SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- If Rockies right-hander Peter Lambert's offseason education and training gave his pitches the steam and sharpness they lost late last season, the Spring Training competition will be a little more interesting.
If the Rockies find quality at the back end of the rotation, while German Márquez, Jon Gray and Kyle Freeland emulate the performance of their successful seasons, the rotation could fuel a turnaround from the team's 71-91 record last season -- and be the rock it was during postseason campaigns in 2017 and '18.
Lambert made 19 starts last season after being called up from Triple-A Albuquerque in June. He started with two stellar outings against the Cubs, but a series of hard lessons would follow, as he finished the season 3-7 with a 7.25 ERA.
But if small mechanical changes have the desired result -- more carry through the hitting zone and consistent fastball velocity, which can help his above-average changeup -- maybe he can skip the conventional step of returning to Triple-A.
The Rockies ended his season a week early to put in place some mechanical changes to increase his arm speed, dialed in on his physical training and drills, invited him to the TPI Institute in Oceanside, Calif., where Rockies staff could trek over from the Winter Meetings to observe him and had him visit Scottsdale early.
The goal is to put everything in place, not only to compete now but maintain his stuff through the season.
“There were times when I had some success and times when I struggled a little bit, but the biggest thing is being myself and not trying to go out there and do too much. Just staying under control,” Lambert said.
Lambert set a Rockies record by striking out nine in his Major League debut in a 3-1 victory over the Cubs at Wrigley Field. He also singled in his first at-bat and pitched seven innings. At Coors Field, he held the Cubs to one run and three hits in five innings in a 10-3 victory on June 11 in his second big-league start.
Lambert’s four-seam fastball averaged 93.2 mph in those first two starts, per Statcast. It dropped to 92.7 in his third start, and stayed in the 92 mph range. Only in Lambert’s last start (93.5) did his average climb back over 92 mph.
The Rockies felt Lambert’s stuff lost its sharpness not long after his first couple of games, as evidenced by his high pitch counts in short starts.
“Spring Training, he came out hot in February,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “And we all know how long the season is. I think Peter realized how long the season is. Physically, it took its toll.”
The coaching staff looked at the beginning of his motion. After pulling the ball out of the glove, Lambert extended his hand far behind him, with the palm turned toward center field. It was difficult to garner arm speed from that position, causing the ball to die in the hitting zone. Major League hitters took advantage.
Pitching coach Steve Foster says modifying Lambert's arm action, which in turn sped his delivery, “has increased his spin rate, which increases RPMs. These are things that have helped him get better carry through the zone.”
Is he ready to apply it now or will he need Triple-A time?
“I’m ready to compete, and I’m not going to worry too much about that,” Lambert said. “Obviously, I'm just going to go into each day trying to worry about myself and get myself better and get myself ready for what helps me through a 162-game season here.”
Black, who said Lambert has shown progress in early Spring Training bullpens and live batting practice, doesn’t question Lambert’s toughness and aptitude.
“There were some tough ones, right?” Black said of Lambert's 2019 season. “There’s a mental toughness and a confidence that I love. And with that, he’s smart enough to realize the Minor League game is different from the big-league game.”