MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

No set roles in Rox bullpen with plenty of power arms

Bullpen coach Holmes envisions a situation similar to his time with 1995 club

No set roles in Rox bullpen with plenty of power arms

The Rockies are heading back to the future.

Bullpen coach Darren Holmes knows the script. He has been there, did well and is eager to take a page out of Rockies pitching history and revise it this season.

Colorado is putting together a bullpen in which roles will be forgotten and where getting outs at critical times will be the focus.

While that has become a recent fad amid the evolution of analytics, it is an old approach at Coors Field, one that Holmes was a part of during his playing stint with the organization from 1993-97. Don Baylor, the franchise's original manager, felt the offensive potential at a Mile High put an emphasis on not letting games get out of hand.

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Baylor didn't have a slew of statistical reports to support the idea, but he had been in the game long enough as a player, coach and manager to have a gut feeling that paid off when the Rockies became the first National League Wild Card in 1995, advancing to the postseason in only their third year of existence.

Asked about his handling of pitchers, Baylor once explained, "It's a gut feeling. It's something you [sense] in the pitcher, that he's not comfortable. When I want to grab a bat at my age, I know it's time for a change."

Colorado's approach this spring has a deeper data bank to choose from, but the bottom line is the Rockies spent the offseason revamping their bullpen by adding veteran pitchers who have experience in the back end of a game.

Right-handers Jason Motte and Chad Qualls, who both signed two-year contracts as free agents, have been closers. Left-hander Jake McGee, acquired in a trade with the Rays, has primarily been a late-inning setup man, but he did record 19 saves for Tampa Bay in 2014. Right-hander Adam Ottavino, who had three saves in the opening days of 2015 before requiring Tommy John surgery, should be ready before midseason.

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And the likely closer is? Any of the four, or perhaps right-handers Scott Oberg or Miguel Castro.

By the end of the season, the closer still might be undetermined.

There could be a handful of relievers getting saves, opportunities based on history against certain batters or recent wear and tear. Maybe even a hunch on the part of manager Walt Weiss.

"It's about the focus on the team, not yourself, about just wanting to do your part for the Rockies to have success," Holmes said. "It works."

Holmes knows. A member of the original Rockies in 1993, Holmes found himself in the middle of the bullpen mix two seasons later, and he admits he enjoyed that season more than any other in his 13-year playing career.

"Back in the day, with us, it was me, [Bruce] Ruffin, Curtis Leskanic closing, and Steve Reed was the man on call from the sixth inning on," Holmes said.

Reed was the guy who got what the 1995 Rockies termed, "Baylor saves." If there was a key situation in the middle of the game, Reed got the call because Baylor had confidence he could shut the other team's rally down.

"If we were two or three runs down, to me, that was like the game was on the line," Baylor said. "With the way the game is played at Coors Field, I always felt if we were two or three runs down going into the seventh inning, we had the edge because the other team was worried about what could happen. That meant if we were in a jam in the sixth or seventh, even the fifth inning, I wanted to stop the damage right then, before the game got out of hand.

"Reeder got it. He was nails."

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The Rockies went 77-67 that season, finishing one game back of the Dodgers in the NL West, but one game ahead of the Astros in the Wild Card battle.

The Blake Street Bombers got the headlines. The bullpen, however, got the credit from within.

Despite the strike-shortened 144-game regular season in 1995, Colorado led the NL with 200 home runs, 785 runs and a .282 average.

The pitching staff held a NL-high 4.97 ERA, while the rotation worked fewer innings (772 1/3) than any other in the league. The rotation's 5.29 ERA was also the highest in the NL, and its 51-48 record was the sixth-best winning percentage.

The bullpen, however, saved the year.

Relievers worked a Major League-high 516 innings, finishing second in the NL with 43 saves and fourth with a .578 winning percentage, going 26-19. Only 17 NL relievers made as many as 60 appearances that season, and four of them were with the Rockies: Leskanic (76), Reed (71), Holmes (68) and Mike Munoz (64). The Astros, Marlins, Braves and Phillies had two relievers appear in 60 or more games, and the Cubs, Reds, Pirates and Expos each had one.

While Colorado ranked second in the NL with 43 saves, Holmes was the individual leader with 14, which put him 14th in the league. Ruffin had 11, and Leskanic had 10. No other team had more than one reliever record 10 or more saves.

Holmes said he can see a similar scenario unfolding with this year's Rockies bullpen. The three veterans who were added have all described their roles on the team as "pitcher," without any strings attached.

"I asked McGee what he thought about Coors Field," Holmes said. "He said, 'I throw 95 percent fastballs. It doesn't matter where I pitch.'"

More importantly, it doesn't matter when McGee pitches, just like Motte, Qualls and the rest of Colorado's relievers.

It's a trip back in time at Coors Field that Holmes looks forward to being a part of again.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.