Notes: Kinley's increased role; roster crunch

March 28th, 2021

Right-hander Tyler Kinley feels prepared for an expanded bullpen role, and the Rockies need him to be.

Kinley, 30, is coming off solid internal statistics last season -- his first with the Rockies after time with the Twins (2018) and Marlins ('18-19). In 24 appearances in '20, Kinley held opponents to a .167 batting average, primarily riding his fastball and slider. This year, he has turned his changeup from a pitch that he didn’t use often into a true asset.

“Obviously, two months, 60-game schedule, relievers are going to the ones chasing down their stats,” said Kinley, who saw one five-run, no-out game against the D-backs on Aug. 12 inflate his final ERA to 5.32. “But I felt I made a good adjustment, pitching at Coors and learning to throw in the altitude.”

Kinley, who missed much of the spring because of a left oblique strain, is healthy now. He gave up his first run of the spring during Saturday’s 8-2 loss to the White Sox at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Three of the batters that Kinley faced were left-handed -- and lefties batted .111 against him last season. He struck out one of those lefties.

With Scott Oberg having undergone surgery Thursday for blood clots in his right arm -- his fourth bout with the condition, a situation that Kinley called “devastating” -- Kinley will join Mychal Givens, Yency Almonte, Jairo Díaz and Carlos Estévez as right-handed setup men.

Still here
Right-handed-hitting utilityman Connor Joe, a non-roster invitee, survived Saturday’s roster cutdown, and then doubled and walked after entering as a substitute at first base. Thus continues one of the brightest stories of the spring.

Joe, who started on Opening Day for the Giants in 2019 as a Rule 5 Draft pick, was in Dodgers camp last year before being diagnosed with testicular cancer. After signing with the Rockies during the offseason, Joe took batting practice from manager Bud Black, a fellow San Diegan. Let’s say it worked -- Joe is hitting .387 in the Cactus League.

Also competing for a bench job is outfielder Yonathan Daza, who is out of Minor League options, but is having a strong spring with a .368 batting average.

Left-hander Ben Bowden, the Rockies' No. 15 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, has a shot at debuting in the Majors as the only lefty in the bullpen.

“It’s going to be tough, down to the wire,” said Black, who has been debating whether to carry 13 or 14 pitchers to begin the year. “They’re all playing well. Daza is second on the team in hits; Connor Joe is banging the ball; Ben Bowden is throwing strikes, getting strikeouts, limiting runs. Those three guys are really making a case for making the club.”

Still work to do
Righty Germán Márquez, the presumed starter next Thursday against the Dodgers on Opening Day at Coors Field, gave up three runs and six hits in three innings against the White Sox.

“My changeup this spring was good and I’ve been battling with my fastball command from the stretch, but I’m happy with all my stuff,” said Márquez, whose abbreviated tuneup was planned.

Camp cuts
Notable among the camp cuts are veteran first baseman Greg Bird, corner infielder Colton Welker and lefty reliever Lucas Gilbreath.

The move gives Bird, who hasn’t played in the Majors since April 2019 with the Yankees because of injuries, time to regain timing and power. Welker, 23, has batted .357 with a home run and three doubles in 25 spring games, but he will get regular playing time at the alternate training site before the Triple-A season begins. Gilbreath, 25, who has not pitched above Class A Advanced, has struck out 13 in 8 1/3 innings, with four of the six runs scored off him coming in one game.

Officially, Welker and Gilbreath were optioned to Triple-A Albuquerque. Bird, catchers José Breciño, Chris Rabago and Brian Serven, infielders Eric Stamets and Alan Trejo, and outfielder Ryan Villade were reassigned to Minor League camp.

Bard bids Bell farewell
Right-hander Daniel Bard took to Instagram to express his sorrow following the death of Twins bench coach Mike Bell, which occurred Friday.

Concern for a friend
Outfielder Charlie Blackmon said that he and Oberg have a much closer relationship than often happens between a pitcher and a hitter. It even went deeper than Oberg being active in the MLB Players Association and Blackmon being attuned to the issues in the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

“We’ll play chess on the plane occasionally,” Blackmon said. “Sometimes he’ll bring some video to me and run it by me to get a hitter’s perspective and I will get really in-depth on the pitching side. He’s a really good conversation, whether it’s baseball or not.

“My heart breaks for Scott. That's just a really unfair situation.”