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Hoffman looks to 'make a name for himself'

@harding_at_mlb
July 25, 2019

WASHINGTON -- The one-page statement hit Twitter on Thursday, and Rockies fans and Denver media pontificated on news that Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado’s once-darling shortstop, had retired as a Yankee. Meanwhile, the rest of the story, righty pitcher Jeff Hoffman, was beginning the rewrite at Nationals Park. The day finished with

WASHINGTON -- The one-page statement hit Twitter on Thursday, and Rockies fans and Denver media pontificated on news that Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado’s once-darling shortstop, had retired as a Yankee. Meanwhile, the rest of the story, righty pitcher Jeff Hoffman, was beginning the rewrite at Nationals Park.

The day finished with just the Rockies’ third victory in the last 20 games, 8-7 over the Nationals, as former Nats Ian Desmond homered and Daniel Murphy beat out a possible double play to drive in the go-ahead run against Fernando Rodney. But there’s also a big picture.

Was Thursday’s five solid innings the beginning of Hoffman, the headline prospect in the 2015 Trade Deadline deal that sent Tulowitzki to the Blue Jays, finally emerging as at least a Major League starter?

“I didn’t even know that,” Hoffman said when asked about Tulowitzki’s retirement. “I remember waking up and heading to the park, wanting to start that day. I was in New Hampshire, I got a call and I got traded. It was a crazy moment.”

At times his fastball command slackened, and he gave up four hits and four walks, but with three runs in five innings he had the team in position to win when he left after 95 pitches. After he left, the game took some scary turns out of and back into the Rockies’ hands.

“Obviously, knowing what this team has been through and what we’re trying to come out of right now, it was something that I took a little personally,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman, 26, debuted in 2016, and has bounced between Triple-A Albuquerque and the Rockies the last two years. Thursday was his first Major League appearance since he threw 82 pitches in 2 2/3 painful innings at Arizona on June 20. This time he minimized the hurt.

“I liked that he was pitching with good intentions with his fastball,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “The fastball command was not great, but it had velocity. The curveball showed up -- he threw a couple really good curveballs.

“Overall, I liked the aggressiveness and the conviction in his stuff, even though there were some walks in there. That’s a good time. Now, for a young guy trying to make his mark, he’s got to continue to get it together and throw more strikes when he needs to.”

Hoffman faced two on and one out in the second, but forced a Brian Dozier fly and a Victor Robles grounder. After an Adam Eaton double and two walks with two out in the third, Hoffman fanned Matt Adams with a well-placed, 2-2 fastball. He also extracted a double play from Robles to end the fourth, after Garrett Hampson’s two-run homer keyed a three-run top of the frame against Max Scherzer, who was in his return from a right shoulder bursa sac injury.

During the off season and as he worked through his up-and-down first seven Major League starts, Hoffman plugged away at the mental game. Doug Chadwick, listed as Minor League metal skills coordinator, discussed ways to stay even-keeled.

Hoffman made his big mistake in the fifth -- a three-run homer by Anthony Rendon, who ambushed a first-pitch fastball. After Rendon’s homer, Hoffman squatted in frustration, but rose to put away the inning. Ryan McMahon’s two-run homer (on a three-RBI day) in the sixth gave him a 5-3 lead.

“In that moment, I feel like I’m allowed to be frustrated, but once that moment is up it’s time to move on and get to that next pitch,” Hoffman said.

The Jays picked him out of East Carolina in 2014 ninth overall -- one pick after the Rockies took lefty Kyle Freeland. Then they sent him to the Rockies for Tulowitzki, one of the most accomplished and decorated players in Rockies history.

With the Rockies highly unlikely to trade for veteran help at next Wednesday’s Trade Deadline, the pitchers they have must do well. For all the struggle lately, it’s an interesting run. German Marquez won Sunday at Yankee Stadium, Peter Lambert and Freeland pitched well in losing efforts at Washington and Jon Gray was headed that way Wednesday before leaving with a right calf bruise.

With his role in the staff in front of him, Hoffman can’t afford to spend time looking back at the odd circumstances that brought him to Colorado.

“At the time it was pretty cool knowing the type of player ‘Tulo’ was,” Hoffman said. “Since that time it’s faded on me. I need to be the best professional I can be, and try to make that name for myself.”

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb and like his Facebook page.