Lambert stung by walks once again

August 24th, 2019

ST. LOUIS -- The Rockies may be advised to dig into their year-old evaluation and remember what they liked about rookie right-hander Peter Lambert. It may help put into perspective his recent trend.

Lambert walked four and hit a batter with the bases loaded in 4 1/3 innings of an 8-3 loss to the Cardinals, who vaulted into the National League Central lead, at Busch Stadium on Friday.

“Every game I’m going to be learning,” Lambert said. “Obviously, today, when you don’t get ahead of hitters, bad things happen.”

Of course, with the Rockies 1-4 on the current road trip and 13 games below .500, even better work from Lambert (2-4) was unlikely to lead to a win. It took the Rockies until the fifth inning to get their first hit off Cards starter Jack Flaherty (three hits, nine strikeouts in six innings). And reliever Wes Parsons, in his first Rockies game since being acquired from the Braves, gave up four runs (two earned, but his own throwing error responsible) and five hits in 1 2/3 innings.

For the long-term good of the Rockies, though, Lambert, 22, was the focus. And command of his pitches, especially a fastball that sets up a slider, curve and changeup, was fuzzy.

“His game is predicated on locating the fastball in the strike zone, changing speeds, landing his secondaries for strikes, and tonight it didn’t happen,” Rockies manager Bud Black said.

There is encouraging history. Lambert began last season afire -- 8-2 with a 2.23 ERA and 75 strikeouts to 12 walks in 92 2/3 innings at Double-A Hartford. After being promoted to Triple-A Albuquerque, however, Lambert was 2-5 with a 5.04 ERA, and a concerningly close 31 strikeouts to 15 walks in 55 1/3 innings.

This year, in 11 Triple-A starts, the walk rate stayed at 2.4 per nine innings, but he fanned 51 in 60 1/3 innings pitched before joining the Rockies’ starting rotation on June 6 at Wrigley Field, when he struck out nine Cubs and walked one. He limited walks for most of his first two months.

However, in four starts this month, the free passes are back. In 24 1/3 August innings, Lambert has walked 16, with just nine strikeouts (none Friday). Marcell Ozuna’s two-run shot (on a 2-0 pitch) in the first was the fourth homer Lambert has allowed this month. The only time he had fewer than three walks in an August outing was his previous start -- six innings, three runs, six hits and one walk in a no-decision against the Marlins at Coors Field last Sunday.

“This is a learning curve for a number of guys,” Black said. “We had five rookies play today, three position players, Peter and Wes. These guys are learning on the job in the big leagues. This is a good thing for them to play in these types of games against a contending team, to continue to learn what this is all about. We’ll continue to address the things we need to address as far as the finer points for Peter. But he’s got to get the ball in the strike zone.”

Some of it was Cardinals hitters demonstrating the difference between themselves and what Lambert faced in the Minors. But Lambert also felt his pitches weren’t good enough to entice good hitters.

“No doubt, they come in with very good plans,” Lambert said. “They laid off some tough pitches. Going forward, I need to keep throwing strikes.”

Lambert showed flashes of resourcefulness at times. After a hit and a walk in the third, Lambert forced a Kolten Wong double-play grounder and escaped thanks to Nolan Arenado’s diving stab on a Yadier Molina grounder. Tommy Edman’s leadoff double and two walks loaded the bases with one out in the fourth, when Lambert hit Wong. But Lambert escaped that inning with Paul Goldschmidt’s foul out and Ozuna’s liner to center.

But, as Lambert showed on his way to the Majors, he can be much better when he doesn’t put himself in trouble in the first place.

“I’m not shying away,” Lambert said. “I’m just missing a little bit. I need to start throwing strikes.”