Pitching, Story, Rodgers: 3 early takeaways

April 6th, 2021

DENVER -- Four games into the Rockies’ 2021 season, here are three takeaways ...

1) For starters

A starting rotation expected to carry the load for Colorado this season is in the position of having to pick it up.

The Rockies dropped three of four to the defending World Series champion Dodgers at home, with no starter lasting more than five innings. It’s way too early for judgments, but the small bit of information is useful.

For three of the starters, the answer is simple. Antonio Senzatela threw strikes, as usual, but he needs to hit better spots than he did over 3 1/3 innings on Friday.

Jon Gray just needs to avoid cramps after breezing through five innings against a strong lineup Saturday. Austin Gomber can’t get any worse than Sunday.

Germán Márquez’s four-inning, six-walk performance against the Dodgers featured an issue that has vexed him since the calendar turned to 2021: Command of his fastball out of the stretch.

Last season, when he led the National League in with 81 2/3 innings pitched, Márquez was accurate with the two-seam and four-seam fastballs when runners were on base -- putting up a 66.3% strike rate in those spots. In 2021 Spring Training, the rate of fastball strikes with runners aboard dropped to 60.6%. He was a little better in the season opener (62.1%).

“My fastball today was better than in Spring Training, but I battled,” he said after the game.

The more consistently he can spot his fastball -- just as important, the more confidence he has in the two- and four-seamer with runners aboard -- the better he can keep opposing hitters off his secondary pitches. The issue is correctable, but it has been taking time.

2) Story hitting hard

The issues with the offense in the Dodgers series were to be expected. The Rockies faced Clayton Kershaw (whom they produced against), Walker Buehler, Trevor Bauer and Julio Urías. Whether it was merely the quality of the opponents or difficulties making in-game adjustments will be determined over time.

But already there is an element of simple bad luck for shortstop Trevor Story.

Over the first four days of the season, Story hit four of what Statcast refers to as “mostly gone balls” -- meaning they would have been homers in anywhere from eight to 29 ballparks in the Majors. No other hitter in the Majors has seen that many potential homers not clear the wall.

But those things happen when you hit to the deepest parts of spacious Coors Field. The man could use a cheap homer.

The most-damaging such hit came in the eighth inning Saturday night. His eighth-inning double off the Dodgers’ Victor Gonzalez -- one that would have been a home run in all but two MLB parks -- cut the difference to 6-5. The Rockies never scored the tying run.

3) Missing man

There are no Statcast numbers to back this nor is there much history.

But this team is missing rookie Brendan Rodgers.

The Rockies didn’t necessarily hand him the second-base job, but Rodgers was playing like a guy who knew he was getting his shot -- playing to please himself rather than to impress someone else -- before being sidelined by a right hamstring strain.

Through 10 Cactus League games, Rodgers was facing Major League-quality pitching and slashing .348/.400/.652. Even more, he wasn’t afraid to put style into fielding plays and he was willing to take chances on the bases. The tentative swings that produced a .196 average in 32 games in 2019 and '20 had been replaced by a short, powerful stroke that netted two homers and a double out of his eight spring hits.

There's no reason to rush him, especially since there are hamstring injuries in his past. But the best of Rodgers could help a lineup that is short on top-drawer talent.