Notes: Hoffman's improvement; Arenado sits

August 9th, 2020

Rockies right-hander rescued righty Ryan Castellani’s hitless Major League debut Saturday night, and, as he has been in two relief appearances, didn’t mind celebrating it with style.

After Castellani hit one batter and walked another, Hoffman forced a double-play grounder from Evan White. Covering first base, Hoffman snapped Trevor Story’s throw with backhanded flourish, then crouched and stared down Seattle’s T-Mobile Park.

While Hoffman gave up the Mariners’ only hit in the Rockies’ 5-0 victory, his three innings with one strikeout and one walk made Castellani’s four-plus hitless innings the beginning of a happy ending, rather than a bright spot on a losing night.

It was the second time in five days where Hoffman switched the momentum by forcing a double play. The Rockies trailed the Giants, 4-1, on Wednesday when Hoffman worked a grounder from Brandon Crawford, then pounded his fist into the glove and got a positive reaction from the dugout. Each time, the Rockies scored in their next frame.

Hoffman, the odd man out in Colorado's rotation battle, is embracing a role that is giving him a chance to provide a momentum spark. Hoffman doesn’t mind applauding a teammate after a good play. If his first two relief outings (4 2/3 innings, four strikeouts) are an indication, he will give his mates pitching to cheer.

“It's definitely something that I've always done, pitch with emotion, and I'm just trying to have fun out there,” Hoffman said. “In those situations, when you do execute your pitch and you get the right result, it definitely fires you up. And I know you know fires other guys up, as well. Maybe they're not showing it as much.”

How did Hoffman become such a spark?

He's is employing the same fastball-curveball-changeup mix as last season as a starter, when he went 2-6 with a 6.56 ERA in 15 starts. But after being barreled up an alarming 12.9% of the time -- which ranked in the bottom 1% of the league -- he hasn't given up a single barrel once in his 48 pitches this year. For context, barrels are a Statcast designation for a hitter’s contact based on a combination of exit velocity and launch angle that typically lead to extra-base hits.

Hoffman has added to a bullpen crew that has multiple pitchers who can either pitch multiple innings or finish an inning and start the next. Current closer Jairo Díaz, Carlos Estévez, Yency Almonte and Daniel Bard all have done so with success.

With various relievers needing rest in a condensed schedule, and with the three-batter minimum rule coming into play in most instances for relievers, the trait of maintaining focus is important.

“A lot has to do with, you know, their ability to maintain their stuff,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “Once they come in an inning, get out of it, sit down and then down go back out -- have the mental wherewithal to regroup, refocus after being in the dugout and popping back out there. A lot there might be a letdown of focus and concentration with some pitchers.”

Hoffman is using an oft-analyzed shorter arm path, but what goes through his mind before the pitch and where the ball is ending up are the real differences.

“What’s been really helpful for me this year is knowing where my pitches play the best -- knowing zones more than pitching to counts, knowing where my pitches get the most swings and misses and most mis-hits,” Hoffman said.

The decision to not start third baseman -- who is hitting .185/.262/.352 because swings that often produce big results are becoming flyball outs -- on Sunday was made over several days of conversation, Black said.

“My conversations with Nolan the last week or so, you know, have been, you know, about just this -- when to get a DH day, when to maybe not play, so this didn’t happen overnight,” Black said. “Last night, we spoke after the game, decided that today was going to be the day that he had off.”

Arenado has looked like a hitter so close, yet so far.

“He looks a little jumpy at the plate, maybe a little overaggressive, seems to be underneath some pitches,” Black said. “You've seen some fly balls."

Seen this movie before
Catcher  celebrated the eve of his 37th birthday by catching the sixth one-hitter in Rockies history. Butera caught Castellani at Triple-A Albuquerque last season.

“I knew from catching him in bullpens and then him showing flashes of it throughout the season is that he had big league stuff, and really good big league stuff,” Butera said. “It was jus a matter of him putting it together, finding the command and finding his rhythm. He showed it last night where he had great poise on the mound. It seemed like the stage did not bother him.”

Wolters is doing fine
Sunday marked the fourth straight game that left-handed-hitting catcher  did not start. Black said there is no injury to Wolters, but he felt , who didn’t play in the first 12 games but started Sunday for the second time in three games, was a good matchup against Mariners lefty starter Justus Sheffield.