Rockies Mailbag: With the bullpen’s struggles, should Bud Black lean on his starting pitchers more? – The Denver Post

Denver Post sports writer Patrick Saunders with the latest installment of his Rockies Mailbag.

Pose a Rockies — or MLB — related question for the Rockies Mailbag.

In a year like no other (thank goodness), why can’t Josh Fuentes start at first base for the rest of the season? The DH is in play for your veterans, Matt Kemp and Daniel Murphy. Youngsters Garrett Hampson, Fuentes, Raimel Tapia and Ryan McMahon need at bats. Thanks!

— Robert Emmerling, Parker

Robert, I’m not sure when you sent in your question, but you must have noticed that Fuentes has been getting the majority of the starts in front of Murphy. In fact, Fuentes started five of the last six games (heading in Tuesday night’s game), in part because he’s been hitting well (.311 average, .800 OPS). He’s also been excellent with the glove at first base.

After a hot start, Murphy has slumped badly, batting .162 (12-for-74) with one double and four RBIs in 24 games since Aug. 9. Kemp is a better choice as the DH, unless the lefty-righty matchup clearly favors Murphy.

As for Hampson, Tapia and McMahon, they’re all getting plenty of at-bats. Right now, the Rockies are doing what they can to find an offense that clicks and give them a chance to make the postseason. Although, as I wrote in Tuesday’s Denver Post, a trip to the playoffs looks unlikely.

At this point in the season, why does Bud Black take out starting pitchers in innings six through nine, when the pitchers are having quality starts? How much does pitch count really matter now? There have been too many games where the bullpen has given up games.

— Judy Frieman, Denver

Judy, I can’t give you a blanket answer to your question because it depends on the pitcher and the specific game. However, given how poorly many of the Rockies’ relievers have performed, I think Black should have pitched German Marquez, Kyle Freeland and Antonio Senzatela an inning deeper into some recent games.

That being said, Black has his reasons: matchups, how many times through the order his pitcher has faced opposing hitters, and yes, pitch count. Black, for example, took Freeland out after six innings in the Rockies’ 5-2 loss to the Angels Saturday night. Freeland had allowed just two run on four hits, and had thrown 92 pitches. Black essentially said that Freeland was spent and it was time to make a move.

Hi Patrick, thank you for your excellent coverage of the Rockies, which helps me follow the team from this side of the Atlantic. My question is, if you were the GM of the Rockies what would you do during the winter to improve the ball club?

— David Jones, Surrey, England

Thanks David, from across the pond. That’s a big question and one that I haven’t spent a lot of time contemplating. With the coronavirus pandemic it’s difficult to navigate the offseason landscape.

But if had one name on my wish list it would be catcher J.T. Realmuto, who’ll be a free agent. Trouble is, he’s the top name on the board and competition will be fierce and I can’t see the Rockies spending that kind of money.

Regardless, it’s apparent that Colorado must improve its offense, which continues to be a huge disappointment. Finding power hitter is imperative.

Another intriguing free-agent-to-be is Yankees second baseman DJ LeMahieu, the former Rockies fan favorite. I can’t imagine LeMahieu returning to Colorado after the Rockies showed no interest in re-signing him after the 2018 season. I don’t know if there are hard feelings, but LeMahieu will have a chance to sign with a number of teams and I don’t think the Rockies are high on his list.

Patrick, how do you evaluate a hitting coach for the Rockies given the difficulty of adjusting away from and back to altitude throughout the season? It seems the Rockies would benefit from an outside-the-box philosophy and new-school analytics. Thoughts, sir?

— Hugh, Boulder

Hugh, fans are always quick to demand for a new hitting coach if the team doesn’t perform up to expectations. I really don’t think that’s the solution. The players have to perform, regardless of who the coach is.

From what I’ve been told, the players like hitting coaches Dave Magadan and Jeff Salazar. I’m not sure what you mean by “outside-the-box philosophy.” Over the last few years, the Rockies have increased their use of analytics, perhaps not to the extent of some teams, but the hitters have plenty of information at their fingertips.

My bottom line for 2020: Key players the Rockies counted on the perform well at the plate – Nolan Arenado, Daniel Murphy, Ryan McMahon and David Dahl – have all been disappointments.

What month does Jeff Bridich get fired? Every one of his free-agent signings has been a bust.

— Brand, Loveland

Brand, I’m sure I’ll have to field this question a number of times in the coming months. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I highly doubt that owner Dick Monfort fires Bridich. Monfort doesn’t like change and he values loyalty. Even with the rift that developed between Bridich and Arenado last winter, I still think Monfort will stand by Bridich.

As for your comment that all of Bridich’s signings have been a bust, that’s not true.

Has he whiffed on some big-money contracts? Absolutely. Ian Desmond’s five-year, $70-million deal was a mistake, as was Daniel Murphy’s two-year, $24 contract.

Bridich signed the relief trio of Wade Davis, Bryan Shaw and Jake McGee for a combined $106 for three years. Although Davis performed well in 2018, for the most part that bullpen decision backfired.

But Bridich has had some hits, too, including picking up reliever Daniel Bard and slugger Matt Kemp when no one else wanted them.

Patrick, what will the rotation look like in 2021? I see a four-man core of German Marquez, Jon Gray, Kyle Freeland and Antonio Senzatela, but then it gets hazy. I can’t imagine it’ll be Chi Chi Gonzalez again. Does Ryan Castellani get the call? How about a prospect like Ryan Rolison or Riley Pint?

— Marcus Nichols, Fort Collins

Marcus, your four-man core is spot on, though Gray is a free agent after 2021 so if a team comes calling about a trade I think the Rockies will listen during the offseason. I don’t see Gonzalez in the mix but I think Castellani and Rolison will definitely be part of the conversation. Castellani has had his ups and down and he’s still learning, but I think he’s got a bright future. The Rockies think so, too.

Where do you see the direction of the Rockies going in the next few years (assuming Nolan Arenado opts out next year or gets traded this winter)? Extension for Trevor Story, trade Charlie Blackmon, etc.?

— Brandon C., Glendale

Brandon, I think signing Story to an extension is priority No. 1, especially given Arenado’s uncertain status with the team.

The question is, can the Rockies afford Story ($18.5 million in 2021), Blackmon ($21.3) and Arenado ($35 million), plus make any more upgrades?

I have not heard anything about the Rockies trading Blackmon, and if the designated hitter remains in the National League, I don’t see any reason to trade him.

A lot can change in the coming months, so check back with me.

Denver Post sports writer Patrick Saunders with the latest installment of his Rockies Mailbag.

Pose a Rockies — or MLB — related question for the Rockies Mailbag.

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