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Rusin (back discomfort) throws side session

Blackmon and Story go deep; Freeland returns
@harding_at_mlb
March 13, 2019

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies lefty reliever Chris Rusin has upper-back “discomfort” that has kept him off the Cactus League mound for 12 days, but he threw a side session Wednesday and hopes to be ready for the regular season. “Just a little discomfort, and they wanted to take it slow,”

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies lefty reliever Chris Rusin has upper-back “discomfort” that has kept him off the Cactus League mound for 12 days, but he threw a side session Wednesday and hopes to be ready for the regular season.

“Just a little discomfort, and they wanted to take it slow,” Rusin said. “I’m feeling good. ... I don’t know what the plan is as we move forward. I’ve been on the mound a couple times [since last pitching in a Cactus League game]. Hopefully, I can be ready for the start of the season. That’s the plan.”

Rusin missed action twice in 2018, with a right intercostal muscle injury in April and with plantar fasciitis in his right foot in late July. His overall numbers were subpar: a 2-3 record, 6.09 ERA and 47 strikeouts to 26 walks in 54 2/3 innings. However, he pitched well for the team at the end of the season, and earned a postseason roster spot.

Generally, Rusin has been durable, but injuries have tended to crop up during Spring Training for him -- left middle finger inflammation in 2016, and a right oblique strain in '17, for example. But in '16, he threw 84 1/3 relief innings, and in '17, he led the National League with 85 relief innings, going 5-1 with a 2.65 ERA and 71 strikeouts against 19 walks.

“He can come in and get a tough lefty, then he can bounce back the next night and go three innings,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “His flexibility in roles; his resiliency as a reliever [make him] a part of our bullpen that’s invaluable.”

Past Spring Training injuries have been more an annoyance than a cause for concern.

“I don’t know what the deal is with my body in spring, but usually, I’m fit for the whole season,” said Rusin, who has given up three runs on four hits, including a homer, in his two Cactus League games. “I just have to get through what I go through in Spring Training.”

The projected bullpen has three lefties: Rusin, Mike Dunn and Jake McGee. If Rusin is not available, it could open the way for lefty Harrison Musgrave, who has a 3.00 ERA in six innings over four Cactus League appearances.

But some righties have a chance.

D.J. Johnson has four strikeouts against three hits in 6 1/3 scoreless innings. Carlos Estévez has a 1.69 ERA with nine strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings. Yency Almonte has a 10.38 spring ERA, but is buoyed by confidence after pulling out a strikeout after entering with runners at first and third in his last outing.

A wild card could be righty rotation competitor Antonio Senzatela (2-0, 5.14 ERA in three starts and seven innings), who has made 26 relief appearances over his first two Major League seasons.

Senzatela sickness
Senzatela was scratched from a scheduled throwing session Tuesday, and didn’t throw on Wednesday because of a stomach virus.

Beginning to look a lot like baseball
Charlie Blackmon
and Trevor Story homered in Wednesday’s 5-3 victory over the D-backs. The lineup, down to starting pitcher Kyle Freeland, could be what Black authors on Opening Day -- March 28 at Miami.

“It gives you a little excitement; a little preview -- it’s cool to think about,” Story said.

Blackmon’s first homer of the spring came after a number of solid at-bats with little to show.

“I feel like I’m doing a good job of swinging at the right pitches, and staying loose and relaxed in the box, and that’s been my focus the first few weeks of camp,” Blackmon said. “The last few weeks I’ll try to be a good hitter.”

David Dahl was 3-for-3 with two doubles. Beyond the homers, the Rockies’ best offense came in the fourth with Story’s single, Dahl’s RBI double, Ian Desmond’s move-the-runner grounder and Ryan McMahon’s sacrifice fly.

Back in the groove
Freeland’s last start was scratched because of a stomach flu. After he gave up a second-inning, two-run homer to Matt Szczur to fall behind, 3-0, Freeland retired the next nine, recording five of his six total strikeouts in that span.

“Whenever that happens, it lights a fire under you -- no one likes getting taken deep,” Freeland said. “It had to happen sometime. That was the first one I gave up this Spring Training. I’m glad it did happen, and got it over with.”

’Pen points
Closer Wade Davis (one hit) and lefty Mike Dunn (two strikeouts) continued scoreless springs. Dunn has seven strikeouts and no walks in five innings. … Righty Seunghwan Oh threw a scoreless inning in his best outing since a stiff neck began affecting him. In a clean inning, righty Bryan Shaw showed sharper movement on his cutter. … Righty setup man Scott Oberg completed the save by dashing from the mound to make a barehand play on Tim Locastro’s roller.

Up next
Righty Jeff Hoffman’s attempt to force his way into the rotation -- he is 1-1, 3.60 in four games, with one start -- continues against the Indians and righty Shane Bieber on Thursday at Goodyear. Game time is 2:05 p.m. MDT. Righty German Marquez will pitch in a Minor League game.

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.