PHOENIX -- The attempt to rebuild a starting rotation that needed building in the first place is catching up to the Rockies at a busy point in their schedule.
Until this week, the Rockies were surviving the injury losses of three of their five season-opening starters and a callup to boot. They had won 16 of 26 from April 30 through Sunday.
Lamet, 30, wants to be part of the solution.
The right-hander made 56 Major League starts over 4 1/2 years for the Padres and finished fourth in National League Cy Young Award voting in the shortened 2020 season. But injuries and less-than-stellar performance led to his being dealt to the Brewers at last year’s Trade Deadline, being released shortly thereafter and landing in the Rockies’ bullpen.
Encouraging work at the end of the 2022 season earned him a one-year, $5 million deal with the Rockies to avoid arbitration. But after he walked 12 batters in 10 2/3 relief innings to start this season, he went to the 15-day injured list with back stiffness. After injuries hit the Colorado rotation, Lamet expressed that he wanted to start and turned in three stellar injury rehab outings.
He came off the IL on Wednesday and was given his first start since joining the Rockies.
“It wasn’t a good start for me, and one of the big factors was the command issue,” said Lamet, who admitted eagerness in the beginning. “Going down on the rehab assignment, that was one of the big factors to work on.”
Better work from Lamet and a pieced together rotation is needed to help the Rockies through the worst stretch of rotation injuries in Bud Black’s seven seasons as manager.
Opening Day starter Germán Márquez threw his last pitch on April 26 before undergoing Tommy John surgery. Rookie Noah Davis, called up during the first of Márquez‘s two arm injury absences, last pitched in the Majors on April 29. (He threw four scoreless innings with six strikeouts in a rehab start for Triple-A Albuquerque on Wednesday.) Antonio Senzatela bowed out of the rotation with an elbow sprain on May 10. In the most frightening blow, Ryan Feltner sustained a fractured skull when he was hit with a line drive on May 13.
All this is happening with the Rockies 13 games into 17 straight days of games. In all, the schedule has them playing 34 games in 35 days.
By starting Lamet, who gave up all of his runs in the first and second innings but left with a good taste after striking out two of three in the third, the Rockies’ 11 starters this year are half as many as the 22 Black had used from his first year of 2017 through last season.
Overall, the Rockies have used 26 pitchers, tied for third-most in the Majors.
But the rotation issue is troublesome. Of their last 23 games, 11 of which the Rockies managed to win, the starter has gone fewer than five innings 14 times.
The short-start stretch has included growing pains of rookies Connor Seabold (who will start Thursday’s series finale) and Karl Kauffmann (optioned to Albuquerque after posting an 11.37 ERA over his first three Major League starts). There has been the occasional clunker from established starters Kyle Freeland and Austin Gomber, but those two and waiver pickup Chase Anderson (1.72 ERA in three starts) have generally been good.
And Lamet flashed talent on Wednesday.
“I liked his stuff -- the fastball velocity and a good, hard slider,” Black said. “I have to look at every pitch he made. But they had some good at-bats -- some hard ground balls, mostly on the ground.”
Outside of the pitching issues, the last two games yielded two concerning signs -- no runs in six innings against Zac Gallen in Tuesday’s 5-1 loss to the D-backs, and none against Tommy Henry for seven innings and two relievers on Wednesday.
But Black can multitask. On the mound, he will look to build on the fact Lamet didn’t walk anyone.
“It’s just a matter of getting him back up to speed -- it’s been a couple years since he’s really started and gotten into that groove,” Black said.
Lamet lobbied for more innings on Wednesday. But at least he’ll have more chances.
“I didn’t throw as many innings as I would have liked or get to the goal I wanted,” Lament said. “But the positive is I did execute pitches I wanted and didn’t walk anybody.”