Feltner has noteworthy start with 10 K's before bullpen falters

April 7th, 2024

DENVER -- Before each start, the Rockies’ jots down one sentence about each batter. But he no longer treats those notes as marching orders.

“I would try to follow the book more last year, and attack the hitters' weaknesses more, instead of feeding my strengths,” Feltner said.

During the six innings the Rockies want to remember from their 8-6 loss to the Rays at Coors Field, it really didn’t matter what Feltner’s book said about Rays hitters. The high winds, which were announced at 17 mph with gusts at 33 mph at first pitch, but kept changing throughout, were a non-issue. A wind-chill factor that dipped into the 30s also didn’t bother him.

Feltner struck out 10 to become the first Rockies pitcher to reach double figures in strikeouts in a game since Kyle Freeland struck out 10 on Aug. 21, 2021, in a home game against the D-backs. The Rays managed just two hits and one first-inning run off Feltner, who became the third pitcher in club history to pitch at least six innings, strike out 10 or more and yield two or fewer runs in a start at Coors Field.

“He threw outstanding,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “The ball-strike ratio the first couple of innings was not very good. All of a sudden he turned it around and started throwing a ton of strikes; arguably one of the best outings of his career.”

The evening crumbled for the Rockies when relievers Jake Bird, Tyler Kinley, Jalen Beeks and Justin Lawrence all figured in the Rays scoring all their runs in the seventh and eighth. Beeks gave up a hit and two walks without retiring anyone, and Lawrence watched helplessly as Yandy Díaz’s bad-hop single drove in the Rays’ go-ahead runs.

The conditions were a big part of the story. The wind no doubt helped the Rockies to three home runs: Ryan McMahon’s solo home run in the second and Michael Toglia’s two-run shot in the fourth off starter Tyler Alexander, and Brenton Doyle’s two-run floater off Chris Devenski in the sixth. Isaac Paredes’ two-out solo shot off Kinley began the Rays’ eighth-inning rally.

It was the Rockies’ second straight late collapse. They blew a four-run lead in the top of the ninth and trailed by a run in Friday afternoon’s home opener before McMahon parked a walk-off grand slam for a 10-7 victory. A 6-1 lead with a starter having struck out 10 through six innings wasn’t safe Saturday.

“You feel for the guys – that’s the No. 1 thing,” Feltner said. “We’re going to be OK. We’ll pull it together.”

For Feltner’s six innings, the wind blew, but he stood strong.

“It didn’t matter too much because it was going in so many different directions,” said Feltner, who was credited with eight groundouts. “I try not to think about the elements too much as far as my game plan. Wherever I am, whatever the wind is doing, I try to pitch the same way.”

After walking Jose Siri to open the third, Feltner fanned Díaz on a slider, Brandon Lowe on a changeup that was effective against lefty batters all night, and Randy Arozarena on 96.8 mph four-seam fastball. Siri stole second and third during the inning, but Feltner made sure he went no farther.

The dry spells between double-figure strikeout performances illustrates that the Rockies have had trouble missing bats -- a factor in the team’s struggles of recent years. Strikeout pitchers of the recent past have dealt with slumps (namely Kyle Freeland) and injuries (Germán Márquez and Antonio Senzatela are recovering from Tommy John surgeries).

Feltner missed much of last season after sustaining a fractured skull when he was hit by a line drive from the Phillies’ Nick Castellanos in late May. He returned in September committed to being a power pitcher. The sequences on Saturday showed a diverse pitch mix, based on his power.

“I don't feel any pressure [for strikeouts], but I want to be the guy that eats innings and puts up zeros in those innings, as well. So I want to be out there for as long as I can. If strikeouts happen, then they happen.”