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Rookie competition helping Hoffman thrive

MLB.com @TracyRingolsby

DENVER -- Right-hander Jeff Hoffman checked into the Rockies' Spring Training camp in February confident he'd win the battle for fifth spot in Colorado's rotation. He didn't.

Oh, it wasn't fun for Hoffman watching three other rookies get the big league call before him. It was, however, a lesson well learned.

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DENVER -- Right-hander Jeff Hoffman checked into the Rockies' Spring Training camp in February confident he'd win the battle for fifth spot in Colorado's rotation. He didn't.

Oh, it wasn't fun for Hoffman watching three other rookies get the big league call before him. It was, however, a lesson well learned.

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There are no scholarships in pro ball. Yes, Hoffman was the key player in the package of players the Rockies received from the Blue Jays in late July 2015, but no, that doesn't mean a thing when it comes time to draw a big league roster.

"It wasn't disappointing at all," said Hoffman. "It was eye opening. There were some guys that took a step ahead of me during the offseason. I feel like I worked hard this offseason, and some guys worked harder, and the results showed more.

"They deserved to be in the rotation to start the year, and guys continued to work hard, and it's like a race. It's between your teammates. Competition makes everybody perform at their highest level, and when everybody's performing at their highest level, that's when it's tough to beat you as a team."

The Rockies have been tougher than ever to beat so far this year. With 8-1 victory against Cleveland on Wednesday afternoon, the Rockies headed to Wrigley Field for a four-game series beginning on Thursday not only in first place in the NL West, but off to the best start in franchise history (38-23).

Colorado opened the season with two rookies in the rotation -- Antonio Senzatela and Kyle Freeland got the call to fill the spot the club had to address at the start of the spring, and it opened up when Chad Bettis was diagnosed with cancer in his lymph glands.

Then came the call to German Marquez, when Jon Gray went on the disabled list with a stress fracture in his left foot, and now Hoffman. He made two cameo appearances earlier in the season when twice the Rockies were rained out, forcing them to play doubleheaders, and leaving them without a starter on proper rest. Hoffman got the job done both times, in a win against the Dodgers at Coors Field on May 11, and at Philadelphia on May 22.

Both times, Hoffman was immediately sent back to Triple-A Albuquerque, which added to his focus.

"Every time they sent me back down, there was a little bit of anger and a little fire that they lit underneath me," he said. "And I felt like next time they call my name, it is going be the last time they send me down. That's the way I looked at it."

The next time came over the weekend. Tyler Anderson went on the disabled list because of left knee inflammation. Hoffman dominated the Padres in a 3-1 victory at Petco Park on Sunday, and he will make a second start on Saturday against the defending World Series champion Cubs at Wrigley Field.

With a 3-0 record and a 2.61 ERA to show for his three previous starts, Hoffman is ready to reinforce the confidence the Rockies have shown in him. It's a tribute to the way he handled his Spring Training demotion that he has been able to make good on his brief opportunities.

But then when Hoffman was sent back to Triple-A at the end of March, instead of pouting, he embraced what he considered the challenge to prove he should be in the big leagues.

The rookies have definitely been a major factor in the Rockies being tough to beat so far this year. Senzatela is tied for the lead in the NL with eight victories. Freeland is one win behind with seven.

Senzatela, Freeland, Marquez and Hoffman are a combined 22-8 in 35 starts, and the Rockies are 25-10 in those games.

"Part of the reason there's been so much success is we've all been competing since Day 1," said Hoffman. "I think competition is what makes athletes perform at their highest level. So when you see guys like Freeland and Senzatela and Marquez going out and dominating teams, it makes you that much more locked in and wanting to do what they're doing. If everybody's competing in that sense, then we're going win a lot of ballgames."

So far, it's worked out that way.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com.

Colorado Rockies