When Bud Black dreams, does he see a place like “the construct” from The Matrix; a vast room full of possibilities and his every need at the touch of a button?

What, in his capacity as a manager of a baseball club, do you suppose he would ask the construct for?

To paraphrase the film, “Arms. Lots of arms.”

If the Colorado Rockies are going to surprise anyone in 2022, it’ll happen because a bullpen that was a disaster a year ago suddenly becomes an asset.

In order to accomplish such a turnaround, Black will need lots of arms to develop and lots of pitchers attached to those arms to have quality campaigns above what most fans and evaluators believe they are capable of.

One of those arms, though, brings the type of proverbial firepower that can impact the dynamic of the ‘pen in a big way. He’s a weapon that Black didn’t have before. Not really.

It’s a long shot based on the numbers but this bullpen bounce back doesn’t seems quite so far-fetched after spending a few minutes talking to Justin Lawrence.
“What a weapon,” Black says of the sidewinder, “He definitely has that wow factor.”
Lawrence is himself an embodiment of everything the Rockies bullpen has been and everything they can be.
Like almost everyone else who carries the designation of reliever, he had a rough season for the Rox last year. The elation of making an inspiring MLB debut quickly turned into a series of learning moments.
He tossed only 16.2 innings with an 8.64 ERA and a 56 ERA+. He walked 19 guys but he also managed to strike out 17 and create a few memorable moments by making some pretty great hitters look awfully silly.
That can happen when the velocity can sit over 100 mph and it is truly unusual to see anywhere near those kinds of speeds coming out of a side-arm slot like the unique delivery Lawrence boasts.
His slider has tremendous torque to it as well.
“The inconsistency acts against the weapons,” Black says.
On the final day of the 2021 season, Lawrence was called back up to MLB one more time and says he had a conversation with his manager who made it clear that he needed to work on some things.
“So I took that to heart and worked on them,” he says. “I think it’s a fairly simply concept, y’know? Skip says ‘let’s work on some things’ and you go and do that.”
In broad strokes, what has he been working on?
“Simplifying it for me, is what it boils down to,” he explains. “Not letting any situation or moment or count get too big. Treat it like a backfield game or a bullpen session. I’ve gotta be able to maintain my emotions on the mound and not get too high, not get too low and repeat my mechanics.”
Easy to say. Tough to do. Is there some kind of trick?
“I have to keep it simple,” he says. “Almost lackadaisical. If I can be super loose, then I know I’m not gonna be tense and overthrow the ball. And I’ve gotten some good results this spring doing that.”
Last year was a whirlwind, he admits. But he had a goal: “Making sure I learned something after every outing regardless of what the result was so that now I’m comfortable to take on any situation and any role.”
Black, in a separate conversation, echoed those same sentiments.
“The experience was good for him. I think he’s more stable. He will be a part of our big league club. Could be on Opening Day or at some point during the season but he will be a contributor and right now he’s showing that he’s in a very good spot.”
Lawrence may not be the key to anything. Relievers are famously volatile and difficult to predict. And it doesn’t get a whole lot more volatile than a guy who can throw as hard as anyone in baseball who also hasn’t yet proved anything in MLB.
But if Bud Black can harness this weapon and get it pointed in the right direction, Rockies fans and baseball fans are in for a treat.
“There’s no more of the nervousness and ‘oh my God this is the Big Leagues!” Lawrence says with a wide smile. It’s ‘Let’s go ahead and make a name for ourselves’ time.”
“Last year was a year of learning, a year of growth. This year, it’s go time.”