Catching up with rehabbing Rockies hurler

January 17th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Thomas Harding’s Rockies Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

BROOMFIELD, Colo. -- A youth pitcher spent his Sunday afternoon bullpen session searching for location and mechanics. Between softly rendered instructions, Rockies left-handed reliever Lucas Gilbreath delighted in telling stories of the same thing happening in Major League games.

And either today or tomorrow, Gilbreath will be in the same position as his young pupil -- on the mound, dealing with the ups and downs of practicing and tinkering with a baseball season fast approaching. A little more than four months after a left elbow injury ended a promising 2022 season, Gilbreath will begin throwing bullpens in preparation for ’23.

Gilbreath’s 4.19 ERA in 47 appearances comes with an asterisk. His season started late because of a bout with COVID-19. He had a 16.20 ERA through four appearances before being optioned to Triple-A Albuquerque. But from his May 10 return through Aug. 4, his ERA was 2.12. The elbow became a problem, his performance dipped and he and the Rockies agreed to PRP (platelet-rich plasma) treatment in early September.

Gilbreath would like to be ready for Opening Day, but the real aim is to be healthy enough to build on his solid first two Major League seasons and contribute to a quietly revamped Rockies bullpen.

“I haven’t had any arm pain issues and I’ll be ready to go for spring,” Gilbreath said. “I’m about two weeks behind where I would have been last year. I was looking at the calendar and it’s almost exactly two weeks. It’s been hard for me mentally because I like to throw, and I want to be out there, but being two weeks behind is way better than missing some of the season.”

Gilbreath was a starter until 2020, when the Rockies converted him to relief during instructional ball, then they fed him 47 appearances in ’21 as he bounced between Colorado and Albuquerque. He was feeling his best in ’21, before the ligament injury, which fortunately didn’t require surgery.

“I finally got to a point where my fastball command was where it needed to be, my velo was ticking back up, my breaking ball was generating swings and misses, and bad contact,” Gilbreath said. “I had a feel for everything up until my arm started bugging me.”

As he tries to regain his feel, Gilbreath is helping less-experienced pitchers find their form at VTool Elite Training, where he is a co-founder with Tom Dedin Jr. (his longtime pitching instructor who still serves as a sounding board) and Tim Naiman. On Sunday, Gilbreath, Dedin and Rockies pitching prospect Braxton Lorenzini (who is looking to pitch for Italy in the World Baseball Classic) analyzed and worked out with the young pitchers. When Gilbreath pointed out that he had a 32.40 ERA after his first two appearances last season, it was a little easier for pitchers to relax.

VTool Elite trains baseball, hockey and football players of all levels in Broomfield, where Gilbreath played at Legacy High School before starring at the University of Minnesota. Gilbreath learns as he teaches.

“There are a lot of times I’m thinking, ‘I’ll try this,’ and these guys are awesome -- they’ll try anything,” Gilbreath said. “I’ll say, ‘On the splitter, try moving your thumb,’ and they’ll say, ‘That feels weird.’ Then I’ll go, ‘OK, when he said it felt weird, this is how we adjusted and made it feel better.’ I love it. It teaches me about mechanics and what works and doesn’t.

“It makes it easier to coach myself, because knowing something and being able to teach it are completely different.”

The Rockies claimed veteran lefty Brent Suter from the Brewers to pair with Gilbreath. They’ve also signed righty Pierce Johnson as a late-inning arm to go with Dinelson Lamet and closer Daniel Bard, and the club expects younger righties Justin Lawrence and Jake Bird to take another forward step.

Gilbreath discussed his comeback, the injury and the improvements the team has made to its bullpen recently on the Park Adjusted Rockies Podcast with’s Manny Randhawa and former Major League pitcher Mark Knudson.