Oberg overcomes odds to be a force out of 'pen

After battling injuries, setup man looking to build on strong second half

January 4th, 2019

DENVER -- Rockies right-handed relief pitcher 's work over his past 34 regular-season games -- 1.85 ERA, 40 strikeouts and five walks in 34 innings -- may preview where his career is headed. Later innings, possibly the ninth, could come his way in the future.

But at his Sewell, N.J., home, which he shares with his wife, Diana, and a nearly 5-month-old daughter, Charlotte, Oberg keeps a cane -- one you'd expect a fellow much older than Oberg, 28, to have around -- to remind him where he has been.

It's what Oberg had to use just to get out of bed back when he was 20 and was suffering from psoriatic arthritis during his sophomore year at the University of Connecticut. During a six-month ordeal, his toes swelled to look "like little sausages," before he found the right diagnosis and medicine.

Oberg said it was difficult getting around campus due to his ailment.

"It not only affected my feet, but I needed a cane to literally get out of bed and move around my apartment until my joints started loosening to the point I could get my socks on, get my shoes on."

He recovered, only to blow out his right elbow and have Tommy John surgery. But here he is, an important part of the Rockies' bullpen.

In 2018, Oberg struggled so badly through his first 10 appearances (6.44 ERA) that he was optioned to Triple-A Albuquerque. But after his May 29 return, Oberg became trusted to protect leads. Now, with righty setup man exploring free agency this winter and closer signed for two more years, it's possible that Oberg could fill the ninth inning at some point should it become available.

So it's a good time to get to know Oberg, a 15th-round Draft pick in 2012 who has overcome much since his arthritis bout to become a key part of the Rockies' present and future.

The UConn Huskies produced five Major Leaguers during Oberg's time. The others are Astros outfielder , D-backs shortstop Nick Ahmed, Red Sox right-hander Matt Barnes and free-agent third baseman Mike Olt.

Oberg and Springer, the 2017 World Series Most Valuable Player, were roommates during their first two years at UConn, which included Oberg's arthritis scare, and later were in each other's weddings.

"Seeing him physically for the first time and hearing the sound off the bat, I was, 'Wow, I'd never heard anything like this before … this guy is something special,'" Oberg said.

They faced off twice in 2015, and Oberg fanned Springer both times. They didn't face each other in the five games between the clubs in 2018. Oberg missed the final two for the birth of his daughter.

Oberg has overcome challenges -- a shoulder injury shortened his 2014 at Double-A Tulsa before he was promoted to the Majors in '15. Blood clots in his right arm in '16 led to surgery, but didn't scare him.

"I remember somebody asking me, 'Are you nervous about going to the hospital for your blood clots?'" he said. "I'm like, 'No. I've got to get there in one piece and I'll be all right.' I've been around enough doctors to know that these guys know what they're doing."

Oberg's performance changed dramatically after the time in Triple-A. According to Statcast™, he saw an increase in the rate of swings and misses on his fastball from April to his performance after his May 29 recall. Also the whiff rate on his slider increased from his first struggling stint to his outstanding run after returning. Most notably, in April the pitches had differing release points. After his May 29 call-up, the red and yellow are more clumped. Translated, batters couldn't tell the difference between the pitches as easily.

"I just felt a heightened awareness of my body control, of my pitches, of what it was I was doing out there," Oberg said.

Oberg's 2018 ended with a balk, when he dropped the baseball while on the rubber, and a wild pitch to let two runs score in the 6-0 loss to the Brewers that ended a three-game sweep in the National League Division Series. But it's not as if the oddity hangs over his head.

"The chances of that [balk] actually happening again are such a small percentage that it's not something where I'm going to beat myself up, try to correct, or hang onto this notion of, 'I'm going to be angry all offseason and take it into Spring Training,'" he said.

Oberg wants big situations and is willing to work for them.

"Coming into this year, I know I have a lot of work to do, and I want to be able to put a full seven-month campaign together," he said. "It's going out there every night with the same consistent process and attitude I had the second half."