Jeff Hoffman walked off the mound in the second inning of the Colorado Rockies latest win over the Arizona Diamondbacks Wednesday night, tapping his chest to signify the end of a stressful situation.
“It’s my way of getting my heart rate back under control,” Hoffman said. “After big situations, if I’m getting out of an inning with runners in scoring position, it’s my clearing mechanism that I am using mentally for myself.”
The tap to the chest serves as a reminder to decompress following the end of a high-leverage frame and is a new tactic Hoffman plans to use when he takes the mound.
“We have queue’s to clear our mind after a bad call or different things, so why not have one after getting out of an inning to get your breath back and start chilling?” Hoffman said.
The 26-year-old hurler had just coughed up a lead in the ballgame. Losing a lead and surrendering a pair of runs is never a positive for a major league pitcher, but for Hoffman, it’s a vast improvement compared to what he’s been accustomed to in his big league career thus far.
After the Rockies established a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning, Hoffman started to show some cracks in his armor following a clean first frame.
The top of the second inning started with a double from Kevin Cron who then trotted home following a run-scoring single Blake Swihart. Carson Kelly kept the mojo rolling for Arizona, driving Swihart home with a line drive base hit to right field to establish an early lead for Arizona.
The base knocks prompted Manager Bud Black to pay Hoffman a visit.
The message? Simple.
“I needed him to keep himself in check and understand that there was a lot of baseball left,” Black said. “The message was to stay poised and collective.”
Hoffman did just that, digging deep into his mental psyche to shut down Arizona’s offense and limit the damage to only two runs in the inning.
“He told me that this is that moment during the game that I had been getting bit by the big inning,” Hoffman said. “It was not any magical words. Just leave it right here, take a step back, take a deep breath, and go get them.”
From that moment on, the 6-foot-5 flamethrower hit his stride, pitching the Rockies to their fourth consecutive victory and departed after five innings. He allowed three runs on seven hits while striking out six batters.
While Hoffman’s start was nothing spectacular, it was a big step in the right direction.
Hoffman has been unable to solidify a spot within the Rockies starting rotation since the club acquired him in the trade that sent Troy Tulowitzki north of the border to the Toronto Blue Jays, posting a 6.01 career earned run average in his four years of service time at the big league level.
He has bounced around between Triple-A Albuquerque and the big leagues in each of the past few seasons. After an injury to Tyler Anderson and the demotion of Chad Bettis to the bullpen, Hoffman was presented with yet another opportunity to earn his keep at the big league level.
Hoffman’s main issue has always been the big inning. Like fellow starter Jon Gray, Hoffman’s struggles and deficiencies are amplified the moment runners reach scoring position.
Instead of limiting the damage to two runs or less, Hoffman has often unraveled by allowing multiple runs to cross the plate to put the game out of reach while blemishing his numbers.
That was not the case Wednesday night as Hoffman managed to keep his emotions in check to limit the damage and keep his team in a position to overcome the deficit, which they did, en route to a 5-4 victory.
Hoffman’s start came at a critical moment of the season for the Rockies. Colorado entered the game on a three-game winning streak, and a victory would ensure a series victory versus the division rival Diamondbacks.
“He hung in there and only gave up the two runs,” Black said. “He kept it together.”
Based up upon his track record, the writing was on the wall for Hoffman to have another poor start and add to the Rockies’ troubles within the rotation this season. He did just the opposite and looked as competent as he has in his entire major league career.
Hoffman made impactful adjustments such as adjusting his arm slot, adding velocity to his pitches at the top of the strike zone and mixing a changeup into his pitch mix all while keeping his mechanics in check.
Hoffman essentially did everything the Rockies have wanted him to do since he joined the organization and the results were evident.
While it was just one start, the finished product was encouraging. The Rockies are in dire need of consistent output from their starters with Black saying the success of the rotation is as crucial as securing victories.
Right now is Hoffman’s golden opportunity to solidify himself as a member of the Rockies starting five.
Hoffman does not have to pitch like an ace. Stable production is what the Rockies need from the rotation, and if he can provide that, Colorado will be in a strong spot moving forward this season.