DENVER -- Rockies right-hander Bryan Shaw accelerated his return with a batting practice session on Wednesday, and he will begin a rehab assignment for Triple-A Albuquerque on Friday and Sunday.
Shaw, who was placed on the 10-day disabled list with a right calf strain on June 24, has been working to find the consistency that has been lacking this season. The righty has a 7.57 ERA in 41 appearances, walking 20 in 35 2/3 innings, and has matched a career high by giving up eight home runs.
"I think it was a byproduct of the calf doing what it is doing, so now that's good to go, everything is back in line," Shaw said. "I'm going to go this weekend and be able to throw, and be able to come back."
This past offseason, the Rockies signed Shaw to a three-year, $27 million deal for the durability and consistency he showed the last five seasons with the Indians -- when he made at least 70 appearances each year and was a key member of a contending team.
Shaw's struggles with the Rockies haven't been for lack of opportunity. He appeared in 41 of the club's first 77 games. When going well, he can make key midgame matchup appearances and be a bridge to setup man Adam Ottavino and closer Wade Davis.
Right-hander Scott Oberg has pitched well recently, and lefty Chris Rusin has also shown improvement since a slow start. Having Shaw pitch well could mean the Rockies won't have to overuse other bullpen members. So manager Bud Black was happy to see Shaw show improvement in Wednesday's session.
"Bryan looked good," Black said. "We're encouraged by where Bryan is. Kept the ball down, both his fastball and his breaking ball. There were some mechanical adjustments he's worked on last week that we saw him put into play out there, so Bryan is going to head to Albuquerque, pitch Friday and Sunday, and from there, we'll make an assessment as to where Bryan is. Right now, it feels good."
The pinch that feels so good
The Rockies struggled to a 3-for-36 start in pinch-hitting appearances at the start of the year because of their young bench -- second-year man Pat Valaika and rookies Ryan McMahon and Mike Tauchman. The bench is still young, with one notable exception. But it is more productive.
Starting April 22, when the Rockies called up rookie outfielder Noel Cuevas, pinch-hitters have gone 23-for-83 (.277) with two homers and 13 RBIs. Cuevas has gone 7-for-23 (.304) with a double and a triple as a pinch-hitter.
A key to bench improvement began on June 12, when the team called up Tom Murphy and went with three catchers. With Murphy receiving semi-regular starts, Black used veteran Chris Iannetta as a pinch-hitter and has the protection of Tony Wolters on the bench. Iannetta has gone 3-for-6 with three walks as a pinch-hitter.
Additionally, Murphy has gone 1-for-2 with a double as a pinch-hitter and Valaika, after being sent down to Albuquerque twice, not only homered in a rare start at Los Angeles, but also delivered a key pinch-hit single Monday night against the Giants' Madison Bumgarner. The current roster structure provides off-the-bench opportunities for speedster Raimel Tapia as well.
The ability to find production from various bench parts means one less potential move for general manager Jeff Bridich as the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline approaches.
"Cuevas has come up and done a really nice job, Tapia is a talented kid, Pat Valaika's season has been a struggle, but he looked better the last few weeks in Triple-A and we saw what he can do in a reserve role last year," Bridich said. "Buddy has utilized all, or a lot, of the bench, and they're good players, so it's not a huge, front-burner thing for us. Our bench keeps rotating."
Gray fine in first outing
Right-hander Jon Gray, who started the last two Opening Days and last year's National League Wild Card Game but was optioned to Albuquerque on Sunday because of his inconsistency, had a solid first Triple-A outing. Gray went six innings and gave up two hits, including a two-run homer to Forrestt Allday in the sixth, with six strikeouts and one walk against El Paso on Tuesday night.
"Jon threw the ball fine," Black said. "I heard that he kept the ball down for the most part. His stuff was the same. Once he got going into the game, there was a little bit of a better tempo as the game went on. Jon threw fine."