Rockies' rotation seeks rebound in 2024: 'There's pride in performance'

February 16th, 2024

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies left-hander Kyle Freeland wants to regain his best form after the first two seasons of his five-year, $64.5 million contract were below his standards.

Leftie Austin Gomber’s goal is to parlay the solid parts of his two years in a Rockies uniform into a strong full season. Righties Cal Quantrill and Dakota Hudson aim for health and productivity after their two previous teams – the Guardians for Quantrill, the Cardinals for Hudson – went in other directions.

Rockies Spring Training began Thursday for pitchers and catchers. It would be cool to call this Camp ChipOnTheShoulder. But after last year, when starter injuries and a lack of depth contributed to the worst season in club history (59-103), no one wants to associate "chip" with any part of a pitching arm around here. If the Rockies need a reminder, Germán Márquez won't be available until around the All-Star break, and Antonio Senzatela is unlikely to pitch this year after both underwent Tommy John surgery last year.

But you get the idea. Folks are motivated.

“We definitely need a rebound year,” said Freeland, who went 6-14 with a 5.03 ERA in 29 starts, during which he either struggled or pitched well without run support. “Every club that has been in a situation like this is looking to have a good bounce-back year, with all involved.”

The Rockies' starters posted a 5.91 ERA last year, the highest in the Majors and second-highest in club history after a 6.19 ERA in 1999.

"My conversations with them have been centered around pride," Rockies manager Bud Black said. "It centers around pride. All professional players, or any professional in any field, they have pride in their production. As it relates to a number of guys, position players, or pitchers, there's pride in performance. I'm sensing that. That's a good thing."

The stats suggest the only way to go this year is up, but all four pitchers expected to be in the 2024 season-opening rotation had something to build on after 2024.

Freeland continued his evolution by finding grips on his sinker and changeup late in the year that were worth keeping. Quantrill, acquired in a trade for Minor League catcher Kody Huff, went 2-1 with a 2.76 ERA in six September starts after experiencing shoulder problems. Hudson, signed for $1.5 million plus performance bonuses that can double his salary, worked hard to regain form after Tommy John right elbow surgery in 2020, but posted a solid ‘22.

Gomber (9-9, 5.50 ERA last season), once a teammate of Hudson’s with the Cardinals, struggled to a 12.12 ERA through four starts. However, there were good stretches while he posted a 4.62 ERA the rest of the season. But injuries have been a problem. He finished 2022 in the bullpen, and 2021 and 2023 ended in late August because of back issues.

"After April passed, I was pretty solid the rest of the year," Gomber said. "You're going to have days when you're not good, but for the most part, I gave us a chance to win every time out. It's just trying to do that for six months straight. That includes April and that includes staying healthy through September."

Quantrill senses some of what he experienced, attitude-wise, when he pitched in the postseason with Cleveland in 2020.

“It’s a good clubhouse. ... It’s a unified goal – what we are trying to achieve this season – and we’re trying to surprise some people,” said Quantrill, who worked with various Rockies in Scottsdale for the last two months.

Hudson said he wants to add to his success in St. Louis by quickly learning how his pitches work in altitude. He found a healthy atmosphere for learning.

“I think there is a team fire to come back and show that we’ve figured some things out,” Hudson said. “After talking with guys, there is some experience and some young talent, if we can get it to mesh.”

This year’s primary competitors for the fifth spot were last year’s reinforcements – righties Peter Lambert, Ryan Feltner and Noah Davis. The depth is still not ideal, so the top four must pitch to their highest standards and stay healthy – easier typed than done.

“They’re all capable to start Major League games and win us games, and we’ll keep an eye on some younger guys, just for depth purposes, in Spring Training,” Black said.