Gomber 'on the attack,' impresses Black 

March 1st, 2021

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Lefty ’s first Spring Training outing a Rockies uniform started with a challenge. Fine with him.

Second baseman Brendan Rodgers’ wide throw put D-backs leadoff man Ketel Marte on base. Gomber then spiked a slider for a wild pitch on his next delivery. But he worked a soft liner double play from David Peralta and was on his way to two scoreless innings in the Rockies’ 5-2 victory on Sunday at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.

“Had a little bit more heart rate today -- the first outing of Spring Training is always like that, always excited to get back out there, and for me even more this year,” said Gomber, the lone experienced Major Leaguer to arrive in the Nolan Arenado trade with the Cardinals. “I want to make a good impression, knowing I’ve got more to do. I’ve got to learn what we do here, how we go about things, the catchers, all the bunt plays -- the small things that people don't realize.”

Sunday, though, was simple. Gomber, trying to leave no doubt about the fifth rotation spot, stayed in the strike zone, with strikes on 19 of his 25 pitches. In his best sequence, he used his signature curveball twice to set up a slider to strike out Nick Ahmed swinging in the second.

“I liked the tempo of his game – it was upbeat, it’s aggressive,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “For me, it looked better in person than it does on video.

“He makes his pitches, he has some pitchability. But I think the thing is from being around him now for a couple weeks, there's an aggressiveness to him. He's on the attack.”

Eerie but happy
The 2,100 in attendance on Sunday marked the first fans to see either team since last Spring Training ended prematurely due to the pandemic. Oddly, Gomber’s first pitch to Marte was not met with the wild cheering that accompanies most first pitches.

The teams played in empty and quiet stadiums last year. But that many people, that silent?

“The first pitch, the first batter of the game, I don't think I've ever heard dead quiet in my life like that,” Rockies center fielder Garrett Hampson said. “It was just it was unreal, like, we see people, but there was just no noise for a little bit.

“We were joking, like, 'Yeah, they forgot how to cheer and make noise.' They were just maybe so amazed by actually watching a baseball game, which is awesome.”

Pitching report
Sunday was a solid debut for righty Jordan Sheffield, a Rule 5 Draft pick from the Dodgers, who induced two weak fly balls on two quick at-bats, and had a strikeout. His fastball rode in the 93-mph range – about 4 mph slower than scouts have seen, but not a problem so early in the spring, Black said.

“Good, live arm -- I like the delivery … beat some bats,” Black said.

Righty rotation competitor Chi Chi González gave up a homer, a single and a double before wiggling out of the third. Lefty reliever Phillip Diehl, who had a strong spring last year but struggled during the regular season, threw a clean inning.

A first listen at a top prospect
The Rockies will start non-roster righty -- and ex-Giant -- Dereck Rodríguez against the Dodgers at Glendale, Ariz., Monday at 1:05 p.m. MT. The game also will serve as an extended look at 20-year-old lefty prospect Helcris Olivarez, whom Rockies pitching coordinator Doug Linton calls “our best pitching prospect at this time.”

Olivarez is No. 18 on the Rockies' MLB Pipeline list, but expect him to move up dramatically in the next update. Olivarez, who was placed on the 40-man roster over the winter, had solid numbers at the Dominican and stateside rookie levels (10-6, 3.22 ERA and 177 strikeouts in 148 1/3 innings from 2017-19) and according to multiple reports, progressed quickly last season at the alternate training site.

“He will sit between 93 and 97 mph [with his fastball], with a ‘plus’ [above-average] curve,” Linton said. He has done a great job in getting the curveball to be more consistent in the zone for strikes. His changeup has gotten better, and I can see this eventually becoming a ‘plus’ pitch. It’s a tick above average at this time.

“He’s a young, athletic kid, definitely a top-of-the-rotation starter.”

Just a little more time
While many Rockies live in the Scottsdale area and reported early, shortstop Trevor Story and right fielder Charlie Blackmon arrived when the players were due a few days ago. Black is giving them extra time before using them in a game.