Tulo trade shows Rockies' new philosophy
There is a reality the Rockies are coming to grips with. The elevation at Coors Field is 5,280 feet. It is not going to change. There's no magical elixir for what ails pitchers who are asked to make a living getting hitters out in Colorado.
It's time to get back to basics, and the Rockies are working at that.
Oh, they have tried plenty of novel ideas, including going with a four-man rotation in which a starter and reliever were piggybacked, limiting pitch counts. They have tried the installation of a humidor to keep the baseballs from drying out. They tried focusing on pitchers who threw sinkers.
None of that worked.
They have brought in established big league pitchers, thinking a proven veteran could set the tone. There was Greg Harris in 1993, Billy Swift and Bret Saberhagen in '95, Darryl Kile in '98 and Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle in 2001.
They didn't work.
It only takes 33 victories to make it into Colorado's all-time Top 10 in wins. None of those proven big leaguers is on the list.
Coors Field is what it is. The key is not to get too caught up in trying to reinvent the wheel.
With a change in the franchise's leadership last winter came a change in pitching philosophy.
It's about commanding the baseball, whether it's a two-seamer that sinks or a four-seamer that rises. It's about changing speeds.
There was an early sign of the impact of the revised pitching plans with the emergence of former second-round Draft choice Chad Bettis, who in the first half gave the Rockies plenty of reason to be excited about what is ahead. And the difference in Bettis this year compared to the past?
Having been told to junk his curveball, which was his second-best pitch, Bettis was taken aside during the spring by new pitching coach Steve Foster and bullpen coach Darren Holmes and given a full-court press until he commanded his fastball. He was then given the green light to restore a curve to his arsenal.
It worked. And Bettis' hook, which sits in the 70s, can even hang and be effective, now that he challenges hitters with a fastball in the low-90s.
The trade of Troy Tulowitzki to the Blue Jays on Tuesday underscored Colorado's pitching mentality. The focus of the return was pitching prospects Jeff Hoffman, Toronto's first-round Draft choice a year ago, and 20-year-olds Miguel Castro and Jesus Tinoco.
What do they have in common? They have power arms, featuring mid-90s fastballs that will touch 99 as their staples, and they back it up with quality changeups, with makings of quality curveballs.
Will all three become All-Stars? The odds are against that. But all three have potential.
Hoffman underwent Tommy John surgery in May 2014, and a couple weeks later, he was the Blue Jays' first-round Draft pick. Considered Toronto's third-best prospect, Hoffman didn't pitch competitively a year ago, but in his first pro season, he began at High Class A Dunedin and was promoted to Double-A New Hampshire, where scouts said he hit 98 with his fastball in a recent start.
The 6-foot-5, 190-pound Castro was ranked the fifth-best prospect in the Jays' system. From the Dominican Republic, he came to U.S. late in the 2013 season, but he showed enough raw ability that Toronto gave him a shot at closing in the big leagues earlier this year before sending him to Triple-A.
Jesus Tinoco is a bit more of a project, but after initially being held back in extended spring camp this year, he found himself promoted to Low Class A Lansing.
Burt Hooton, a 15-year big leaguer who won 151 games and has spent his post-playing career coaching everywhere from the college level to the big leagues, was known for his knuckle-curve, a product of spending his summers during college pitching for the Collegians in Boulder, Colo., and working with pitching guru Bus Campbell, whose bread-and-butter pitch was the knuckle-curve.
Campbell's list of students has ranged from the likes of Roy Halladay, who first worked with Campbell when he was 12, to Jamie Moyer, who was ready to quit baseball at the age of 29 but was asked by father-in-law Digger Phelps to at least have a chat with Campbell before hanging it up.
The result? Moyer, 34-54 in the big leagues before he met Campbell, pitched until the age of 49, and retired with a Major League record of 269-209.
Hooton said he never thought about altitude while pitching for the Collegians. He just threw the knuckle-curve.
"You are always having to fine-tune things based off how you feel," Hooton once said. "You might not get as big a break on the curveball in Denver as you do San Diego, but you don't have to.
"You might have to adjust your release point, because you don't get as much break, and you don't want to leave the pitch up in the zone, but there were days I'd have to make adjustments at Dodger Stadium, too. That's what pitching is all about, making adjustments."
That's important for pitchers. It's also important for organizations.
And it is something the Rockies have embraced in their approach to pitching.