Senzatela returning to his first-half form

Rookie has been used in more high-leverage outings

Senzatela returning to his first-half form

SAN DIEGO -- Should the Rockies claim the second National League Wild Card spot, rookie right-hander Antonio Senzatela wants to make sure he's a part of the bullpen.

Senzatela, 22, threw just 34 2/3 innings at Double-A Hartford last year because of shoulder issues and after missing time due to the fatal illness of his mother in Venezuela. He unexpectedly made the Major League squad out of Spring Training and was a starting rotation sensation during the first half of the season. But Senzatela fatigued at midseason, and was shifted to the bullpen.

Now with four straight scoreless outings, including a combined four strikeouts and two walks, Senzatela is adapting.

During Thursday night's 3-0 loss to the Padres, Senzatela yielded an Austin Hedges leadoff double but retired Hedges at third after a Clayton Richard bunt. Senzatela went on to strike out Manuel Margot and Carlos Asuaje.

Senzatela's fastball topped out at 97.1 mph on Thursday. With the count full, he finished off Margot with a 96.3 mph pitch that grazed the bat before landing in catcher Jonathan Lucroy's mitt. He beat Asuaje with a 96.4 mph heater.

Of the four straight scoreless games, two have come with the score close.

"Last night, he couldn't score," Senzatela said. "The team needed me to throw good pitches right there.

"I think I had pretty good fastball command and my fastball had a lot of life."

The Rockies entered Friday a game ahead of the Brewers and 1 1/2 games ahead of the Cardinals for the second Wild Card spot. While the Wild Card game has a one-day roster, it'll be interesting to see what manager Bud Black does with his pitching staff if the Rockies reach the best-of-five National League Division Series.

With a 13-man pitching staff, there could be room for young starters who won't be in the playoff rotation. Black has already said lefty Kyle Freeland's stuff plays well out of the bullpen. Senzatela and righty Jeff Hoffman, who pitched a scoreless ninth Thursday, also are candidates. Senzatela has outperformed Hoffman thus far.

Senzatela was 10-5 with a 5.27 ERA in 20 starts, and was moved to the bullpen in part to lessen his innings load.

"I feel strong in September -- my arm's good, my body's good," Senzatela said.

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for since 2002. 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.