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Rockies' rotation set up well for stretch run

Staff has strong veteran presence, but rookies played big role this season
MLB.com @TracyRingolsby

Check out the Rockies' rotation for the final two weeks of the regular season.

Tyler Chatwood started the series finale against the Giants at AT&T Park on Wednesday afternoon and then, if the alignment remains in place, the Rockies will take their battle to hang on to the second National League Wild Card spot to San Diego with a projected starting quartet of Tyler Anderson, Jon Gray, Chad Bettis and rookie German Marquez.

Check out the Rockies' rotation for the final two weeks of the regular season.

Tyler Chatwood started the series finale against the Giants at AT&T Park on Wednesday afternoon and then, if the alignment remains in place, the Rockies will take their battle to hang on to the second National League Wild Card spot to San Diego with a projected starting quartet of Tyler Anderson, Jon Gray, Chad Bettis and rookie German Marquez.

That's the rotation Colorado projected at the start of Spring Training -- four veterans and a rookie, whether it was Marquez or Jeff Hoffman or Kyle Freeland or Antonio Senzatela. And right now, the Rockies, in the final two weeks of the season, have that rotation in place for the first time.

Rockies' schedule

That's correct. Colorado opened the season with two rookies in the rotation, had four rookies among the starting five at one point and is still in control of its own postseason future 151 games into the 162-game season.

Video: SD@COL: Anderson, bullpen secures shutout of Padres

The fact the Rockies are going to close the season most likely with just one rookie in the rotation is no knock on the young arms. It's more about not trying to force the issue with those youngsters, which included Freeland and Senzatela making the jump from Double-A last year to the big leagues this year, and Senzatela pitched only 34 2/3 innings for Double-A Hartford in 2016 because of a shoulder strain. It's about being careful not to ask a rookie pitcher to carry too heavy of a workload with the possibility it might impact the future.

And it's about having the veterans healthy and ready to go -- finally.

When the season opened, Bettis, who led the team with 14 wins a year ago, was undergoing treatment for testicular cancer, and he didn't make his first big league start until Aug. 14.

Video: Bettis, Black on the righty finishing season strong

Gray suffered a fracture in his left foot in March, and after trying to pitch through it, he gave in to the injury after three starts. He was out for 77 days before returning to the rotation June 30.

Anderson suffered a left knee injury in early June that resulted in knee surgery after a failed comeback. He was limited to 3 1/3 innings in one relief appearance and one start from May 31 until Sept. 11.

Video: COL@ARI: Gray K's 10 across seven stellar innings

Chatwood never had a health issue, but after losing five consecutive starts from June 24 to Aug. 2, giving up 25 earned runs in 21 1/3 innings (10.55 ERA) and seeing his record fall to 6-12, he found himself in the bullpen for a month. He returned to the rotation Sept. 5, and heading into Wednesday's outing, he had allowed one earned run in 13 2/3 innings over his past three starts. He won the last two, and the Rockies won his Sept. 5 return when Chatwood was limited to three innings because he had pitched only 9 2/3 innings the previous 33 days.

"It has been a lot of moving parts recently," said pitching coach Steve Foster, "with Chatwood coming back, Anderson getting healthy, Bettis returning and, at the same time, the young buys building up innings. They are getting close where our eyes tell us there's a little bit of fatigue.

"It is a perfect time to have guys returning and be effective."

That is no knock on the rookies, the oldest of whom is Hoffman, 24. Freeland is 23, and Senzatela and Marquez are both 22.

The four of them combined to start 90 games, compile four of the top six innings totals on the staff, including Freeland (151 2/3) and Marquez (151) ranking first and second on the team. Chatwood went into Wednesday with 136 innings, followed by Senzatela at 128 2/3. Gray has worked 98 1/3 innings, and Hoffman has 96 2/3 innings for Colorado and 49 2/3 innings at Triple-A Albuquerque.

And while Marquez is 4-3 with a 4.46 ERA since the All-Star break, the three other rookies are a combined 4-9 with a 5.30 ERA in 21 starts. By contrast, that trio also has a 3.13 ERA in 13 relief appearances since the break.

Video: ARI@COL: Marquez whiffs Lamb to strike out the side

Enter Anderson, Bettis and Chatwood to join a rotation with Marquez and Gray, who is 8-4 since his June 30 return from the disabled list, with a 3.66 ERA in those 15 starts. He has allowed three runs or fewer in 13 of those starts, including each of his past 11.

"The cliche timing is everything in life certainly plays true when you're talking about the starting pitching," said Foster. "Having these guys return at the same time the [rookies] were possibly getting a little fatigued has been a blessing for our entire staff. It's been nice to see."

It gives Foster reason to look to the future and smile at what could be on the horizon.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Colorado Rockies