Rockies right-hander Tyler Kinley, whose aggressive pitching and solid slider have made him a key to the Rockies’ bullpen plans, is dealing with left oblique soreness, and his availability for Opening Day is uncertain.
Kinley, 30, a waiver claim from the Marlins during the 2019 Winter Meetings, was 0-2 with a 5.32 ERA in 23 2/3 innings last season, but those numbers were distorted by one five-run, no-out outing Aug. 12 against the D-backs. He was scored upon in just six of his 24 outings, and 17 of his games were hitless.
Manager Bud Black said Kinley, who had two scoreless Cactus League outings but no appearances since March 7, threw a bullpen session on Saturday and will have a simulated game Monday.
“It’s going to be close, but we’ll see how he comes out the next four, five, six days,” Black said in Scottsdale, Ariz. “He’s got to feel confident, which he does now after yesterday’s side session. That decision will come down to the end, based on where he is, how he’s throwing the ball, how he is physically and his confidence.”
Kinley is effective enough against left-handed hitters -- last year, a .111 batting average against (tied for third lowest in the National League and fifth lowest in the Majors) -- that the Rockies can consider not beginning the season with a left-handed reliever. Lefties Phillip Diehl and Ben Bowden have had their moments this spring, so one or both could make the team, anyway; Kinley’s injury opens more possibilities for them.
But Kinley’s overall effectiveness puts him in line for late-game duty, if healthy. The Rockies are confident in righty closer Daniel Bard, and Yency Almonte’s strong spring is building on a solid 2020.
But there are concerns.
• Scott Oberg has pitched well in three outings, with production (no runs) and satisfactory velocity, but he is returning from surgery to correct a blood clotting problem in his arm. Oberg and the Rockies will be in close contact, and it’s possible the team will keep his load lighter than normal early.
• If you judge Spring Training numbers, Carlos Estévez’s are awful – 15.00 ERA, five home runs in six innings. But Black noted that spring is for experimentation, and Estévez’s blowups are akin to what happens when science is working toward the correct answer. The advanced research and development the club used in an increased way at the Major League level helped the starters last year, and it appears Estévez is on a similar program.
• Jairo Díaz is trying to find mechanical consistency. He has a 10.80 ERA in six outings; however, three of them have been scoreless and with little traffic. But in one game he allowed three runs on five hits, in another he walked three while giving up three runs, and in Saturday's 4-2 loss to the Cubs he allowed two runs, on homers by Jake Marisnick and Kris Bryant, in 1 2/3 innings.
Kinley’s max-effort delivery makes him effective, but it also, in the case of the injury and his 12 walks in 2020, works against him. But Black echoed several relievers who have gone out of their way to promote Kinley as a reason Colorado’s bullpen expects to be good.
“We saw some really good pitching last year, some big spots that he came through,” Black said. “With Tyler, a lot of it is mechanical. It’s a little bit of max effort on the fastball that creates some control and command issues. We’re trying to tone that down just a touch.
“He’s got a great slider. On a scouting scale, well above average. That mix of his best stuff, fastball-slider, can be dominating. He’s starting to throw a little bit of a changeup that I think is going to be effective for him.”
The moves were expected, even though both came to camp under Minor League contracts. Cron is expected to provide right-handed power. Owings made the team under similar circumstances last year and played seven positions while batting .268 before a strained left hamstring suffered in August ended his season.
To make room on the 40-man roster, the Rockies placed right-handed pitcher Peter Lambert on the 60-day injured list as he completes his recovery from Tommy John surgery.
Story goes deep, strives for consistency
Trevor Story drove an outside fastball from the Cubs' Trevor Williams the opposite way for a homer to right. Four of his seven hits this spring have been homers. The timing isn't there yet, but Saturday marked just the second time this spring he has played on consecutive days.
"There is an ebb and flow to it that takes a little time to get used to," Story said. "But it has always been that way for me."
Lefty Austin Gomber, who allowed his first two runs of the spring in 4 1/3 innings on Saturday, didn't have his best pitch, his curve. but "it's the best my fastball has been, the best my changeup has been, and my slider is where I wanted it."
Sheffield back on track
Since walking four against the Giants on March 12, righty Rule 5 Draft pick Jordan Sheffield has pitched two perfect innings with three strikeouts. He fanned two against the Dodgers, the team the Rockies selected him from, and and struck out one on Saturday against the Cubs to put himself back on track to challenge for an Opening Day roster spot. Sheffield's fastball sat at 96-97 mph Saturday.