It’s rare that a Major League starting pitcher has to face the same team twice in their first two big league starts. For Rockies pitcher Peter Lambert that was the case on Tuesday against the Chicago Cubs.
In five innings pitched, Lambert recorded three strikeouts while surrendering three hits, one run (solo home run) and two walks. He struggled at times, hitting two batters and recording a wild-pitch. However, he kept his composure on the mound with runners on base and made big pitches when it counted.
A scary moment occurred in the 4th inning when Lambert made a sliding catch in front of the Rockies dugout on a Wilson Contreras pop up. His left knee got caught in a divot in the grass, halting his momentum abruptly. He jumped up quickly sporting a small limp. There was a short injury delay, but Lambert shook off any pain quickly and pitched against another seven batters. Rockies manager Bud Black decided to pull the plug after five innings with the Rockies holding a 2-1 lead and Lambert scheduled to bat in the bottom of the inning. Soreness was also a contributing factor as it began to build in Lamberts left leg.
His performance showed room for improvement, but nonetheless it was exactly what the Rockies needed to pull away for a 10-3 victory. The rookie is now 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA for his MLB career.
“I thought it was a great performance by him (Lambert) considering he wasn't at his best,” Rockies catcher Chris Iannetta said. “You want to see a pitcher go out there when they don't have their best stuff, they don't have the best command and give you five or six, and he did that.”
Lambert was called up to the Rockies from the Albuquerque Isotopes in Triple-A just over a week ago and made an instant impact in his first career start.
The 22-year-old was called up to replace Kyle Freeland in the Rockies rotation. Freeland may have been pitching poorly, but his remarkable 2018 season that saw him finish 4th in the NL Cy Young voting left big shoes to fill.
Lambert, the 44th overall pick in the 2015 MLB Draft didn’t disappoint.
At Wrigley Field, In seven innings of play, Lambert struck out nine (Rockies record by a pitcher in big league debut) while giving up only four hits, en route to a 3-1 Rockies victory against the Chicago Cubs on Thursday, June 6. It was the only Rockies win of the series. His performance was exactly what Rockies fans were hoping for from the highly touted prospect.
“He’s pretty cerebral. He knows what he's trying to do out there,” Iannetta said. “He has a really good understanding of his body and mechanics, he has a plan of attack and he has great command on top of it...that really helps.”
The question on everybody’s mind was whether he could follow it up?
Tuesday’s rematch provided an answer.
In short, yes.
However, what made his performance on Tuesday remarkable was the fact that he had to face and beat the same Cubs team he bested just five days prior.
The first time around, Lambert was somewhat of a mystery to the Cubs. The rookie hadn’t been officially called up until the day of the game and replaced Jon Gray, who was originally slated to start that night. This left little time for the Cubs to prepare. Lambert took advantage with one of the most impressive Rockies pitching debuts in recent memory.
On Tuesday, that wasn’t the case. The Cubs, who boast a top 10 scoring offense in MLB, had five days and a fresh loss in mind to help prepare for another matchup with the rookie. Furthermore, Lambert’s second start took take place in the hitter-friendly Coors Field.
Iannetta was behind home plate for both of Lambert’s starts and saw first hand the adjustments made by the Cubs batters.
“They weren't as aggressive as they were in Chicago,” Iannetta said. “They did a much better job of staying in the (strike) zone, forcing him to stay in the (strike) zone.”
As for Lambert, the game plan remained the same according to Black.
Even in the pre-game, Iannetta recognized that Lambert’s command wasn’t what it had been a week prior, but was impressed with the adjustments that he made as the game went on.
“I thought his arm was a little bit late, and he did a really good job of making some adjustments with that,” Ianetta said.
Lambert didn’t let his less than perfect command, or a second inning home run affect him. He was able to make adjustments as the game went on to beat the Cubs again.
“That's gonna happen. (You) just gotta move on to the next hitter and make some quality pitches,” Lambert said on surrendering the home run.
He lamented falling behind against hitters on a few at-bats, but overall, “thought it went well.”
The righty from San Dimas, California has never been a power pitcher and relied on his versatile repertoire of pitches to get runners out.
“He (Lambert) understands that executing pitches is the way that he's going to be successful, and he reverts back to that instead of trying out stuff guys,” Iannetta said.
For Black, Lamberts big league composure came as no surprise.
“I think that's been something (composure) that is inherent to Peter,” Black said. “From the day he signed with us; his professional career, high school (career) and through the minor leagues he has that. He has those qualities.”
Two games is still a small sample size, but if he can maintain the ability to remain composed and make adjustments when he isn’t at his best, it will be a major positive for the Rockies moving forward.
Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon was quick to point out that Lambert “hasn’t had much adversity yet.” This is important to remember when looking at the big picture. However, through two starts, Lambert has shown the talent and composure to have success at the major league level. This may prove pivotal in finding the starting pitching consistency that Black has been searching for all season long.