Senzatela throws 8 scoreless, Rox fall in 11

August 19th, 2020

Seems all the Rockies do these days is pitch. That calling card -- dropped by right-hander in Tuesday’s 2-1, 11-inning loss to the Astros at Minute Maid Park -- is not the worst, given the team’s reputation for being offense-heavy.

Senzatela and the Astros’ Zack Greinke each went eight scoreless innings, each giving up three hits. Greinke struck out one more batter -- seven to Senzatela’s six. But Senzatela’s performance kept up with the work of the Rockies’ rotation, which entered Tuesday third in the National League in ERA and now is at 3.25. The 1.63 road ERA leads the Majors.

As Senzatela settled into a roll that saw him retire his final eight batters, he allowed himself faint smiles between pitches. He celebrated his final pitch, a slider to strike out Jack Mayfield to finish the eighth, by pounding his glove on the way off the mound. TV cameras caught him in an animated conversation, with his hands gesturing and his eyes darting.

“We had a good plan today, and we executed,” said Senzatela, who said that he and catcher Tony Wolters did not have to alter their strategy -- which doesn’t always happen, since either the hitters or the pitcher’s feel for his pitches can necessitate changes.

This was Senzatela’s seventh career start of at least seven innings, but his first since Sept. 22, 2018, at Arizona. Last year was a struggle, as Senzatela was mostly limited to a fastball and slider because an unexplained nerve problem affected his changeup grip, and he didn’t have confidence in the curve until the final month of the season.

“We talked after the game, and I mentioned to him I thought that was one of the best games I've seen him throw from start to finish,” manager Bud Black said. “When you go eight innings on the road against a very good team, and you're going head to head with Zack Greinke and you’re matching him, it’s pretty special stuff.

“He threw the ball well -- a mixture of all his pitches. He was in control, in command of his game.”

Of course, in most any other season, this type of pitching would have the Rockies absolutely rolling.

But in 2020, the main reason the Rockies (13-10) have lost seven of their last nine is an offense that has multiple hitters struggling. The Rockies were hitless between Charlie Blackmon’s leadoff single in the fourth and Raimel Tapia’s RBI single in the 10th. Astros reliever Andre Scrubb ended the 11th by striking out Garrett Hampson and Trevor Story with runners at second and third, and Myles Straw singled in the winning run off Jairo Díaz in the 11th.

Still, the Rockies’ hopes in this 60-game season are based on consistent pitching, especially from the starters. In being swept in two games at Minute Maid Park by the Astros, who will play two at Coors Field on Wednesday and Thursday, the Rockies saw quality starts from Kyle Freeland (two runs in six innings) and Senzatela, whose outing on Tuesday represented a rebound.

Last Wednesday at home against the D-backs, Senzatela fell into his old pattern of throwing hard stuff. That, and some less-than-stellar defense, led to five runs and nine hits in six innings of a no-decision.

“I just recognized I need to use more of my changeup and curveball,” he said. “We tried to keep hitters thinking about every pitch coming, and we did a good job.”

Spotting his fastball early in counts for the first time through the order, Senzatela faced the minimum through 3 2/3 innings (he induced a double play to end the third after hitting leadoff man Abraham Toro). From there he sprinkled his mix expertly.

Senzatela’s improvement -- through a delivery change, adjustments brought to his attention through advanced measurements, and a 15-pound weight loss -- mirrors that of the whole rotation. His gem on Tuesday followed Tuesday’s 2-1 loss, despite Freeland’s fifth straight quality start (six or more innings, three or fewer earned runs) in his rebound from a rough 2019.

The Rockies are pitching in 2020 like they did in 2018, when they led the NL in starter innings pitched and made a second straight postseason trip for the first time in club history. The ‘20 Rockies starters pace the NL in innings pitched.

“We just need to do our job,” Senzatela said. “We’ve got good hitters on this team. … It’s OK.”

It’s not just the starters. The Rockies have a 3.73 overall ERA, and on the road the bullpen has a 0.90 ERA in 30 innings without giving up a home run.

“That’s the expectation -- pitching and defense can show up every night if you have the players who are capable, and I think we have the players who are capable,” Black said. "We have some young pitchers who are at the point in their career where they should be delivering, and for the most part they are.

“Let’s just hope that the pitching continues, because that’s what it’s going to take.”