Rockies' righties in 'pen could provide boost

Rockies' righties in 'pen could provide boost

DENVER -- The Rockies hope the end of a rough season was the start of something special for a group of young righty relief pitchers.

As in most pitching categories, the Rockies were last in the Majors in bullpen ERA at 4.70, but hard-throwing right-handers began to catch on late.

Jairo Diaz spent much of the season at Triple-A Albuquerque, and Scott Oberg and Justin Miller shuttled between Denver and Albuquerque. But if they parlay their work in the dying days of the season into consistency, the 'pen could improve in 2016.

"We've got some young arms that we've gotten a chance to take a look at this last month, and guys have performed well, particularly out of the bullpen," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said late in the season.

The Rockies will need improved consistency from the left side, where Boone Logan has struggled through injuries the first two years of his three-year, $16.5 million deal, and Christian Friedrich is coming off an inconsistent year. But if the late-game right-handers -- all with less than one year of Major League service time -- can produce from the beginning, they could form a formidable setup crew.

• Diaz, 24, acquired from the Angels last offseason and kept in Albuquerque for five months while he learned to command his fastball (a 97.4-mph average on his four-seamer, 95.8 on the two-seamer), made his Rockies debut Aug. 23 and held opponents to a .222 batting average, with 18 strikeouts and six walks in 19 innings.

Diaz showed his mettle after his worst moment -- a three-run eighth-inning homer by the Pirates' Pedro Alvarez that led to a 5-4 loss at Coors on Sept. 24. After that, he gave up one hit and struck out six in four innings in his final four appearances. The Rockies see him as a late-game reliever, possibly a future closer.

"There was no carryover," Rockies pitching coach Steve Foster said. "That shows some mental toughness."

• Oberg, 25, missed much of 2014 with a shoulder problem while in Double-A. But after a strong 2015 Spring Training, he earned his first of three Major League promotions on April 14. He was used increasingly more in important situations, and was at his best at the end -- 0.79 ERA and a .111 batting average against in his final 14 appearances.

Oberg fans Byrd

"It's kind of been a roller-coaster year for him, performance-wise, but he was making the leap he's made after missing all of 2014 and basically saying, 'All right, here you go, here's the big leagues,'" Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich said.

• Miller, 28, had his rise through the Rangers' organization derailed by elbow surgery that cost him the 2012 season. He saw brief action with the Tigers in 2014. The Rockies summoned him from Albuquerque four times in 2015. The last stint saw him hold opponents to a .128 batting average and go scoreless in 13 of his 15 games.

Miller strikes out the side

"Last year with Detroit, my rhythm wasn't all the way there all the time," Miller said. "During the offseason, I hit it really hard, and coming into Spring Training and throughout the year, it was pretty good."

The righty contingent also should be boosted by Miguel Castro, who arrived from the Blue Jays in the Troy Tulowitzki trade and appeared in five late-season games (0-1, 10.13 ERA before being shut down with back issues).

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, and like his Facebook page. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.