SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Rockies are on a run of big results from pitchers they covet most. Is 2019 the year for lefty Tyler Anderson, the team’s top pick in 2011?
In the past two seasons, which have resulted in postseason trips, Colorado has had strong years from first-round Draft picks Jon Gray ('13) and Kyle Freeland ('14), as well as from German Marquez, whom the club could not sign out of Venezuela in '14 but later acquired in a trade with the Rays.
Anderson, meanwhile, had an injury-addled climb through the Minors. Since debuting in '16, Anderson has had high and low moments, and injuries while going 18-21 with a 4.30 ERA.
But last season was a breakthrough of sorts in that he made 32 starts (7-9, 4.55), plus one in the postseason.
With the exception of having a late-season start pushed back because of left shoulder soreness, Anderson returned Sept. 30 and pitched 7 2/3 scoreless innings of a key home win over the Nationals, then in the National League Division Series, where he held the Brewers to one run and four hits in six innings in the Rockies’ 4-0 loss in Game 2.
“When you’re healthy, you don’t have to worry about your body when you’re competing,” said Anderson, who missed '15 in the Minors with an elbow injury, and in the Majors was sidelined with an oblique issue to start '16 and a knee injury that interrupted his '17 season. “Your focus is pretty one-sided on strictly competing and making pitches as opposed to trying to battle something else out there.”
The battle now is with consistency.
Anderson's can be scintillating. In consecutive scoreless outings last June 29 at Dodger Stadium and July 4 at home against the Dodgers, Anderson became the first pitcher in club history to throw that many scoreless innings in two straight games while giving up four or fewer hits. He was 6-3 with a 3.72 ERA before the All-Star break.
But Anderson was 1-6 with a 6.06 ERA after the break.
Possessing average fastball velocity, Anderson relies on command of the fastball and changing speeds. He is prone to the home run -- he gave up 30 last season, which tied the Brewers’ Chase Anderson for the NL lead. But if he can keep the bases clear and hitters off balance, he can mitigate the damage.
“For me, it’s all about being consistent,” said Anderson, who otherwise pitched credibly -- six innings, five runs on four hits, seven strikeouts, one walk. “The only thing last year that really stood in my way was there were some times when I was really inconsistent. If I can avoid those and be more consistent across the board, I’ll be better off.”
Manager Bud Black loves that Anderson can dominate when he is commanding his fastball. Doing so allows him to use his well-above average changeup, cutter and curve. But Black believes Anderson can win even when he isn’t commanding the fastball.
“Because he can change speeds,” Black said. “If you’re changing speeds, even though you’re still throwing strikes, you might not need to have your best command. So disrupting the hitter’s timing is part of something that’s advantageous for him.
“He’s got to throw enough strikes, enough quality strikes, to work his way through a game. That’s part of what makes him who he is.”
Anderson also wants his hunger to become an upper-echelon pitcher to define him.
Last season’s 176 innings easily exceeded his previous high (145 in '16, including stints in the Minors). And after the Rockies were eliminated in last year's NLDS, there was hunger, not fatigue.
“You feel alive,” Anderson said. “You feel energized. You want to keep going. It’s like something just got taken out of your hands that you want to hold onto. We definitely have the desire, personally and as a team, in general to get back in a position to hopefully win.”
But Wednesday night’s 8-7 Cactus League loss to the Royals highlighted what can trip Anderson. Pitching with a 6-2 lead with two out in the fourth, Anderson gave up a 452-foot homer to Hunter Dozier. The problem wasn’t the homer as much as Anderson hitting Alex Gordon with no outs and walking Chris Owings with two gone. Anderson gave up a second-inning homer to Frank Schwindel, but bases were empty.