Antonio Senzatela spent the last two years making a case to be a regular part of the Rockies rotation.
And he added an exclamation mark to his cause in the Rockies 5-2 victory against the Padres at Petco Park on Monday night.
In assessing his 6 2/3 inning effort in which he allowed one run on six hits, walking one batter, hitting another and striking out four, consider:
-- He was being primed in spring training to work out of the bullpen.
-- He spent the last weeks of spring training and opening days of the regular season on the injured list because of an infection in his right heel.
-- Sent to Triple-A Albuquerque on a rehab assignment he worked five innings in his first start, and then, with the Rockies needing a fresh arm to fill the rotation void created by Tyler Anderson going on the disabled list, he was removed after two innings in his second rehab start last Thursday because he was going to start in the big leagues at San Diego just four days later.
He answered the challenge, limiting the Padres to a Franmil Reyes lead-off home run in the fourth inning. He came out after 83 pitches – 50 for strikes – with two out in the seventh and a runner on base, turning over a 5-1 lead to the bullpen.
The Rockies have been careful in the handling of Senzatela the last two years. They felt he needed to refine his changeup to be effective in the rotation on a regular basis, and they wanted to make sure he built up arm strength after a 2016 season in which he made only seven starts at Double-A Hartford in 2016 – two each in April and May and three in June.
He pitched his way onto the big-league roster the next spring, initially working out of the bullpen. But that year, just like last year, he went from a first-half reliever to a key member of the second-half rotation in the Rockies claiming NL wild-card spots both seasons.
He was ostensibly a candidate for the rotation this spring, but it was more a case of having him ready if one of the quintet of Kyle Freeland, German Marquez, Jon Gray, Tyler Anderson and Chad Bettis ran into a physical issue.
All five came out of spring training healthy, but a recurring knee problem finally sidelined Anderson last week. Up stepped Senzatela, who got the call over Jeff Hoffman.
While Hoffman is starting Tuesday night for the Isotopes, Senzatela was making his presence at the big-league level on Monday night, providing the foundation for the Rockies to claim back-to-back victories for the first time since the first two games of the season.
He has made a case on the mound the last two years when he has been given that opportunity in the rotation in the second-half of each season, underscored by his solid showing since the All-Star Break last year.
The Rockies are aware of that.
How aware? Well, with the team off on Wednesday, manager Bud Black made an adjustment in the rotation to keep four starters on the normal four days rest. Freeland and Marquez will start Thursday and Friday against the Phillies at Coors Field, followed by Senzatela on Saturday, and Gray on Sunday. Bettis is in the bullpen for the next couple of days.
The Rockies staff will watch Senzatela to see him build off his approach to the Padres. His four-seam fastball remained his primary pitch, using it on 60 of 89 pitches, according to Statcast.
But the attention-getter was that he went to breaking balls in critical situations, getting four outs each on curveballs and slider.
Eight of the 18 pitches he threw to register 20 outs (he induced two double plays) were breaking balls -- four curves and four sliders. That matched his career-high set Aug. 23, 2017 against the Royals and equaled on Sept. 27 last season against the Phillies.
“We’ve heard that from our people in extended spring training and in Albuquerque,” Black said. “So that’s the next step. You have to have a mix of pitches, and they have to be Major League quality. What we saw tonight was just that.”
While Anderson is rehabbing his knee, Senzatela will be getting the chance on the mound to reaffirm what he has shown the last two years and claim a regular turn as a starter. His next start comes at Coors Field, which is just another chance for him to provide evidence he’s ready for a regular shot.
He has not been intimidated by the reputation of pitching at 5,280-foot altitude, having compiled the best winning percentage at Coors among the Rockies six primary starting pitchers the last two seasons.