MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Rockies no longer an offense-only squad

Reimplementation of curveball has helped pitching staff emerge

Rockies no longer an offense-only squad

The secret is becoming public. The Rockies are in position to claim a postseason berth for only the fourth time in the franchise's 25-year history, as anyone who glances at the Wild Card standings each day can tell. What people are only starting to come to grips with is that Colorado's pitching staff can be a difference-maker.

Since their inception, the Rockies have been known for their ability to put runs on the board. Now they're starting to get the attention of the rest of the National League for their ability to get outs, too.

Sure, over the years, they have had a pitcher or two who would stand out. But never have they had such a young rotation, much less a rotation that has emerged as the reason the team is sitting atop the battle for the second NL Wild Card spot with four days remaining in the regular season despite an offense that has stumbled through September.

Rockies' pitching statistics

The seeds were planted a year ago with the hiring of pitching coach Steve Foster and the return of the first Rockies closer, Darren Holmes, as the bullpen coach, and their focus on instilling a mentality among the staff of the importance of having velocity variation in a repertoire.

And they threw the rest of the baseball world a curve -- putting an emphasis on the curveball, the pitch that was Holmes' calling card, and the changeup.

The hiring last October of Bud Black as the manager reinforced the preaching of Foster and Holmes.

Gray hurls six solid innings

It's about pitchers having an arsenal of a four-seam fastball, changeup and curveball, a pitch that former front-office executive Bill Geivett greatly de-emphasized because of the altitude but Colorado has restored to the game plan.

"There is an adjustment with the release point [from sea level]," said Black, "but it still has value. It changes eye level, and with the variation [in velocity] and movement, it's a changeup with movement."

Then there's the changeup. There is an adjustment in the grip from the fastball to the changeup. But the mechanics of the delivery is the same, which creates a timing problem for hitters who often wind up being late on the fastball and early on the changeup.

"The changeup is a power pitch," said Black. "Power is not velocity. It's mental strength. When a pitcher realizes a changeup is equal to a power fastball, it becomes an effective pitch for him."

The Rockies' staff has become believers.

And it shows, even at Coors Field.

Rockies combine for shutout

Some numbers to consider:

• Tuesday night's 6-0 victory against the Marlins marked the Rockies' seventh shutout at Coors Field this season, a home-field record for a franchise that has had only 59 shutouts total at home in its 25-year existence. This is a franchise that has had three or fewer shutouts at home in 20 seasons, including five in which it didn't have any.

• Among the 15 lowest career ERAs at Coors Field -- minimum 65 innings and at least five starts -- Tyler Anderson, who started what became shutouts in his last two Coors Field appearances, is the all-time leader at 3.31, and Kyle Freeland is No. 2 at 3.66. Four other current members of the staff rank in the top 13.

• Colorado is 14-12 this month, but its staff ERA is 3.90, 11th- owest in MLB.

It has been a team effort.

Scouting director Bill Schmidt and the amateur scouts drafted Freeland, Gray and Anderson with first-round picks and took Chad Bettis in the second round. Latin scouting coordinator Rolando Fernandez signed Antonio Senzatela, and the pro scouting staff made recommendations that led to acquiring Jeff Hoffman, German Marquez and Tyler Chatwood in trades.

Chatwood was mostly established in the Majors by the end of 2014, but each of the others spent time in a farm system that underwent a drastic instructional adjustment after Geivett's departure, including the reaffirmation of the curveball.

Then those young pitchers got to the Majors, where the philosophy has been reinforced.

Black, along with Holmes and Foster, are proponents of the curve, which was a staple for many amateur pitchers who came out of Colorado and worked with the late Robert "Bus" Campbell, whose primary pitch was a knuckle-curve that he actually taught former NL Cy Young Award runner-up Burt Hooton when Hooton pitched for the Boulder Collegians one summer.

"It's about controlling bat speed," said Black. "You do that with the variation in your velocity."

It's a basic principle of pitching that has been embraced by the Rockies' current staff.

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