Senzatela still learning to 'limit the mistakes'

March 30th, 2022

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- For Rockies right-hander , the first seven starts of 2021 were not much different from the next five months.

Senzatela got off to a 1-4 start with a 5.97 ERA, but he had a 3.98 ERA the rest of the way, including a 2.99 mark in 10 starts from Aug. 5 to Sept. 26. The difference was that he stopped making mistakes when he could least afford them.

Senzatela, 27, has not had a National League All-Star season, like Germán Márquez in 2021. He has not finished fourth in the NL Cy Young Award voting, like Kyle Freeland did in '18.

But the Rockies thought enough of Senzatela's ability to start him in Game 1 of the 2018 NL Division Series, and after last season they signed him to a five-year, $50.5 million contract. They believe he is as capable as anyone on the staff of reaching new heights. The odd poor pitch often is the difference between receiving true notice and being an under-the-radar talent.

“I just have to limit the mistakes,” Senzatela said earlier this spring. “I just think my confidence got better. When my confidence gets better, I throw better games.”

But with two outs in the fourth inning against the Angels on Tuesday, Senzatela threw a pair of poorly located fastballs that led to home runs -- a three-run shot by Justin Upton, a two-run blast by Kurt Suzuki -- in the Rockies’ 8-2 loss at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. Senzatela also issued two two-out walks.

Plusses were that Senzatela’s slider was fine overall through 62 pitches over four innings, he didn’t back away from his developing changeup and, most of all, it was a Spring Training game. And his first three innings were nearly spotless. He has one more start before the regular season begins.

Interestingly, on normal rest Senzatela would line up for Opening Day on April 8 at home against the Dodgers, and the Rockies intentionally kept him away from the Dodgers and threw him in a Minor League game last week. But manager Bud Black has made no announcements, and things can change based on schedule adjustments or unforeseen developments.

The first homer Senzatela allowed went right to Upton’s scouting-report hot spot -- low, middle-in. Suzuki does not have Upton's power reputation, but the pitch was one he could smash.

Senzatela had the right perspective on Tuesday.

“I’ll just keep going, wash it away,” Senzatela said. “I’ll work in my bullpen in two days to make my last [Spring Training] start.”

Senzatela and Black will be happy if the odd poor pitch is out of his system before the games count in the standings.

“That defines, for me, a quality Major League starting pitcher from another guy,” Black said earlier in camp. “I’ve always said there are certain points in a game that a starting pitcher is going to be stressed. And his ability to make a pitch to get through an at-bat is the difference between a good outing and a poor one.

“What happens there? Does he minimize the damage? Does he keep it at one or two runs instead of four?”

Don’t go changing
Freeland will work on his new changeup grip before his next spring start, but after a rough outing against the Reds on Sunday, he said it’s possible he will junk it. Black doesn’t think he has to make such a rash decision.

Black will make a choice
Black has not announced a closer, but he said before Tuesday’s game that he will before the start of the season. He has maintained that the real goal is to have many late-game arms pitching well.

After a scoreless inning from all three prime candidates -- on Sunday, Carlos Estévez and on Tuesday, plus solid work from setup man , using his slider -- Black likes what he sees.

Estévez and Bard each fanned two against the Angels. Each walked one, but in both cases, it was solid work by the hitter.

Estévez, who once relied on triple-digit heat (and usually gets there during the season), mixed an effective changeup and slider with his mid-90s fastball. Bard was particularly nasty with four-seamers and sinkers in the 98 mph range, and an occasional nasty slider to boot.

“The end of this week and early next week, they’ll be in these games,” Black said. "They’re rounding into shape, which is great."