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Senzatela stymies St. Louis bats, earns victory

Righty delivers Rox back-to-back wins over NL Central leaders
@harding_at_mlb
September 12, 2019

DENVER -- Rockies right-hander Antonio Senzatela’s first pitch came in indirect sunlight, and he held down the National League Central-leading Cardinals through a brisk rain shower and into Wednesday night weather that carried an unexpected bite. Senzatela (9-10), whose six one-run innings helped key the Rockies’ 2-1 victory at Coors

DENVER -- Rockies right-hander Antonio Senzatela’s first pitch came in indirect sunlight, and he held down the National League Central-leading Cardinals through a brisk rain shower and into Wednesday night weather that carried an unexpected bite.

Senzatela (9-10), whose six one-run innings helped key the Rockies’ 2-1 victory at Coors Field, has taken to this time of year, as suggested by his 3.25 September ERA last year -- a performance that earned him the Game 1 start against the Brewers in the NL Division Series.

Box score

But this September is different. Wednesday gave the Rockies consecutive wins for the first time since a four-game winning streak from Aug. 14-18. And Senzatela’s performance, complete with five strikeouts against one run on four hits and two walks, was his first quality start since June 23 and his first at home since June 2.

“I had it a little bit on my mind. ‘It’s September. I’ve been throwing good in September,’” said Senzatela, who snapped a club-record string of starts giving up at least five earned runs at six. “I just tried to get my confidence back and make good pitches.”

Around the time Senzatela’s season went south (2-5, 14.03 since the last quality start), games at Coors went crazy. In 20 games -- 12 of them Rockies losses -- from June 10 to July 17, the average game at Coors Field was Opponents 8.85, Rockies 7.15.

The low-scoring game is back.

The Rockies took a spirited 2-1 decision Tuesday, and Wednesday’s game was equally pitching-rich. The Rockies managed a Tony Wolters RBI double in the fifth and Ian Desmond’s 17th homer of the season in the sixth, both off Cards rookie standout Dakota Hudson (15-7), and made that stand.

Tuesday and Wednesday marks the fourth time in club history -- and the first time at home -- that the Rockies have won consecutive games scoring two or fewer runs.

Senzatela’s start is an aberration in this year of injury and struggle for the Rockies’ rotation, which carries a Majors-worst 5.90 ERA through 146 games. However, in their last five games, Rox starters have a 2.54 mark.

Where were games like this during the heat and weird weather of summer, when Coors Field turned against the home team?

“The pitching has turned a little bit in the last week, and we haven’t swung the bats great,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “That’s what it takes to sort of hold fort. We can discuss this later if we talk about the entire season, but when you have successful seasons, that’s what happens.

“You win the low-scoring games when you don’t hit and you pitch well, and you win the high-scoring games when you hit well and you don’t pitch.”

The Cardinals saw a different Senzatela from the one who gave up six runs on five hits in 1 2/3 innings on Aug. 25 -- the day that he returned from a six-week stint at Triple-A Albuquerque.

“Last time, he was picking at corners and fell behind in counts,” said Cards third baseman Tommy Edman, who struck out against Senzatela in the fourth. “He was attacking more today.”

The biggest pitch of the low-scoring game may have come in the first inning with the bases loaded and one out. Senzatela used his slider to force Paul DeJong to hit into a double-play grounder.

Senzatela had early success as a rookie in 2017 and found success at times last season relying mainly on his fastball. But secondary pitches have been a problem. Some inflammation in his right ring finger robbed him of the changeup that was a big pitch for him in the Minors, and he has struggled to find delivery timing that would create enough of a velocity separation between his slider and fastball.

But in his side sessions since his last start -- when he felt that he pitched better than five runs in three innings of a loss at Dodger Stadium last Wednesday -- Black noticed that Senzatela was “getting better spin on the ball.”

Senzatela admitted to being surprised when catcher Tony Wolters asked him to take his slider for a spin with the count 3-1 to DeJong.

“When I saw slider from Tony, I was just like, ‘Wow, OK. Make a good one and we got a double play,’” Senzatela said.

Senzatela might have made the season-opening rotation if not for an infected blister on his right heel. While he has struggled, he also has had eight quality starts.

"It's really big tonight,” Senzatela said. “I can feel my confidence coming back. I feel my pitches coming back. It's a really good team, the Cardinals. They are playing to clinch the Central. That's good."

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb and like his Facebook page.