A somber walk off the field is an unusual sight for the Colorado Rockies’ iteration of Tim Melville. The other side of pitching – the struggling side – forced Bud Black to take the ball after a career-low two innings.
In each of his first two outings, Melville was greeted with smiles from his teammates and skipper alike. Allowing five runs in only two innings will swiftly change a mood. Even if that implosion came after 12 innings of one-run baseball before it.
The signs were there for a Melville “come back to Earth” moment and finally revealed themselves Saturday.
A pair of outings without allowing multiple runs had plenty of red flags. The main one was an abundance of fly balls. In Coors Field, balls that take flight turn into trouble.
Through the 12 innings of dominance, he induced 21 fly-ball outs. Only 10 were on the ground. Melville’s 30-percent groundball rate – in only two starts – was the lowest of the team’s starters.
“I think with all pitchers, you focus on outs,” Black said. “You want results based on the pitch you throw… Today, there was just too many misses.”
The trend of allowing balls in the air continued but wound up away from fielder’s gloves.
A leadoff home run was out of the reach of any fielder – as were the four singles and double that Melville allowed.
The majority of the flyball action that Melville incurred through his first two starts took place in the dome of Chase Field (15). The smaller, humidor-deadened venue allowed each to be meaningless. Only six occurred in his first Coors Field start.
“I have a pretty good spin rate on my fastball,” Melville said. “Guys will come off of it and pop it right up. It’s just a result of my stuff.”
That same repertoire goes four pitches deep. Earlier in his career, Melville’s primary pitch was the fastball. Then, it was averaging 94 miles per hour. Now, it’s down to 89, forcing the hurler to adjust.
In a Rockies’ uniform, he’s thrown sliders on 56 percent of his pitches – a career-high mark. The percentage includes his latest start where he threw 36 sliders across only 58 pitches.
Heavy reliance on a breaking ball – specifically a horizontal-moving one like a slider – can have a dark side too. When the ball is starting in the wrong spot, the movement takes it directly into the middle of the zone:
“I think it’s just a matter of where you’re starting (a breaking ball),” Melville said. “Today, I was starting it up a little bit too much.”
Short-term memory is going to be a clear deciding factor for the rest of Melville’s year. Peter Lambert, the club’s top pitching prospect entering 2019, also started his Rockies’ career on a high note. In his first two starts, he allowed two earned runs in an identical 12 innings.
Then, the miscues started, similar to Melville. The issue for Lambert has been free passes. Though it hasn’t caused problems yet, the former has had the same struggles with walks so far.
In three starts, he’s walked seven hitters. Through several minor and major league stints, Melville has walked 6.9 hitters for every nine innings he’s pitched.
“It comes down to just executing pitches,” Melville said. “It’s just working pitch to pitch.”
Melville is aware of the implications of failing to be aggressive. The glaring area that’s due for regression is his 81.4-percent strand rate. Balls in the air are often unsuccessful in limiting runners to score.
Only a month ago, Melville dawned an Albuquerque Isotopes jersey. Less than a year ago, he was in Little Miss BBQ attire.
Putting things in perspective after a wayward start is necessary. For a guy that’s already been part of four major-league rosters in four years, the ugly side of the sport has revealed itself plenty.
Just like year’s past, it’s simply an act of moving on.
“You just really have to move on to the next day,” Melville said. “We’ve got a game to play tomorrow, so I’ll be out there rooting on my team. As far as my next outing, we’ll see what happens, when(ever) it is.”
Every story has chapters and Melville is far from finished. Facing the Padres in his next start will be the next step in ensuring he doesn’t face a nightmare finish and departure from another club.