

In the past, Gomber’s left foot was right against the pitching rubber with his toes pointing straight towards first base. Now, he has turned that foot ever so slightly inward. It has led to a chain reaction of his stride turning toward home plate with his right foot hitting the ground more directly toward the plate, and less to his left.

This is designed to end the problem of Gomber torqueing his back to either get more power behind his fastball or ensure that he can throw inside against right-handed batters. Gomber said some of the misfires Wednesday came because he fell into the old habit of twisting to his right even though his new foot positioning makes such a move unnecessary.

(Back to Gomber, who emerged from the team’s new performance lab believing he found the answer to the back issues.)

“That was where we tried it first, so it was good to be able to get the instant feedback on it, and see with the cameras my body placement,” Gomber said. “But it’s something I dealt with in ‘21 and ‘23, both times at the end of the year. I’d love to be 100 percent better. But if it takes 10 percent of the stress off my back, and if I get hurt at the beginning of September but make it through, well, nobody cares how you feel in the offseason.”

Manager Bud Black believes the basics are there for Gomber to make a major stride.

“He’s got real pitchability,” Black said. “It truly is about some minor adjustments he made with our pitching coaches, some lab data that we found in his body movements that I think are going to help.”

• Colorado's No. 21 prospect Carson Palmquist left his outing early with tightness in his right (non-throwing) shoulder, in the trapezius muscle. Palmquist pitched an inning-plus, and gave up a hit and struck out one -- Mike Trout on three pitches. The Rockies expect to know more about his injury on Thursday.

• Lefty Ty Blach rose from non-roster status to make the team last spring. On Wednesday, he stranded an inherited runner and finished his outing with two scoreless innings. Blach has a shot at a long relief or spot starter role.

• Catcher Elias Díaz limped out of the batter’s box after flying out to left field in the second inning, and was seen later with his right thigh heavily wrapped. Díaz said he does not believe the injury was serious.

• The Rockies used a lineup with a regular season look and saw Kris Bryant and Ryan McMahon deliver two hits apiece. Nolan Jones, however, is 0-for-10 so far this spring.

Jones struggled in Cactus League play last year as well, and ended up spending two months at Triple-A Albuquerque. The difference is the Rockies know him better.

“You’ve got to get to know him, but he, Brenton Doyle and Ezequiel Tovar will be in there tomorrow -- back-to-back games,” Black said.

• After giving up two hits and a run against the Brewers in his Spring Training debut, closer candidate Justin Lawrence struck out one in a scoreless frame.

• Former top pick Riley Pint walked one and threw a wild pitch, but converted his third straight scoreless outing.

Catching prospect Drew Romo entered the game as a reserve and continued his hard-contact spring with a double.

Outfield prospect Zac Veen was on base twice, but was caught stealing twice, once on a pickoff move. Veen stole eight bases last spring and, true to personality, is being aggressive again this spring.