Márquez gets Opening Day nod

March 29th, 2021

It wasn’t breaking news to when manager Bud Black informed the right-hander he will be the Opening Day starter Thursday against the Dodgers -- a decision Black announced publicly on Sunday. Yes, Márquez was honored. Nonetheless, he checked his weather app to make sure he could feel totally good about it.

Game time temp is forecast at around 65 degrees, with the possibility of a high of 71 as the game progresses. So even before throwing a pitch to the defending World Series champions, Márquez knows his experience in one aspect will be better than the last time he threw a first pitch at a Coors Field home opener.

On April 6, 2018, the Braves were nowhere near Márquez’s most formidable opponent in the home opener. After a weather delay, the temperature was 27 degrees when Márquez took the mound. And being from San Felix, Venezuela, and generally used to baseball not being played in polar conditions, Márquez was not comfortable in the long-sleeve base shirt, so he didn’t wear it. Seven runs on seven hits and six walks in 4 2/3 innings later, consider his performance in an 8-3 loss a lesson learned. Unless the finicky Denver weather takes a cruel turn, he doesn’t have to worry about that Thursday.

“This weekend it’s going to be pretty good in Denver -- it’s a good thing,” said Márquez, who struggled with fastball command from the stretch this spring and has a 5.68 ERA, but feels ready and confident. “You know I don’t like the cold weather, so it’s going to be fine.”

This will be Márquez's second Opening Day start, but it never gets old. Márquez started last year’s season opener (one run in 5 2/3 innings of a 1-0 loss to the Rangers at Arlington, Texas) and is considered the most talented pitcher on what the Rockies feel is an underrated staff. Márquez getting the ball to start the year was a logical assumption, but Black believes it’s an honor, nonetheless.

“It’s a feather in the cap for all pitchers who are named Opening Day starters, something that will always be prevalent in a pitcher’s mind,” Black said. “As his career unfolds and as he looks back on that, it’s an honor to be named Opening Day starter. It’s a special day in our country when a baseball season opens.”

The original plan for the four-game series was to alternate right-handers and left-handers. However, the Rockies reacted to lefty Kyle Freeland’s shoulder injury, which will cost him at least a month, by beginning with three righties with experience and solid resumes at Coors -- Márquez, Antonio Senzatela and Jon Gray. Lefty Austin Gomber will start next Sunday’s series finale.

Black has said he can go with four starters through April 9 and hold righty Chi Chi González’s first start until April 10 against the Giants. But Black said Sunday he might start González during the April 6-8 series at home against the D-backs.

Tuned up in all respects

Righty Chi Chi González, the No. 5 starter, spent the offseason repairing a shoulder problem that flared last season and adjusting his pitching strategy. After striking out five and giving up one sun-aided run and three hits in four innings of Sunday’s 6-3 loss to the Royals at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Scottsdale, Ariz., González said he sharpened his mind, also.

“I have been working a lot on my breathing techniques to get my heart rate down and slow the game down,” said González, who showed varied actions on his fastball and breaking pitches on Sunday. “We get caught up in trying to make things harder and break harder.”

Up to speed

Closer Daniel Bard, who faced a hitter Saturday against the White Sox, fanned all three Royals he faced Sunday. His third strike to Kyle Isbel was 99.1 mph. He finished Sunday with a 97.7 mph fastball -- on a load-and-go, rather than his normal delivery.

Bard, 35, is throwing with the same heat he displayed early in his career with the Red Sox. Whether he threw as fast in Spring Training back then is a mystery.

“Having the radar gun up on the board is kind of a new thing,” Bard said. “They used to be scared to put that up in Spring Training because guys would pitch to the radar gun and hurt themselves.

“Now, it’s like guys are pitching to a radar gun all offseason -- including me. And all that information is just more available now.”

Not too broken up about it

The Rockies' No. 11 MLB Pipeline prospect Colton Welker, 23, was optioned to Triple-A on Saturday after making a strong bid for the Opening Day roster. But he kept knocking on the Major League door on Saturday with his second Cactus League homer, an eighth-inning leadoff shot off Jake Newberry. Welker patiently watched two fastballs, one a strike, then crushed an inside pitch.