As Rox struggle, part of focus stays on future

Colorado drops opener at SD; lineup reinforcements on way

May 18th, 2021

Another tough first game of a road trip -- this one a 7-0 loss to the Padres at Petco Park on Monday -- was another signal for the Rockies to look to the future, both immediate and long term.

By early next week, the Rockies could have the roster they planned going into the season, and manager Bud Black, interim general manager Bill Schmidt and club officials can truly assess the future. At 15-27 and 2-15 on the road, Colorado has struggled so far. The performance of younger players now and the moves before the Trade Deadline figure to have much to do with how the Rockies set their path to better baseball.

“Every team has unique challenges,” Black said. “Ours is breaking in a lot of new players and trying to do the best we can to win every game. We’re taking care of our own business, what we have to do each and every day for the present -- right now, we’re talking about tomorrow’s game.

“And we're thinking about those fellows as it relates to the future -- not only tomorrow, but the immediate future and where we are a month from now, two months from now, a year from now, two years from now. That's all part of what an organization does, no matter who you are.”

In the future tense, so to speak, Monday was more notable for those not playing than those struggling on the field. That could change some Tuesday, if right fielder Charlie Blackmon (sore right groin) and first baseman C.J. Cron (back injury) rejoin the lineup as expected.

Infielder Brendan Rodgers’ fourth rehab game at Triple-A Albuquerque served as the beginning of the next phase of the Rockies’ evaluation period. Rodgers, who sustained a right hamstring injury in early March, went 2-for-4 with a double in the Isotopes' 9-3 loss at El Paso while playing nine innings.

If Rodgers goes nine innings again Tuesday, the Rockies could bring him back for their next homestand, which starts Friday against the D-backs. While Rodgers figures into the second-base mix and started there the first two games of his rehab assignment, he played shortstop Monday.

Next is pitching. Left-hander Kyle Freeland will make his second rehab start Thursday for Albuquerque at home against Oklahoma City. If he checks out healthy after 75-85 pitches, his next start could be his first in the Majors in 2021. Freeland sustained a left shoulder strain on March 23.

“We’re getting some things accomplished in the early part of the season, a quarter of the way through it,” Black said. “But it's going to be nice to get those guys back in the lineup, to see where we are as a group, to see how that team looks on the field, as we move into the middle part of May and into June. There's something to that.”

The attention to the future surfaced on another front Monday. The club promoted their 2018 first-round Draft pick, left-hander Ryan Rolison, from Double-A Hartford to Albuquerque. Should development continue -- and should the Major League roster change due to transactions or injuries -- Rolison could be in line for his first Major League action.

So, where are the Rockies as constructed?

A four-game split with the Reds over the weekend and Monday's loss weren't exactly glowing advertisements. But the Rockies have some veterans, including several pending free agents, who could draw interest from other teams. And Colorado would be advised to listen.

Right-hander Jon Gray is one, although Monday was tough, starting with the two-run homer he allowed to Manny Machado in the first inning. Gray yielded seven runs (five earned) and 10 hits in 5 2/3 innings. But Gray has a 3.48 ERA and has gone six or more innings in five of his nine outings.

Shortstop Trevor Story has had a rough past two days (1-for-9 total, plus a fielding error Monday), but that’s a blip for one of the best players at a valuable position. Story has performed enthusiastically for the Rockies, but contending teams could come calling.

The two player options on Blackmon’s contract, which expires at season’s end, and the mutual belief that he is a fitting mentor, could preclude a deal. But several other veterans are more affordable -- righties Mychal Givens and Daniel Bard and Cron fit this category. Bard, when pitching well, could be especially attractive, as his contract is under club control through next season.

The Rockies’ glaring struggles show in the lineup length and bench depth, as well as the bullpen -- which gave opportunities to rookies Lucas Gilbreath and Antonio Santos after Monday’s game was out of reach. With a rotation that has pitched to expectations at home (though it has struggled on the road), adding young talent in those areas and beefing up a farm system that is stronger at the lower levels than the higher ones could make a difference.

Raimel Tapia and Ryan McMahon appear to be lineup keepers. Garrett Hampson (2-for-3), Josh Fuentes (the reigning National League Player of the Week) and a host of others are being assessed for their future roles.

It all adds up to a team living in 2021, but planning beyond.