Inbox: Who will start the season in the rotation?

Rockies beat reporter Thomas Harding answers questions

March 15th, 2019

My chance to turn two, so to speak …

The last turn through the rotation crystalized the notion that the rotation will be what the Rockies expected headed into Spring Training -- lefty Kyle Freeland, righty German Marquez, lefty Tyler Anderson and righties Jon Gray and Chad Bettis.

Any injury during the final days would obviously open a spot, but here’s how spring materialized:

Looking at Bettis’ start to last season, before the blister problem arose -- he was 4-1 with a 3.27 ERA through May 17 -- the Rockies were confident he could perform as long as he’s healthy. There have been no problems this spring.

Also, the Rockies have seen Anderson start spring slowly before. In his career, he is 1-4 with a 5.63 ERA in 17 spring appearances. The pattern is the fastball is spotty, but gets better by the time the season begins, and that carries way more weight than his Cactus League numbers.

With righty Antonio Senzatela out with an infected blister on his right heel, the guys waiting in the wings are righty Jeff Hoffman and righty -- and Rockies No. 4 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline -- Peter Lambert.

The Rockies figured it was time for David Dahl, and his performance in a couple of snippets justifies going younger. But you will never convince me that the majority of MLB teams couldn’t use Carlos Gonzalez’s power and experience.

I like the way Gray looks this spring, but I want to see him start a game poorly or struggle with a pitch, then have to find a way to get it back. It’s the old saying: I can’t tell how good you are until I see how bad you are. The key for him is diagnosing problems and fixing them quickly. Early results point in the right direction.

On one hand, good question. I would expect the Rockies to go with left-handed-hitting Ryan McMahon against righty Jose Urena, set to start Opening Day for the Marlins.

But that’s only so important, since there are 161 more games. The key is that he and right-handed Garrett Hampson will receive starts. With two younger, not-yet-established players, manager Bud Black would do well to keep them on the field. Their ability to play different positions -- McMahon can slide to first or third; Hampson to short, third and center field -- opens in-game possibilities. I addressed this in my hoarse-voiced video Edward Jones Reporter’s Inbox recently.

Nothing has been decided.

Pat Valaika has done everything asked of him, which makes the decision difficult. But if it is Mark Reynolds, who has not hit well but has gone for extra bases with each spring hit going into Friday, there are two reasons that have nothing to do with spring performance -- experience and roster management.

Reynolds had a respectable .258 batting average and .343 on-base percentage in 31 at-bats as a pinch-hitter last season, which was the first extended bench duty of his career. Traditionally, teams have wanted more experienced guys who can handle sporadic opportunity, which is not the easiest way to make a living. And while Reynolds is in camp under a Minor League contract, no one believes he is willing to go to Triple-A Albuquerque. If the Rockies don’t keep him, he’ll most likely be freed to seek a Major League opportunity elsewhere.

In Valaika’s big 2017 as a pinch-hitter -- hitting .328 with four home runs and 16 RBIs in 65 plate appearances -- when he set Major League rookie records, he didn’t appear in the Majors until April 21. That came after regular at-bats in Albuquerque. Until Gerardo Parra was shifted to a bench role, the best off-the-bench work was done by McMahon and Noel Cuevas -- but after they had regular Triple-A at-bats. Last season, an oblique injury curtailed Valaika’s Spring Training, and he never regained his form because he started the year in the Majors with no chance for regular playing time.

Valaika finds himself in the unenviable position of having a Minor League option. To make sure they have a chance to use both players, the Rockies will have to consider adding Reynolds and optioning Valaika.

If you look through many of my answers, you’ll see a theme: The Spring Training performance and the Opening Day roster isn’t as important as maximizing a roster throughout a season.