Márquez's gem puts Rox close to club history

September 27th, 2020

Rockies right-hander 's final knuckle-curve of a strange but strong 2020 season left Ketel Marte swinging hopelessly to end the seventh inning Saturday night. Then, Márquez applauded himself, knowing his year was stronger than it was strange.

And the majority of Colorado’s rotation can say the same.

All three runs allowed by Márquez in the Rockies’ 10-3 victory over the D-backs at Chase Field were unearned, which lowered his ERA to 3.75 in 13 starts. With a decent outing in Sunday’s season finale from lefty Kyle Freeland, Colorado could boast the rare feat of having three pitchers with sub-4.00 ERAs in the same season. The 2013 staff also had three.

Freeland enters Sunday with a 3.69 ERA, and right-hander Antonio Senzatela finished his year with a 3.44 mark. And although it was a 60-game regular season, they still pitched their home games at Coors Field, a known hitters' ballpark.

“That’s a good number -- under 4.00 -- when you play half those games in our ballpark,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “I’m really proud of our guys. They’ve got a lot of determination.”

Márquez held the D-backs to five hits while striking out seven, forcing 11 groundouts and overcoming four Rockies errors (one being his own). He also had the oddest season of Colorado's top trio of starters. Márquez arguably pitched as well as Freeland and Senzatela, but the season was barely long enough to make up for one tough showing -- 10 runs allowed in five innings vs. the Astros on Aug. 20 -- when it came to his stats.

“It was really important for me to try to get that ERA back down under 4.00,” Márquez said. “After that game I got into a rhythm and would just try every game to pitch my best game.”

This past Monday, Márquez tossed six innings of one-run ball in a win at San Francisco. Before that, he was 0-5 through his first eight starts. But he had only gotten 19 runs of support over those games.

Despite their strong pitching, the Rockies (26-33) missed the expanded 16-team postseason. But with Saturday's win, they assured they won't finish in last place in the National League West, as that will be the D-backs (24-35).

Next year, Colorado will look to improve on its second straight fourth-place finish. It could use more games like Saturday's, when it got home runs from Elias Díaz (who also doubled and singled) and Ryan McMahon and had 13 hits. It was the Rockies' first multi-homer game since Sept. 11 against the Angels. They also scored their most runs in a game since plating eight in that victory over the Halos.

Nevertheless, the Rockies can go into the offseason pointing to an undeniable starting-pitching turnaround.

Their trio of strong starters could have been a foursome. Right-hander Jon Gray pitched through a troublesome right shoulder injury, but he had some starts that were in line with those from Márquez, Freeland and Senzatela.

After Colorado had a 5.56 rotation ERA in 2019, it decided it wouldn't look to add pitchers from outside the organization. The Rockies added longtime Minor League coordinator Darryl Scott to fill their bullpen coach vacancy and moved Double-A pitching coach Steve Merriman to a coordinator position to take advantage of his expertise in applying analytics and technology.

With pitching coach Steve Foster working hands-on and director of pitching operations Mark Wiley continuing to set the program, Colorado went about improving its pitchers, not replacing them.

“We had a plan, and we had good, solid baseball conversations about what needed to take place in the offseason,” Black said.

After Freeland finished last season with a 6.73 ERA and Senzatela had a 6.71 mark, the Rockies implored both to develop offspeed pitches and use them more frequently. Through suggested delivery and grip changes -- which were measured and backed by the team’s increasing use of state-of-the-art technology -- they made the adjustments. If anything, the shutdown during the pandemic allowed them to hone the adjustments.

Black said the Rockies believe that Márquez and Gray (once he is healthy and rehabbed) can also make strides with their changeups heading into 2021. Márquez threw only three on Saturday.

Márquez wants to work on his changeup, but he also realizes some trouble came from mislocated fastballs, especially on the outer part of the plate. So, he envisions a holistic approach to the upcoming offseason.

“The biggest goal is to keep repeating my delivery,” Márquez said.

Márquez is also excited about the Colorado rotation’s possibilities.

“I trust these guys,” Márquez said. “Next year is going to be amazing.”