It’s not often a team hits an impasse with their pitching staff in just the season’s first full month. For the Colorado Rockies, plagued by a lack of success from the back end of their rotation, they’re running out of options if Antonio Senzatela can’t come through.
After a brilliant start in his first of the year after an injured list stint, Senzatela’s second start was vastly different.
In six innings, he allowed seven hits, four earned runs and only struck out three. The highlight for the Philadelphia Phillies against the youngster was a three-run double from Phil Gosselin that was nearly a grand slam:
— Philadelphia Phillies (@Phillies) April 21, 2019
If the outing was simply an anomaly, the Rockies can afford to have a single question mark in their rotation in the form of Tyler Anderson. If not, the options are widespread, yet dicey.
For Senzatela, the hope is that the former reigns true.
Possible replacements for Senzatela’s spot in the rotation would garner only limited certainty.
Chad Bettis, who was moved to the bullpen after a rough start to the year, would be a candidate. Last season, coming out of the bullpen, Senzatela was solid, if not spectacular. With Chris Rusin still on the mend, flip-flopping the two starters would make sense.
Another option is the call-up of one of the Rockies’ bevy of pitching prospects.
Chi Chi Gonzalez, on the same night as Senzatela’s mishap, went 5.2 innings for Triple-A Albuquerque. He allowed only a pair of earned runs. The outing lowered Gonzalez’ earned run average on the year to 2.70 through three starts.
Another option could be calling up either Ryan Castellani (1.72 ERA in three starts) or Peter Lambert (3.38 ERA in spring training). Though Lambert has struggled at the season’s onset for the Isotopes, Castellani has shined, whiffing 19 hitters in only 15.2 innings along with his miniscule run allowance.
Beyond in-house replacements, General Manager Jeff Bridich’s options would have to come from around the league. Exploring a short-term pact with free agent starter Dallas Keuchel could make sense.
Recently, after the open market left Keuchel out to dry, he has expressed a willingness to take a one-year “prove-it” type deal. The problem seems to be a lack of interest from the Rockies, something that may change with early struggles.
In his career, Keuchel has been a pitcher that could fit perfectly at Coors Field, regarding both durability and reliance on groundballs. Across seven seasons with the Houston Astros, Keuchel carried a 58.8 groundball percentage per FanGraphs across 184 innings on average in his six full seasons.
For his efforts in 2015, Keuchel was awarded the American League Cy Young. In the breakout year, he hurled 232 innings, struck out 216 hitters and carried a groundball rate of 61.7. That type of pitcher hits the open market after either injuries or declination set in, something that has yet to occur for the former seventh-round pick.
In the past three years since, Keuchel has averaged 172.2 innings per year, a mark that would’ve nearly equaled both Anderson (176) and Jon Gray’s (172.1) output last year. For his efforts, he’s held a 3.77 ERA.
Keuchel has prepared himself to hit the ground running when signed, tossing lengthy bullpens regularly, another positive for his acquisition.
Spending money on arguably the second-best pitcher in the offseason’s crop would save the team any assets that would be required in a trade, though Keuchel’s price tag is thought to be north of the $17.9 million qualifying offer.
Seeking a trade for a groundball-hunting veteran like Mike Leake or signing Gio Gonzalez who recently opted out of his deal with the New York Yankees could also make sense.
Either way, if Senzatela is unable to overcome his latest lackluster start, the Rockies, thought to be firmly in “win-now” mode, will likely have to splurge elsewhere, with a bevy or risk to accompany the sum.