Rock­ies must make “tough de­ci­sions”

With sea­son opener on hori­zon, ros­ter still far from set

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Pa­trick Saun­ders

scottsdale, ariz.» At 8:30 ev­ery morn­ing dur­ing spring train­ing, man­ager Bud Black and his staff, along with gen­eral man­ager Jeff Bridich and his staff, sit down to dis­cuss the state of the Rock­ies.

They eval­u­ate play­ers, re­ceive up­dates on in­juries and voice their opin­ions. Those opin­ions are bound to get stronger and louder over the next two weeks as the Rock­ies shape their 25-man ros­ter for the sea­son opener April 3 at Milwaukee.

“We face a lot of tough de­ci­sions,” Black said Sun­day. “We have a lot to look at.”

In­deed they do. In part be­cause of key in­juries, and in part be­cause of spring train­ing per­for­mances — good and bad — there are a lot of ma­jor de­ci­sions at hand.

Here is an anal­y­sis of the Rock­ies’ ros­ter makeup, two weeks be­fore the sea­son be­gins:

Start­ing pitch­ing

Right-han­ders Jon Gray (the likely open­ing-day starter) and Tyler Chat­wood, along with lefty Tyler Anderson, an­chor a ro­ta­tion the Rock­ies hope will be their best in years. But right-han­der Chad Bet­tis is wag­ing a bat­tle against tes­tic­u­lar can­cer and could be out the en­tire sea­son. Los­ing him was a huge blow that leaves two spots open in the ro­ta­tion.

Vet­eran left-han­der and long re­liever Chris Rusin likely would have filled one of those slots, but he is out of ac­tion be­cause of a strained oblique and may miss the start of the sea­son, so youth will have to serve.

Right-han­der An­to­nio Sen­za­tela and lefty Kyle Free­land, a Thomas Jef­fer­son High School grad­u­ate, merit the fi­nal two spots, based on their spring per­for­mances. The prob­lem is, nei­ther has pitched in the ma­jors, and the tal­ented Sen­za­tela made only seven starts in Dou­ble-A last year.

That in­ex­pe­ri­ence doesn’t seem to rat­tle Black, who sees a lot of ma­tu­rity in the 22-yearold Sen­za­tela. He didn’t pitch well Satur­day against the Los An­ge­les An­gels, but when Black was asked af­ter­ward if Sen­za­tela re­mains a can­di­date to break camp as part of the start­ing ro­ta­tion, he quickly an­swered: “Yes, that’s ex­tremely fair to say.”

Free­land, who made 12 starts in Triple-A last year, isn’t on the 40-man ros­ter, so the Rock­ies would have to do some shuf­fling. The likely so­lu­tion is clear­ing space on the 40-man

ros­ter by putting right-han­der Rayan Gonzalez on the 60-day dis­abled list. He has an in­jured el­bow and prob­a­bly is headed for Tommy John surgery.

Right-han­ders Jeff Hoff­man and Ger­man Mar­quez have had hit-and-miss springs, mean­ing they could be­gin the sea­son in Triple-A with Al­bu­querque. If there is room in the bullpen, Black isn’t op­posed to hav­ing one of them pitch in re­lief to be­gin the sea­son.

Bullpen

There are a lot of mov­ing parts and a lot of ques­tions to be an­swered as Colorado at­tempts to shore up a bullpen that was among the worst in the ma­jors last year. Five of the eight spots are set, filled by right-han­ders Greg Hol­land (the closer), Adam Ot­tavino and Jor­dan Lyles, and by left­ies Mike Dunn and Jake McGee. The big ques­tions: • If Rusin’s in­jury isn’t healed by the sea­son opener, does that open a door for Hoff­man or Mar­quez?

• Right-han­der Car­los Estevez, who owns a pow­er­ful fast­ball but is sim­pli­fy­ing his de­liv­ery, is a strong can­di­date. So is right-han­der Scott Oberg, the more crafty pitcher of the two. But which one will the Rock­ies go with? There is flex­i­bil­ity here, be­cause both have mi­nor-league op­tions.

• What do the Rock­ies do with vet­eran right-han­ders Ja­son Motte, 34, and Chad Qualls, 38? The club has in­vested sig­nif­i­cant money in both but got lit­tle in re­turn. Motte will be paid $5 mil­lion this sea­son and Qualls will get $3.25 mil­lion, but would Bridich cut both loose, thus free­ing up two spots on the 40-man ros­ter and al­low­ing for some ros­ter flex­i­bil­ity?

Qualls has bat­tled right fore­arm sore­ness most of the spring, and there is a pos­si­bil­ity he could start the sea­son on the dis­abled list.

First base

The starter was sup­posed to be Ian Des­mond, who signed a five-year, $70 mil­lion con­tract, but a bro­ken left hand has knocked him out of ac­tion un­til late April, mean­ing vet­eran Mark Reynolds will be the ev­ery­day first base­man un­til Des­mond re­turns. But Reynolds is a non­roster in­vi­tee, mean­ing he still has to be added to the 40-man ros­ter.

The short-term backup could be rookie Jor­dan Patterson, a left-handed hit­ter who re­ceived 18 big-league at-bats last Septem­ber. Patterson also can play in the out­field, so he of­fers ver­sa­til­ity. But so does Stephen Car­dullo, who can play in the out­field and has smashed the ball this spring. He has im­pressed the Rock­ies with his hus­tle and de­sire but isn’t on the 40-man ros­ter, so he likely is des­tined for Triple-A.

The wild cards are switch-hit­ting Cristhian Adames and Pat Valaika; both are util­ity infielders by trade and are get­ting a bit of work at first base. Adames is out of mi­nor-league op­tions, so that’s prob­lem­atic. Valaika, who has hit for power and av­er­age in the Cac­tus League, bat­ted .263 in 19 at-bats af­ter his Septem­ber call-up. He has made a pos­i­tive im­pres­sion on Black and the front of­fice.

Out­field

David Dahl’s rib in­jury made Ger­ardo Parra the start­ing left fielder and opened the door for vet­eran Chris Denor­fia to make the open­ing-day ros­ter. Denor­fia, 36, played un­der Black in San Diego from 2010-14. He re­turned from back surgery last April to play in 36 games for San Fran­cisco’s Triple-A team. Denor­fia, who can back up Char­lie Black­mon in cen­ter field and Car­los Gonzalez in right field, has dis­played good range this spring.

Patterson, Car­dullo and even util­ity in­fielder Alexi Amarista pro­vide out­field depth too, if needed. Prospect Raimel Tapia is tal­ented enough to play in the ma­jors — he hit .263 in 22 games with Colorado in Septem­ber — but the Rock­ies want to make sure he plays ev­ery day and gets plenty of at-bats.

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