DENVER -- Chi Chi González spent four weeks of this season dealing with injury and the last week and a half hoping for another chance after an awful outing. If nothing else, González can count Saturday as his return to the mix for the rest of this season and beyond.
With their 6-1 loss to the Dodgers, the Rockies slid closer to thinking more about what’s beyond this season. Entering their final 2020 homestand needing to make a stand to push into the eight-team National League playoff, the Rockies have dropped six of the first eight and will be playing Sunday merely to avoid being swept in the four-game series by the NL West leader.
On a tight pitch count because he hadn’t pitched since giving up four runs, on three walks and a hit batter, while recording one out against San Diego on Sept. 4, González accounted decently for himself in five innings. It might have been more than decent if not for Chris Taylor’s two-run triple in the first and solo home run in the fifth.
Taylor aside, González may have put himself right where he was at the start of the season -- a legitimate option for a Rockies rotation of quality much higher than the team’s current 22-29 record.
González joined the rotation on Aug. 3 but lasted just three innings against the Giants before going to the injured list with right biceps tendinitis. Between then and Saturday, he had two solid relief appearances, then the mess against the Padres.
“Last outing, he was missing with his pitches against the Padres -- albeit just missing,” said Rockies manager Bud Black, who noted that González’s crispness and tempo improved Saturday as he settled into the outing against the Dodgers. “There was an ill-advised walk in the first with two outs to [Cody] Bellinger, but overall he threw the ball fine.
“I'm sure he would like to have a couple pitches back, but overall he kept us in the game.”
It didn’t matter much Saturday, since the Rockies scratched out a first-inning run but nothing else in seven innings against Clayton Kershaw. But if González, a one-time top Draft pick of the Rangers who didn’t pitch in the Majors from 2017-18 because of an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery in ’17, can build on Saturday, he could become an option for a rotation spot.
“I mean, that's, that's the dream,” González said. “But my mindset is still this season, 2020, win as many games as we can to, hopefully, clinch a playoff spot.”
Assuming the Rockies don’t go on a tear and somehow take a playoff spot, they’re looking to 2021 with four solid starters -- three who have performed well in ‘20. Righty Antonio Senzatela (4-2, 3.30 ERA) takes a 163 ERA-plus -- 100 is league average -- into Sunday afternoon. Lefty Kyle Freeland is 2-2 with a 3.75 ERA. Righty Germán Márquez (2-6, 4.33) has pitched far better than his numbers.
Righty Jon Gray’s up-and-down performance (2-4, 6.69) is attributable to shoulder inflammation that led the Rockies to shut him down.
Unless the Rockies use one or more of these pitchers in trades to fill other holes (which would be a painful departure from a plan that led to postseason trips in 2016 and ’17), they’re looking for one more legit rotation member, with depth guys behind them, as they try to pitch and hope for better offense in ’21.
At the start of the season, González earned the nod for the fifth spot over righty Jeff Hoffman, who showed value in the bullpen. Rookie righty Ryan Castellani has shown above-average stuff with four pitches, but his inexperience in knowing how it all plays against big leaguers has led to a 5.59 ERA and almost as many walks (21) as strikeouts (24).
González had a rocky re-entry to the Majors last season: 2-6, 5.29 ERA in 14 games, 12 starts. He needed four callups but eventually settled into the staff. He hoped to build on that in 2020 before the pandemic and his injury.
“In a 60-game season, when you lose a number of weeks, it’s going to set you back,” Black said. “He threw the ball well in Summer Camp. It’s just unfortunate that the shoulder injury occurred. He only had 10 innings going into tonight’s game. But you’d like to see him build off tonight’s start.
“He finished the season very well last year with us in September with some with some good outings. Looks like he's going to have another start this week in San Francisco. Hopefully, he can get into the fifth or sixth inning, hold the Giants down and give us some zeros on the board.”