When the Rockies opened spring training way back in February, Wade Davis was penciled in as the closer, with Scott Oberg as closer 1A.
Right-hander Daniel Bard? He was the feel-good story of the camp; a 35-year-old who had overcome a case of the yips and was trying to make a comeback after being out of the majors for seven seasons.
My how things have changed. Davis has missed most of the season with shoulder woes and might not pitch again in a Rockies uniform. Scott Oberg is out for the season as he battles blood clots in his right arm for the third time in four seasons.
Bard is now the closer and he’s thriving in that high-pressure role. He has six saves in six opportunities, including back-to-back saves at Los Angeles on Saturday and Sunday as the Rockies finally won a series over the Dodgers.
Since allowing a walk-off homer in a 4-3 loss on Aug. 22 at Dodger Stadium, Bard has five saves while allowing three hits and one run with four walks and nine strikeouts in six games. Opponents have hit just .150 over that span.
All of which begs a question from manager Bud Black. Did he envision any of this when Bard was simply trying to make the team?
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Black said prior to Monday night’s game at San Diego. “I saw some video, I talked to some of our scouts, and I talked to (assistant general manager) Jon Weil, who was the driving force behind this. And Jon was confident in Daniel and where he thought Daniel was as far as his pitching.”
But when Black saw Bard pitch for the first time in spring training, he knew Bard had a real shot.
“It looked right, it looked like a big-league pitcher is supposed to look,” Black said. “As each day went on, that kept getting validated. .. Everything led me to believe that this was going to happen.”
On July 25 at Globe Life Ballpark in Arlington, Texas — 2,646 days after he had last appeared in a major league game — Bard relieved Jon Gray in the fifth inning. Bard pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings in Colorado’s 3-2 win over the Rangers. It was Bard’s first win since May 29, 2012, when he pitched 5 1/3 innings for the Boston Red Sox and beat Justin Verlander’s Detroit Tigers.
“You could tell that Daniel was ready for that moment,” Black said. “After he retired the side in his second inning of work, I went to the end of the dugout where he was sitting and the only thing he said was, ‘Buddy, that was so fun.’ It was like a weight had been lifted off him that had been on him for seven years. He got back to being joyful.”
Fuentes rakes. First baseman Josh Fuentes, who was not in the starting lineup Monday night against the Padres, is hitting .370 (10-for-27) with a .993 OPS. He’s in the midst of a career-best eight-game hitting streak and he delivered two huge hits in Colorado’s weekend victories over the Dodgers — a two-run, pinch-hit double on Saturday, and his first home run of the season on Sunday.
Fuentes pointed out a number of reasons why he’s producing, including getting more consistent at-bats and adjusting to his role as a semi-regular player in the majors. But there is one thing, more than any other, that has made a difference.
“The biggest part for me was the nerves,” he said before Monday’s game. “As long as I kept my nerves down and wasn’t jumping at the baseball and trying to do things I wasn’t capable of, and just sticking to what I do best, that’s been the most important part.”
Words of wisdom. Right-hander Chi Chi Gonzalez, who’s scheduled to start Tuesday’s game at San Diego, is most effective when he gets opposing hitters out on weak contact and coaxes them to hit balls into the dirt. He shared some words that Black passed on to him recently.
“Bud, the other day, walked around the outfield, and he said to me, ‘Babe Ruth is dead,’ ” Gonzalez said. “He said, ‘Throw it over the middle, throw it over the plate and let them hit it to somebody.”
Footnotes. The Rockies signed right-handed pitcher AJ Ramos to a minor league deal and added him to the 60-man player pool on Monday. Ramos, 33, hasn’t pitched in the majors since undergoing shoulder surgery in 2018. … Per the Elias Sports Bureau, Saturday and Sunday marked the first time in franchise history that the Rockies have scored the winning run in the eighth inning or later in two consecutive games at Dodger Stadium.
Rockies RHP Chi Chi Gonzalez (0-0, 5.00 ERA) at Padres RHP Mike Clevinger (1-2, 3.14)
7:10 p.m. Tuesday, Petco Park
TV: AT&T SportsNet
Radio: KOA 850 AM/94.1 AM
Gonzalez will be making his first start since early in the season, after which he landed on the injured list with right biceps tendinitis from Aug. 7-29. He pitched two innings of relief last Wednesday, allowing two runs (one earned) on three hits in Colorado’s 9-6 come-from-behind victory over San Francisco. He has a 4.85 ERA in three games (two starts) vs. the Padres but has no decisions. Tuesday will be right-hander Mike Clevinger’s second start with the Padres after he came to San Diego as part of a blockbuster seven-player trade with Cleveland. The right-hander allowed two runs and seven hits over six innings, striking out two and walking one in his first outing. He’s faced the Rockies just once, on June 7, 2017 at Coors Field as a starter for the Indians. He got rocked, serving up a three-run double to Antonio Senzatela in the second inning and a two-run homer to Carlos Gonzalez in the third. He was gone after four innings, having given up five runs on four hits and three walks.
Trending: Leadoff hitter Raimel Tapia entered Monday’s game on a nine-game hitting streak, tied for the second-longest streak of his career. He is hitting .378 (14-for-37) over the nine games, with six runs, two doubles, one triple, one home run and five RBIs.
At issue: Right-handed reliever Jeff Hoffman has struggled of late, which is reflected in his 9.19 ERA and .328 batting average against. He’s been scored upon in four straight outings, six of his past seven and in seven of his last nine. That after allowing only one run through his first five appearances this season.