Rox shut down rookie righty Lambert for season

Club believes delivery adjustments will help him advance in 2020

September 25th, 2019

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Rockies asked rookie right-hander to use the lessons he learned in 19 starts (covering 89 1/3 innings) this season as fodder for offseason homework.

Manager Bud Black said Tuesday that the club is shutting down Lambert (3-7, 7.25 ERA), but in the season’s final days he’ll begin making the delivery adjustments that could help him make a leap next year.

Lambert, 22, pitched 60 1/3 innings at Triple-A Albuquerque before being summoned to Colorado. He was needed because of injuries to (hot spot on his right middle finger) and (season-ending knee surgery), and the early struggles that led to being optioned to Albuquerque.

Lambert flashed his potential by besting the Cubs in his first two starts (two runs, seven hits, 12 strikeouts in 12 innings). The inability to consistently hit locations made success hard to come by the rest of the way. However, there weren’t many options in a season of injury for the pitching staff, and the Rockies felt Lambert was not losing confidence even with the difficult outings.

“This last week we’re going to address some delivery and mechanical issues with him going into the offseason that he can truly work on,” Black said. “There are some basic pitching-principle things on the mechanics side that we’re going to clean up a little bit.

“But going through this complete Major League season -- he started throwing in January and was really turning the ball loose in February in Spring Training -- and to make it all the way to September in the rotation, shows that he has some durability and stamina. There were times he didn’t have his best stuff, but he still went out there and competed hard. And he’s 22 years old. That’s the thing that should stick out to everybody.”

Lambert’s four-seam fastball averages 92.7 mph, so location and deception with his pitch mix are bigger weapons than velocity. But in the Majors, hitters discerned even narrow misses and pushed him out of advantageous counts. For example, in 110 plate appearances in which the count reached 1-2, batters had a .194 batting average and one home run. But in the 98 plate appearances in which the count reached 2-1, the average was .388 with five homers.

“The biggest thing is consistency in my delivery,” Lambert said. “That goes back to, on some pitches, not trying to do too much with it, just trusting it. You see a little extra effort, which causes a little bit of extra rotation, maybe coming off pitches early, pulling my head.”

The .958 OPS against for the season and the fact he didn’t reach five innings in five of his final nine starts illustrate how hard he was hit, but his clear-headed response behind the scenes left the Rockies believing Lambert has the intangibles to fight back.

“It’s hard for a boxer to keep going into a ring when he keeps getting punched in the face,” pitching coach Steve Foster said. “What makes a boxer be able to return to a ring after he gets knocked out? Those are the questions that mental toughness answers -- the resiliency, the relentless attitude to attack and not be afraid of contact. Peter has had some great growth steps in a young mind at a high level.”

Specifically, the rotation and head movement must be addressed. Also, Lambert will try to eliminate the double-tap of the ball in the glove at the start of his motion -- something he added in the Minors with some success, but learned in the Majors that it can cost him pinpoint control. It’s a correction he and the Rockies were aware of, but one that is difficult to make when trying to compete.

“I’m not making terrible pitches,” Lambert said. “They’re near where I want them, but they’re just a little off. That creates bad counts for myself -- hitters’ counts. I learned a lot about myself this year and what I need to do going forward.”