Rule 5 Draft pick Molina unfazed by bad luck

June 10th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Thomas Harding's Rockies Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

ST. LOUIS – A small, barely noticeable moment Friday night showed that Rockies rookie pitcher is a competitor, not a trainee.

The Rockies selected Molina, 22, from the Rays in the Rule 5 Draft last December, to give him Major League experience in the bullpen this year then build him into a possible rotation member in the future. To ease him in, manager Bud Black used him 10 times in relief with the club trailing and once as an “opener” with a tight pitch count.

But before Friday’s game against the Cardinals, Black tipped Molina off to be ready if the Rockies were leading in the middle innings. So, Molina took the mound with a 5-4 lead in the sixth. Hanging in, but pitching inefficiently, Molina had two outs when Dylan Carlson bounced an RBI single just past his glove.

The telling moment came after Carlson’s hit. Molina flung the baseball disgustedly toward the Rockies’ dugout. But he didn’t look in that direction.

A moment like that is akin to a boxer during a standing eight count, when the referee sees they are in trouble and has the fighter walk toward them. If the boxer gives the referee an eye roll, it’s a signal that they want out of the fight. A pitcher may do the same by looking to the dugout, or even to the bullpen.

Molina, it turns out, was not defeated, just angry.

“Because I almost caught the ball,” Molina said. “That was a sweet ground ball. That was not hard. That’s why I was so mad.”

Molina pitched out of the inning, then was delightfully surprised when pitching coach Darryl Scott said he would face the heart of the Cards' order the next inning.

“I said, ‘Let’s go,’” Molina said. “That’s a real opportunity.”

Molina forced an Alec Burleson grounder, a Paul Goldschmidt fly to center and -- on the cutter/slider that the Rockies have been teaching him -- a Nolan Arenado weak fly ball to right field to end the spotless inning.

Molina, who split last season between Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham with the Rays, has a 7.54 ERA, with much of the damage coming with 12 runs in his first 4 1/3 innings over three appearances.

“I like the fact that he didn’t scare off,” Black said. “He’s 22 years old. He’s learning. But we like his fastball. We like his change. They nicked him in the sixth, but I like that he went out for the seventh and he put a zero up.

“He wasn’t really efficient. He was over 40 pitches in his two innings.”

And mentorship was not far away. Fellow Venezuelan Antonio Senzatela was with the team in St. Louis as he works his way back from Tommy John surgery last year. Germán Márquez, in Scottsdale, Ariz., who is closer to his return from Tommy John than Senzatela, had thrown a two-inning simulated game that day.

“He said, ‘I saw you, and you’re looking good -- competing,’” Molina said.

When not with the team, Márquez turns on his television or smartphone whenever Molina pitches.

“I love the fastball/changeup combo -- it’s going to work for him.” Márquez said.

The relationships are for advice as well as support. Molina struggled in the May 27 start because he couldn’t put his fastball in proper spots.

“Germán told me to stay behind the ball – that was the mistake I was making with the fastball,” Molina said. “Then I practiced it with the support of ‘Senza’ and ‘Marquee’ and made the adjustment. Then ‘Marquee,’ when we were shagging during batting practice, said to me, ‘Don’t be negative. The main thing is being positive.’”

Next season, the Rockies should have a host of injured pitchers back at the Major League and Minor League level, plus prospects such as Chase Dollander (MLB Pipeline No. 40/Rockies' No. 2), Sean Sullivan (Rockies' No. 13) and Carson Palmquist (Colorado's No. 14) in the fold. If Molina still needs seasoning, the club can use Minor League options.

But Molina is taking advantage of his chance to show he isn’t afraid of competition.