SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies right-handed pitching prospect Antonio Senzatela retired Angels stars Mike Trout and Albert Pujols twice each in a game last Spring Training, and was expected to reach greater highs in 2016.
Instead, Senzatela struggled through right shoulder inflammation that flared during his second start at Double-A Hartford, and quietly endured unspeakable pain as his mother died of cancer in Venezuela. But this year, he arrived to camp in good spirits and pain-free, and will have a chance to battle for a spot in the season-opening rotation.
"I feel real nice right now," said Senzatela, who turned 22 on Jan. 21. "I'm working real hard in the offseason with the trainers and everything.
"I just want to stay healthy all the time, do my job, throw strikes and get hitters out. The big guys make the decision. It's not my decision. But I want the spot. I want to go to Denver."
Senzatela's best gift is a fastball in the low-to-mid 90s, with an extra gear when he needs it, as work continues on his slider. Hartford pitching coach Dave Burba liked what he saw from the Rockies' No. 8 prospect, per MLBPipeline.com, last year.
"He pitched down in the zone well and he throws with angle, and when he was locked in, it was pretty much like a hot knife through butter, just buzz-sawing through the lineup," Burba said. "When he seemed to get into a little bit of jam, he had a different gear."
After striking out six over six innings in his first start last season, pain appeared in Senzatela's shoulder in the third inning of his next outing. He missed six weeks. Senzatela posted a miniscule 1.01 ERA in five starts after his return, with 21 strikeouts in 26 2/3 innings, before going back to the DL with more shoulder soreness on June 22.
But a few calls from home changed everything. The first came from Nidya, whom Senzatela calls "the best mom in the world." She was going in for stomach surgery.
"She didn't want to tell me anything," Senzatela said. "She said, 'Everything's fine. It's not too bad.' But when she went to surgery, my dad and sister called me and said, 'She's really bad. You need to come here and be with her.'"
That was the last week of July. Nidya died on Aug. 24. The Rockies kept quiet about the situation to allow Senzatela his privacy.
"I went back to Venezuela, and I didn't worry about my shoulder," Senzatela said. "It was good to talk to her.
"But baseball was always on my mind, and it was good for me. About my mom, those were hard at times. But after that, I came back here for rehab. I'd just go to the baseball park and forget everything."
Senzatela said he was healthy for fall instructional ball, and he expects no lingering problems.
"I faced some of the best hitters -- Pujols, Trout," Senzatela said. "It was the first time in Spring Training. Man, those are big guys. That gave me some confidence. Trout hit two ground balls and Pujols hit a ground ball and a fly ball. I felt good with that.
"I need to work on my breaking pitch -- but it's my fastball, and I can beat everybody with my fastball. It's my best pitch. I've got real confidence with my fastball."