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Klee: Is Colorado Springs the best idea for Rockies pitching prospects?

By: Paul Klee
June 20, 2014 Updated: June 20, 2014 at 10:00 pm
Caption +
At 6,531 feet, Security Service Field in Colorado Springs is the highest ballpark in professional baseball. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

DENVER — The next pay raise for a Coors Field employee should go to the person in charge of nameplates in the Rockies clubhouse. He's doing a swell job.

When Christian Friedrich arrived Friday, his was in place. It marked the 16th time this season a new nameplate denoted the arrival of a player from Colorado Springs.

"It has a different feel," Friedrich told me, slipping on the No. 53 uniform he will wear as the starting pitcher in Saturday's game against the Brewers.

From game day to game day, the entire clubhouse has a different feel. With an unofficial slogan of "Here today, DL tomorrow," the Rockies are reaching deep into the roster of their Triple-A affiliate one hour to the south. The list of probable starters for this weekend's series against the Brewers reads like the probable starters for a Sky Sox series against the Omaha Storm Chasers:

Friday: RHP Christian Bergman (called up from Colorado Springs on June 9).

Saturday: RHP Christian Friedrich (called up Friday).

Sunday: LHP Tyler Matzek (called up June 11).

All three traveled from Colorado Springs to Denver before the All-Star break. All three are in charge of facing a first-place team in a ballpark where pitchers go to get shelled.

"You can't worry about it," Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke said when I asked about his message to starting pitchers at Coors Field. "You just have to make pitches. If you make pitches, the damage is going to be little."

That's what they all say, usually right before a starting pitcher gets ripped for seven earned runs in three innings. That was Bergman on Friday.

At this point, all angles of the Rockies' approach to baseball should be under fire. Friday's 13-10 loss to the Brewers was the 73rd game in yet another season that will end without a playoff game at Coors Field.

Injuries are one part of the problem. Pitching is still the biggest. So this is something I've always wondered about the Rockies:

Is having a Triple-A ballpark in Colorado Springs really the best idea for a franchise that has struggled for two decades to develop quality, sustainable pitching?

Pitching at altitude can turn a confident man into Eeyore. When every visiting team suggests pitching at Coors Field is more mental than physical, is it really a good idea to force young pitchers to go through Colorado Springs, where the highest ballpark in professional baseball stands at 6,531 feet?

Some in the Rockies organization believe Security Service Field helps to prepare pitchers for the altitude and vast outfield at Coors Field. I'm starting to think it mows their confidence into a pile of mulch before they reach the big leagues.

"I think it all depends on how they approach it. They can use it to their advantage. Or they can get caught up in it and maybe get a little gun shy," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "It all comes down to how they approach it. That's really the challenge in this game, anyway. You have to be able to control your mind."

Again with the mental thing. With failed starting pitcher after failed starting pitcher, it's been proven that years of throwing at Coors Field eventually will catch up to a promising young arm.

So why tack on a few more starts at altitude in Triple-A? To expedite the downward slide?

With their best poker face, the pitchers promoted from the Sky Sox say the mile-high-plus ballpark prepares them for Coors Field.

"The Springs, it's high up there," Friedrich said. "It's just like up here."

But enough of them would rather field a line drive without a glove than see their ERA inflated thanks to another slider that doesn't slide.

On second thought, here's a better idea for the next pay raise. It should go to the Coors Field employee who convinces Rockies brass that exposing young pitchers to altitude, earlier than necessary, isn't the ideal setting for building up their confidence.

At the highest levels of competition, even the most gifted athletes must have the confidence of a solo skydiver in order to succeed. Talent is nothing without belief in self.

So why risk the confidence of your pitching future by throwing them at altitude before the games count? Maybe that's one reason the nameplates change so often.


Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

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