When it comes to Colorado's closer, three's company

Colomé, Estévez, Bard all boast experience, eye ninth-inning gig

March 29th, 2022

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Just before Major League camp began, the wheels began turning in Rockies relief pitcher Carlos Estévez's mind when his phone alerted him of a message from an old training and throwing partner from the Dominican Republic -- Alex Colomé.

“I talked to him when I was traveling here and he told me he was in Denver,” Estévez said. “And I was like, 'Oh, that’s odd.'

“And I had a stop in Denver and I posted something. And he asked me, ‘Hey, are you here?’ That’s how I knew it.”

With Colomé’s signing of a one-year, $4.1 million contract, he arrives having had the same job description -- and similar ups-and-downs in the closer role in 2021 -- as Estévez and righty Daniel Bard. For now, as manager Bud Black sees it, three potential closers is not a crowd and may not even be a classic position competition.

The Rockies just have three back-of-the-bullpen arms, which is good.

All three have aspirations to close games and experience doing so. Colomé -- 17-for-24 on save opportunities for the Twins last season -- does not have a games finished clause in his contract. Bard (one year, $4.4 million to avoid arbitration) and Estévez (arbitration unsettled) also don’t have such contractual language, which means there isn’t a financial reason for Black to put any of them in that role.

Black is free to go with the hot hand, choose to make it a competition or even pivot, if one of several big-armed young pitchers should accelerate his development.

“When that Opening Day comes, we’re going to have a guy in my mind designated to pitch the ninth inning,” Black said. “But we also know the importance of the group, whatever role that needs to be filled on a given night. We have guys that can do it.”

Colomé, an All-Star in 2016 and the American League saves leader (47) in ’17 with the Rays, lost and regained the ninth-inning role with the Twins. He’s not demanding the ninth with the Rockies, but it’s part of his identity.

“I’m a closer,” Colomé said in Spanish, translated by bullpen catcher Aaron Muñoz. “That’s what I’ve done most of my career. But if a role changes where I need to be somewhere else, I'm ready to do that as well.”

And Coors Field, he fears not.

“I’m not afraid to pitch anywhere,” Colomé said. “All I need is a baseball.”

Bard liked the ball at the end of games in 2021, but struggles against lefty hitters and some general misfortune led to his term as closer ending in late August, when he was 20-for-28 on save chances. But he held righty hitters to a .208 average and is considered dependable enough to have a late-game role.

“I want to be part of a winner, and I want to pitch well myself,” Bard said. “If everybody around me is pitching well in that bullpen and that leaves me in the seventh and the eighth, I’m happy with that.”

Estévez replaced Bard and converted 9-of-11 save chances down the stretch.

“Honestly, almost every reliever in the game wants to be a closer,” Estévez said. “That’s certainly my wish. I’m showing what I’ve got.

“If it happens, it happens. But every year I’m ready to compete and help my team win.”

As the season progressed, righties Tyler Kinley and Robert Stephenson put together strong stretches in setup-type roles. Veteran Jhoulys Chacín moved from a long-relief role to being utilized late in games out of need, but the plan is to shift him back for 2022.

Next, there are developing relievers, all with Minor League options. Lefties Lucas Gilbreath and Ben Bowden, and righties Justin Lawrence, Jordan Sheffield and Julian Fernández are competing for roles. Gilbreath ended last season in the strongest position, serving as the lefty setup man.

Youth is served
Rockies No. 1 prospect Zac Veen walked, singled and stole a base in Friday's 5-3 win over the D-backs at Salt River Fields. No. 19 prospect Grant Lavigne drew a key eighth-inning walk and No. 8 prospect Drew Romo caught the latter part of the victory. Veen and Romo were high school players the Rockies made first-round picks in 2020, while Lavigne was a first-rounder in ’18.

“The progression that young players have to make to get to the Major Leagues -- get drafted and get into professional baseball -- there are steps,” Black said. “One of the steps is to get on a big league field in a Major League exhibition game.”

Filtering in
Prospects and Minor Leaguers played most of the first two Cactus League games, but Black said third baseman Ryan McMahon, second baseman Brendan Rodgers and catcher Dom Nuñez are expected to play against the Giants on Saturday at Salt River Fields. First pitch is scheduled for 2:10 p.m. MT and fans can listen live. Colorado's Major League pitchers, who have been throwing live batting practice, will work into Cactus League play next week.