Marquez fine-tuning changeup for 2018

November 30th, 2017

DENVER -- Rockies right-hander lives in San Felix, Venezuela, about a five-hour drive from the nearest Venezuelan Winter League team. So his 2017 rookie year -- an 11-7 record with a 4.39 ERA to earn a spot on the Topps MLB All-Star Rookie Team -- has made him an unquestioned local celeb.

"Yeah, I have a big following and a lot of people want to congratulate me," Marquez said by phone with his agent, Daniel Szew, interpreting when necessary. "That's wonderful."

And Marquez is working on new tricks to make more news in 2018.

Acquired as part of the deal that sent outfielder Corey Dickerson to the Rays before the 2016 season, Marquez provided power and strike-zone efficiency for a young Rockies rotation that fueled a berth in the National League Wild Card Game. Marquez finished with 147 strikeouts (eight or more in seven of his 29 starts) against 49 walks (no more than three in any start) over 162 innings.

Already possessing a power fastball -- one he leaned on for 51.3 percent of his 2,673 pitches in 2017 (31st highest in the Majors in terms of frequency) -- and an effective curve, Marquez learned a slider from pitching coach Steve Foster and bullpen coach Darren Holmes during Spring Training. He was such a quick learner that he used it 33 times with two strikes, earning six strikeouts and giving up just one hit.

Next season, hitters will no doubt look for Marquez to challenge with the fastball and curve. However, Marquez hopes his four-seam changeup becomes a bigger weapon. Statcast™ showed him using it just 18 times, but he yielded no hits and forced four ground-ball outs. The only baserunner came on a walk.

"I worked on it most of the season, and I didn't quite get it to where I wanted," Marquez said. "I really want to perfect it before I add it to my repertoire for next season."

Marquez is a prime example of the Rockies' concerted effort to gather a staff of strikeout pitchers -- whether through the MLB Draft, international signings or, in this case, trades.

And Marquez's insistence on limiting walks makes him that much more effective.

"For me, it's always attacking the strike zone and attacking the batters to avoid as many walks as possible," Marquez said. "In my mind, anytime I walk a batter, it's a run. It could be a run or it could not be, but I think of it as a run, so avoid them as much as possible."

Marquez did not begin the season in the rotation, and the Rockies sent him to Triple-A Albuquerque in early April because he was not being used in games. After being recalled in late April, Marquez quickly became a key rotation member.

The 22-year-old took a no-hitter into the seventh inning in his fourth start, going eight frames with eight strikeouts in a 3-0 victory over the Cubs at Coors Field. In late July, Marquez became the first rookie in club history to strike out at least nine batters in three straight starts. The rigors of the season got to the young staff, and Marquez was the only one of the rookies to finish the year in the rotation. A key, he said, was resisting pitching in the Winter Leagues. Although Marquez likes the idea, he said it's best to use the time building for the long season.

With the Rockies likely to look for experience among relievers, they're once again expected to be young in the rotation. , who turns 29 in April, will be the old man. Marquez, , and will head into their second seasons, and righty and lefty will be third-year performers. But Marquez said manager Bud Black, who is heading into his second year with the club, made up for the experience the starters lacked.

"The confidence that Black gave us from the very beginning -- all the rookies -- and the whole organization, and the communication with all the guys, were keys," Marquez said.