DENVER -- Hidden near the top of the National League pitching stats for most of last season, Rockies right-hander German Márquez could distinguish himself in 2020's shortened slate.
Before being placed on the injured list with right arm inflammation on Aug. 26, Márquez was leading the league in innings pitched at 174, tied for fifth with 12 wins and ninth with 175 strikeouts. Of course, the reason the baseball world barely noticed was the reason the Rockies decided to rest his arm -- the club was headed to a 71-91 finish.
Now, Márquez has new hope for another chance at the spotlight. Manager Bud Black hadn’t announced it yet, but before Spring Training was suspended due to novel coronavirus concerns, Márquez was headed for his first Opening Day start. With Opening Day now set for July 24 at Texas, Márquez appears the odds-on favorite to be named for that, pending health and Black’s announcement.
Márquez, 25, may not be at the top among internet hits, but since his rookie year in 2017 he is among the NL's top 10 in strikeouts (552, seventh), starts (90, seventh), innings (532, eighth), wins (37, eighth) and winning percentage (.617, 10th).
Those who know, know.
“Talking to other managers, coaches, executives, they know talent when they see it, and German has exhibited that the last three years,” Black said. “He doesn’t get a lot of national acclaim that other pitchers get. But inside the circles of the people that I communicate with, he’s right there with the big boys.”
During the sport’s shutdown, Márquez was one of a group of pitchers who stayed in Arizona and kept cobbling together workouts.
“We have to be ready for anything,” Márquez said. “My mentality is to go hard from the beginning to the end.”
Technically, Márquez is working on several areas. He’s working on slowing his curveball and developing a changeup, both to play better off his 97 mph fastball -- a pitch that can allow him to dominate a game if he can locate it down and away.
Márquez also is working toward using a four-seam fastball up and in to right-handed hitters. Since hitting the Cubs’ Kris Bryant in the helmet with a fastball on April 22, 2018, his use of four-seamers up and in to righties is at 12.9 percent. This is not to say he’s afraid to hit a batter. He plunked five last season, eight the year before. Greater use of high fastballs could help his dominant low pitches.
But it takes experimentation. This week, with star third baseman Nolan Arenado ducking during a live batting practice session, was part of it.
“I got tired,” Márquez said. “I was throwing, like, 35 pitches, straight, and it was the 24th pitch. I think I was tired, but nothing bad.
“I’ve been working on that in the bullpens with Tony [Wolters, the catcher] and ‘Fostie’ [pitching coach Steve Foster]. I feel that pitch is going to help me get outs.”
Márquez has a quiet manner, best seen through his mentorship of fellow Venezuelan right-hander Antonio Senzatela, whom the Rockies expect to make a forward leap. Late last season while the two were playing catch, Senzatela uncorked a curveball. Márquez, in no uncertain terms, said he needed to take the pitch into games. Senzatela’s curveball operated as an effective change of pace, and brightened his prospects.
Black said Márquez has front-of-the-rotation leadership qualities.
“You're seeing consistency in character,” Black said. “You're seeing work ethic, routine. You're seeing him dependable. If I ask him to do something as far as taking a group of three or four pitchers and leading in a PFP [pitcher fielding practice] drill, he's there. If I need him to talk to a young Latin pitcher, he's stepping up and doing that. He and 'Senza’ have formed a great bond over the last couple of years.
“He's relishing the role of a player with the three years of service time and coming into his own and taking on that responsibility of truly been a big league starting pitcher.”