Refining secondary pitches key for Senzatela

Right-hander is competing with Chad Bettis for final rotation spot

March 3rd, 2019

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Four hours prior to 's first pitch against the White Sox on Saturday, Rockies manager Bud Black stressed the need for the right-hander to refine his changeup this spring, especially during game action.

Once considered a crucial piece of his arsenal, Senzatela struggled with the pitch at times during the past two seasons, losing confidence in it. The result has been more of a focus on his slider and curveball, but Black believes that the changeup could be the key to Senzatela’s ability to be more consistent.

“Our Minor League player development people said his best stuff was the fastball-changeup combination,” Black said before the Rockies dropped a 10-6 decision to Chicago at Camelback Ranch. “The change is such a good weapon, that should be part of his best stuff. So far this spring, it’s proven to be true. It seems to be coming back.”

Senzatela estimated that he threw four changeups during his two innings of work, but one of them proved to be crucial: a double play with the bases loaded that helped him minimize damage.

So although the stat line wasn’t pretty -- two unearned runs, five hits, a walk and a strikeout in two innings -- Senzatela came away from the outing feeling good about his work, which also included a double play with the bases loaded in the first inning, that one coming off a slider.

“I got a little damage early in the first inning, but I tried to breathe and make a quality pitch -- and I did it,” Senzatela said. “I feel my arm is good. My fastball command is there, and my slider and changeup are really nice right now.”

“With Senza, he’s going to get a lot of his outs on the fastball in good spots, but you can’t live on the fastball,” Black said. “When he does throw his secondary pitches, they’ve got to be quality.”

Senzatela is battling Chad Bettis for the No. 5 spot in the rotation, so results mean more to them than they do to pitchers with a spot locked up. Working on specific pitches -- such as Senzatela’s changeup -- can cause an internal tug-of-war for a pitcher when seemingly meaningless outs become important, but Black’s message on that is simple.

“Ultimately, I tell the guys, ‘When the game starts today, go compete. Do what you have to do to pitch well and get your outs,’” Black said. “[But] even though they’re competing for a job, it’s not a Major League regular-season game. There’s a good balance there to practice and yet compete.”

Senzatela has now allowed three runs (one earned) over four innings in two starts this spring. That’s been better than Bettis, who has given up five earned runs in five innings, but Senzatela isn’t thinking much about the competition.

“I’m not focusing on it; I’m just going out there and doing my job,” Senzatela said. “They make the decisions, not me.”

Second thoughts

It’s unclear who will be manning second base for the Rockies on Opening Day -- Ryan McMahon and Garrett Hampson are vying for the job, while Pat Valaika and top prospect Brendan Rodgers are also in the mix -- but Trevor Story has done his best to create a rapport with all of candidates as he prepares for his first season without D.J. LeMahieu, his long-time double-play partner who signed with the Yankees this offseason.

“It’s going to be a little different; me and D.J. were very close, but we can have something similar to that,” Story said. “Just working with these guys in here in Spring Training, getting out early and doing some extra stuff, kind of getting a feel for where we’re going to be; that practice, those reps, they’re going to be big.”

After Hampson and McMahon both went deep in Friday’s game, Valaika hit a three-run homer in Saturday’s loss to the White Sox, finishing 1-for-2 after starting at third base. McMahon started at second base and went 2-for-2 with a double, a triple, a walk and two runs scored, while Rodgers played shortstop, finishing the day 1-for-3 with a run scored.

“That was a good swing today off a breaking ball,” Black said of Valaika. “Pat proved in ’17 he can handle big league pitching and handle a big league ballgame. Last year was a bit of an off year; he needs to bounce back.”

Oh no

Seunghwan Oh allowed four runs on four hits -- two of them home runs -- and a walk in just two-thirds of an inning, but Black revealed after the game that the right-hander awoke Saturday morning with a stiff neck.

“He tried to resolve it in the morning, and he thought he was good enough to pitch,” Black said. “He thought he could get through it, but I think it affected his outing today. He just couldn’t finish his pitches.”

Oh is day to day, as Black said it “shouldn’t be a long-term thing” for the reliever.

Up next

The Rockies host the Giants on Sunday at Salt River Fields, with first pitch scheduled for 1:10 p.m. MT. Left-hander Kyle Freeland makes his second start of the spring, while Bryan Shaw, Wade Davis and Jake McGee are among the other Rockies slated to pitch. Right-hander Dereck Rodriguez will start for San Francisco.