DENVER -- Sunday's tweet served as a reminder that right-hander Jeff Hoffman is still around, with hopes still high.Hoffman, the Rockies' headliner in the trade that sent shortstop Troy Tulowitzki to the Blue Jays in 2015, finished last season a forgotten man. A right shoulder/rotator cuff impingement in Spring Training
DENVER -- Sunday's tweet served as a reminder that right-hander Jeff Hoffman is still around, with hopes still high.
Hoffman, the Rockies' headliner in the trade that sent shortstop Troy Tulowitzki to the Blue Jays in 2015, finished last season a forgotten man. A right shoulder/rotator cuff impingement in Spring Training ended his bid to be in the season-opening rotation. He bounced between Triple-A Albuquerque and the Majors, and between starting and relieving. So when he didn't receive a September callup, he went to work -- and he is seeing results.
The tweet from X2 Athletics -- the Scottsdale, Ariz., training facility where Hoffman works out -- showed a 98.9 mph fastball, a personal record. It blew away his 94.3 mph Major League four-seam average since his 2016 debut, and eclipsed his high of 98.2 mph against the D-backs' Paul Goldschmidt on June 21, 2017.
Will the increased heater speed earn him a rotation spot on a team looking for its third consecutive postseason appearance? Since debuting in 2016, Hoffman is 6-9 with a 5.88 ERA in 37 games, including 22 starts. In 2018, he had a 9.35 ERA in five relief appearances and one start.
Last season's rotation -- led by lefty Kyle Freeland, who finished fourth in National League Cy Young Award voting, and righty German Marquez, who struck out 230 -- led the NL in innings pitched. Returning also are Tyler Anderson, Jon Gray and Antonio Senzatela, all with more big league time than Hoffman, who has one more year of Minor League options. Also competing is righty Peter Lambert -- who turns 22 on April 18 -- the Rockies' No. 3 prospect per MLB Pipeline.
"If you look at the model of what needs to happen, he's got that sort ability," Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich said. "He's got the pitch mix. He's got the velo. He's got the durability and ability to do all of that. It needs to happen, and he needs to look no further than the people ahead of him and their results."
Hoffman, 26, had mixed numbers at Triple-A Albuquerque (6-8, 4.94 ERA) in 2018, partly because he had to build up after the injury, was called up in June to pitch out of the bullpen, then had to re-adjust to starting when sent back. But he can put it all behind him by grabbing a rotation spot.
Here are his steps:
Driveline, in earnest: Like much of the Rockies' staff, Hoffman turned to Driveline Baseball, a Kent, Wash., training center that offers patented biometrics, workouts and strategy. He adopted Driveline's weighted-ball workouts last year, but this year did the full biometric workup to address inefficiencies, physically and mechanically.
"To put it simply, it's just everything now is working in sync better, more efficiently," Hoffman said. "At Driveline, we found a couple inefficiencies. One was with my drive leg [the right leg, with the foot contacting the rubber]. There were times when it was not grabbing as much, and wasn't driving as it should be. It can make all the difference."
Organizing the day, and the mind: Hoffman's former agent, new Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen, introduced him to mental performance mastery coach Brian Cain, who has helped many athletes balance their burgeoning careers with full lives.
"I got on board with him, took his five-week course where I would sit down for 20-30 minutes a day and go through his classes," Hoffman said. "It has a lot to do with managing your time, getting the most out of your day, having positive self-talk and really being committed to your process."
Detailed monitoring: Driveline personnel make periodic trips to X2 Athletics in Scottsdale to make sure Hoffman and his training partners, Phillies lefty Austin Davis and Royals lefty prospect Jake Kalish, are on the right track. This Dec. 14 tweet -- with Hoffman throwing a 5-ounce ball 102.9 mph from a moving start -- demonstrated proper technique.
With a crowded rotation in front of him, and the aura of the Tulowitzki trade following him, Hoffman would have a lot to contend with mentally -- if he weren't so busy honing the proper focus.
"I'm pretty focused on me right now," Hoffman said. "Obviously, I know who I am and who I can be. I am in a good spot and putting myself in a pretty good position. When we roll the balls out, we'll see what happens."
Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter and like his Facebook page.