Fully recovered Feltner sets sights on breakout season

January 31st, 2024

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.

Last week at Rockies Fest, right-handed pitcher  comfortably discussed a career-threatening and potentially life-endangering moment from May 13: the line drive from the Phillies’ Nick Castellanos that left Feltner with a fractured skull.

“It’s something that I actually enjoy talking about at this point,” Feltner said. “It was a touchy topic when it first happened, but now depending on who I'm talking to, it's something that I think people can learn from. The fans are very engaged and super caring. A lot of them just said, ‘Hey, we're happy you're healthy, and we're looking forward to seeing you out there this year.’”

Feltner believes his performance will be the conversation piece this season.

“Last year was supposed to be my breakout year, you know, and I felt like I was starting to do that for the string of three starts,” Feltner said. “But everything happens for a reason. Maybe I wasn’t ready for it. I’m trying to look at the positive side of it. I’m more ready than I’ve ever been. It’s just about going out there and doing it.”

The Rockies' starting rotation will be without Germán Márquez for at least the first half, and it may not have Antonio Senzatela at all. Both pitchers underwent Tommy John surgery in their right elbow last year.

But the club has added righties Cal Quantrill and Dakota Hudson to complement lefties Kyle Freeland and Austin Gomber. Barring injuries or roster additions, Feltner will be competing with fellow righties Peter Lambert and Noah Davis, plus non-roster lefty Ty Blach -- all of whom received chances during last season’s 59-103 struggle that featured multiple rotation injuries.

The fractured skull kept Feltner off the Major League mound for 18 1/2 weeks, but a snippet of starts before the injury and an auspicious performance in his Sept. 19 return at San Diego (five scoreless innings with five strikeouts) have the 27-year-old feeling confident that his identity will shine and carry him far.

Feltner made a speedy rise from High-A Spokane to the Majors in 2021, then he yo-yoed between the big leagues (4-9, 5.83 ERA in 20 games and 19 starts) and Triple-A Albuquerque in '22. When not dealing with the headache and dizziness from the injury in '23, Feltner found himself despite his lackluster numbers (2-4, 5.82 ERA in 10 starts).

Feltner purchased a home in Scottsdale, Ariz., worked at the Rockies' facility and gathered more information at the club’s new performance lab earlier this month. He returned to his family’s home in Ohio to work out this week, but soon he will head back to Scottsdale to sharpen his fastball/changeup/breaking ball combination.

During a three-start stretch in April and early May -- all Rockies wins -- Feltner attacked the strike zone with increased conviction and struck out 15 batters in 17 innings. In his comeback game on Sept. 19, he threw the two fastest pitches of his career -- 98.5 mph and 98.6 mph. The Rockies shut him down after he experienced soreness in the forearm/elbow area during his final start.

But the four-seam fastball velocity he unveiled against the Padres spoke loudly. Feltner entered the year relying more heavily on his two-seam sinking fastball. The average for all fastballs for the season was 94.6 mph. Feltner's four-seamer averaged 94.8, but he expects that pitch to become faster and to be used more often.

“In 2022, we thought my sinker was better than my four-seamer,” Feltner said. “Now, I’m fully sold on being a power pitcher. I think I can maintain that throughout the season. The only thing different from my last two starts of the season to present day is better feel for my changeup. I’ve been landing that for strikes in a lot more in bullpens.”

To enhance and maintain his power, Feltner is staying at 205-208 pounds -- 5-8 more pounds than last season.

“There’s the old baseball thought, if you didn’t get a certain amount of innings one year, you may not be prepared for the next year,” Feltner said. “That may be true to a certain extent, but I think it’s going to work the opposite way for me. I’m going to be more fresh. I take as good care of my body between starts as anybody. It’s going to be a good thing for me in the long run.”