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Closer status murky after Oberg's workout

Rockies reliever cuts Saturday's throwing session short
@harding_at_mlb
August 2, 2020

DENVER -- The Rockies’ questionable closing situation became murkier Saturday when Scott Oberg, currently on the 10-day injured list with a lower-back strain, cut short his throwing session Saturday afternoon because of a problem in the right hand/wrist area. Manager Bud Black said Oberg will continue to be evaluated. Video

DENVER -- The Rockies’ questionable closing situation became murkier Saturday when Scott Oberg, currently on the 10-day injured list with a lower-back strain, cut short his throwing session Saturday afternoon because of a problem in the right hand/wrist area.

Manager Bud Black said Oberg will continue to be evaluated.

Video from a local television station showed Oberg end the session, then receive attention to the right hand/wrist area from pitching coach Steve Foster, Black, head athletic trainer Keith Dugger and assistant rehabilitation coordinator/athletic trainer Scott Murayama.

“He felt a little discomfort in the hand,” Black said. “He had a hard time gripping the ball. We felt as though at that moment to shut him down. We’ll know more in the coming days. But it was a little bit out of character for how he’s been progressing. Keith and the medical staff looked at him in here, and there are further tests being completed tonight.”

Oberg, 30, was a combined 14-2 with a 2.35 ERA over the past two seasons. He took over as closer for the struggling Wade Davis last August, but then underwent a second surgery to remove blood clots from his right arm that month and missed the remainder of the season. His participation in Summer Camp was severely curtailed by the back issue.

The Rockies’ closer issue plunged into uncertainty again on Friday night, when Davis retired the first two ninth-inning batters but allowed a solo homer to Fernando Tatis Jr. and a three-run shot to Tommy Pham during the Rockies’ 8-7 loss in the home opener. Last season, Davis’s 8.65 ERA was second-highest in MLB history for a reliever with 50 or more appearances, and he had an 11.10 ERA in 29 appearances at Coors Field.

Asked about the closing situation during his Saturday afternoon press conference before Oberg’s throwing session, manager Bud Black said he would ease Oberg in before putting him in pressure situations.

“He hasn’t had even the competitiveness of an exhibition game,” Black said. “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

So where does this leave the Rockies’ closing situation? Davis converted saves in both appearances before Friday, both in the season-opening series against the Rangers. But he has yielded three hits and three walks (one intentional) in 2 2/3 innings.

“Looking at video last night and again this morning, he missed with a couple fastballs -- missed location," Black said Saturday afternoon before the Rockies faced the Padres. "Against good hitters, that’s going to cost you. And the bad walk to [Trent] Grisham in a tight game, that’s not something Wade wanted to do, but it happened. We’ll see where this goes.”

Before the Tatis homer, the Rockies’ bullpen had a 1.37 ERA through nearly six games. A lot of folks are pitching well, but uncertainty in the ninth can scuttle all that good work. So is there anyone pitching well enough and who is healthy enough -- that eliminates Oberg for now -- to move into the closer role?

Here are the candidates:

• Righty Jairo Díaz hasn’t allowed a run in four innings over four appearances as Colorado's primary setup man. But those frames have been exciting, with four hits, a walk and two hit batters. But he also has top-end fastball velocity, and relies heavily (62 percent of the time) on a slider he can place on either side or bury. The mix has led to seven strikeouts. In the eighth inning, with two down and runners at second and third on Friday, Díaz teased Josh Naylor into swinging over a bouncing 2-2 slider.

“He’s wiggled out of some jams, for sure,” Black said. “In Texas, he got out of a bases-loaded situation. In Oakland, he got out of a second-and-third situation. [Friday] night, he wiggled out.

“He’s making a critical pitch at the right time. I’m sure Jairo would not want it that way. He would prefer a pretty clean inning, a 1-2-3 with minimal pitches. But that’s just the way his outings have gone so far. And as a relief pitcher in a 60-game season, there are probably going to be maybe 30 outings. His first few have been, performance-wise, he’s gotten it done.”

Díaz took over as closer after Oberg’s surgery last year, and for much of last season was closer at Triple-A Albuquerque.

• Righty Carlos Estévez was thrown into the closer role as a rookie in 2016 for a struggling Rockies team, so he has seen ninth-inning Major League pressure. Work on his delivery and injuries (oblique, right elbow) in '18 slowed his progress, but last year he posted a 3.75 ERA in 71 appearances.

At the start of this season heading into Saturday, Estévez threw the seventh inning of tight games in three of his four appearances, which were scoreless. Black is not afraid to ask Estévez -- who runs his fastball at a 95.6 mph average but spots in a slider and a changeup -- to pitch more than one inning or enter with runners on base. So far, he and veteran Daniel Bard have been pitching in that bridge role.

• There’s always a chance Black could go to matchups in the ninth. That would mean using lefties James Pazos, who had a 1.74 ERA in 12 appearances in September after spending much of the year with Albuquerque, and Phillip Diehl, who is coming off a strong Spring Training and Summer Camp, in balance with the righties. However, neither Pazos nor Diehl appeared in the first six games.

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb and like his Facebook page.