Kauffmann continues to grow in 2nd start

May 25th, 2023

DENVER -- Rookie right-handed pitcher believes the early portion of his first two starts have him “feeling I belong here.”

Two pitches -- one that went well and one that didn’t -- during Wednesday night’s 10-2 loss to the Marlins demonstrated that Kauffmann needs more than a feeling to put his Major League career into motion.

Both of Kauffmann’s starts, a loss in his debut at Texas on Friday night plus Wednesday's outing, disintegrated at the same point: after 4 1/3 innings. The Rangers touched him for seven hits and five runs, while the Marlins tallied six hits and five runs.

Now, about those two key pitches.

In the first inning with an 0-2 count to last year’s American League batting champ and current MLB batting leader Luis Arraez, Kauffmann faded an 0-2 changeup that Arraez rolled into an inning-ending double play.

The fifth inning was eerily similar, except for the score (3-1) and the fact Kauffmann had faced the Marlins’ order twice. With runners at first and second, he had Arraez down, 0-2, and chose another changeup. This time, Arraez pulled a pitch left in the middle of the plate into the right-center gap for a game-breaking two-run double.

The Rockies scored a run in the first when Charlie Blackmon tripled and Jurickson Profar (32-game on-base streak) doubled to open the game against Sandy Alcantara. But the Rockies managed just one hit after the second inning, and the game slipped away when long reliever Peter Lambert struggled.

Maybe the offense would have had a chance in a close game had Kauffmann’s fifth-inning changeup produced another grounder. Now, Kauffman will have to learn from that moment for better results next time.

Student and teacher emerged on the same page. That’s a start.

Kauffmann, a second-round pick in 2019 out of the University of Michigan, and manager Bud Black, who has been charged often with on-the-run teaching of pitchers during his seven seasons in charge, each said there was nothing wrong with throwing the changeup to Arraez each time.

“The second time around, I’ve got to make a better pitch at that point,” Kauffmann said. “I could maybe stand him up a little to make that pitch away, but he’s a really good hitter. I'd like that ball, probably four more inches to the right. I would like to think it would have been a different result.”

Black noted that Kauffmann, who boasts a classic sinker-slider, needs to incorporate the changeup; the skipper was happy to see it Wednesday. But early during lefty Kyle Freeland’s development, Black had warned that to truly incorporate a changeup, a pitcher must experience being beaten with it while not being spooked out of going back to it.

Questioning Kauffmann’s changeup is not part of the curriculum.

“For me, most of the time it’s execution and location, as opposed to pitch selection,” Black said. “ There are times when I will have a conversation with a pitcher, about a certain pitch. But in most cases, this game on the pitching side is about location.”

Kauffmann forced double plays in the first two innings, and was at his best with two strikeouts and barehand pickup and throw from Ezequiel Tovar in a spotless third. But three walks and a hit batter show that he must improve efficiency.

The Marlins took a 2-1 lead on a steal-stop. The Rockies executed defensively in time to stop the lead runner but, Black explained, the throw slipped from third baseman Ryan McMahon’s hand and hit Bryan De La Cruz in the back just before he slid into the plate. Kauffmann then saw the game slip out of control as he began his third time through the Marlins’ order.

“That’s going to be the key going forward -- I’ve got to get them the third time through, after seeing the first two starts,” Kauffmann said. “Teams have been making adjustments. I just have to be better at countering that and making those adjustments.”

But that doesn’t mean abandoning his plan just to fool others. As Wednesday showed, Kauffmann's pitch selection was good enough but the execution wasn’t.

“Sometimes to a fault, I try to do too much and over-complicate things,” Kauffmann said. “It’s going to be just keeping it simple, keeping it in a game plan of what I have and how to attack guys. It’s not necessarily changing everything the third time. It’s executing better. You can’t make little mistakes.”