Rockies’ starting rotation disappoints in season-opening series loss

Apr 2, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; Colorado Rockies manager Bud Black (10) pulls starting pitcher Antonio Senzatela (49) as catcher Dom Nunez (3) observes in the fourth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Colorado Rockies lost three in a row to the Los Angeles Dodgers to close the season-opening series between the two teams at Coors Field in Denver.

After capturing the momentum no doubt provided by the return of fans to 20th and Blake en route to an 8-5 victory on Opening Day, the Rockies were done in by a myriad of problems too big to be able to overcome against a team like the Dodgers, who are fresh off a World Series title and widely expected to win another.

It was an expected outcome, and being that it was the first series of the season, not too much should be made of anything that happened on the field. But there was one major area of concern, as well as a couple of glimpses of hope for the future.

What went wrong

The Rockies’ rotation entered 2021 as the clear strength of the team, and it’s not like one series against the best team in baseball changed any of that. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that the starting pitching exhibited by the Rockies was not up to par.

Germán Márquez generated some concern this spring by struggling to finish off batters and issuing a whole bunch of walks. Unfortunately, we saw more of the same on Opening Day.

The Rockies’ ace walked six batters, struck out only two, and scattered six hits in just four innings of work on Thursday. The good news is that somehow he escaped having allowed only one run, and the Rockies provided enough offense to make up for Márquez’s shortcomings in what eventually became their lone win of the series.

Antonio Senzatela turned our worst fears regarding his inability to miss bats into at least temporary reality on Friday. Senzatela, who finished with the lowest strikeout rate of any qualified starter in baseball despite posting a 3.44 ERA last season, allowed seven runs on nine hits in 3 1/3 innings in an 11-6 loss. The Dodgersn didn’t barrel up anything against Senzatela and fewer than a third of the balls in play he yielded could be classified as hard hit, but this is what can happen when strikeouts simply aren’t a part of a pitcher’s game.

Complete and total lack of command was Austin Gomber’s game in the finale. The centerpiece of the return in the trade that sent Nolan Arenado to the St. Louis Cardinals issued seven free passes in three innings of work in the Rockies’ series-ending 4-2 loss. Gomber allowed just one hit but four first-inning walks, and error (by Gomber), and a wild pitch led to three runs for the Dodgers, who never really looked back.

What went right

Sandwiched between a bunch of ineffective starting pitching performances was a stellar outing from Jon Gray. Gray, who struggled mightily in an injury shortened 2020 campaign, struck out seven batters while allowing just four hits and a walk in five innings of one-run ball. He was cruising along with just 82 pitches under his belt until being pulled from the game with what the team described as “full body cramping.” It appeared Gray first tweaked something while at the plate and apparently didn’t look right on the mound to those observing him from the dugout.

Still, it was an encouraging effort from Gray, whose fastball hit 97 on a couple of occasions and looked crisper overall. He is expected to make his next start.

The Rockies’ offense as a whole showed some positive signs against one of the league’s best pitching staffs, as well. No one player finished the series with standout, jump-off-the-page production, but Rockies hitters barreled 10 balls—third most of any team to this point—and they’re near the bottom of the league in strikeout percentage. It’s only one series and it came in the best offensive environment in the game, but that hasn’t stopped the Rockies’ lineup from going belly up against the Dodgers in the past.

What’s next

The Rockies have an off day Monday before welcoming the Arizona Diamondbacks for a three-game set starting Tuesday. Germán Márquez, eager to erase his poor Game 1 performance, will be on the hill for the opener. The D-backs, like the Rockies, dropped three of their first four to a World Series contender (in their case, the San Diego Padres). It’s worth noting that these teams had nearly identical offensive production (75 wRC+ for the Colorado, 72 for Arizona) and run prevention (116 ERA- for the Rockies vs. 112 for the D-backs) in the opening weekend of 2021. Spiderman pointing meme, anyone?