Mike Dunn to play key role in Rockies' bullpen
After posting the worst bullpen ERA in MLB last season, the Colorado Rockies have been making moves to revamp the club's pitching staff
ALBUQUERQUE — The Colorado Rockies are making moves this offseason to bolster their bullpen, and Farmington native Mike Dunn is intended to be an integral piece in the team's push for its first postseason berth since 2009.
The Rockies have made two significant moves to improve the bullpen after posting an MLB-worst 5.13 bullpen ERA last season.
First, they signed Dunn — who was born in Farmington and played high school baseball at Piedra Vista before moving to Las Vegas, Nev., before his senior season — in free agency last month. And today, Colorado finalized a deal with Greg Holland, a two-time All-Star with the Kansas City Royals in 2013 and 2014.
"I'm very excited. The team is looking great, definitely, on paper. Ultimately, it doesn't matter what team you're on, health is No. 1," Dunn said. "It's tough to overcome injuries, but it's going to take more than 25 guys to win at the big-league level. There's going to be some turnover. There always is. So you want to have depth not only one through 25, but through the 40 (players) that you have the access and ability to call up at any time. I'm extremely happy to see the talent that's around this club from top to bottom."
During the Rockies' winter caravan event Friday here, manager Bud Black, who is in his first year with the organization, said adding depth to the pitching staff is the key to improvement after the club finished last season 75-87.
But the the bullpen may not be at full strength until the season is well underway. Holland is coming off of Tommy John surgery that kept him out of the entire 2016 season. Also returning from injuries are Adam Ottavino, who made it back from Tommy John surgery last season, and Jake McGee, who dealt with a nagging knee injury during 2016.
While both Ottavino and McGee are healthy heading into spring training next month, Black — whose specialty is pitching after pitching 15 seasons in the big leagues, winning the World Series as a player with Royals in 1985 and as the pitching coach for the then Anaheim Angels in 2002 — said he and the coaching staff will keep close tabs on everyone's health.
"I think even with Holland's situation, coming back from surgery and pitching, we're going to have to really monitor him and assess where he is every day. And even the same with Adam a little bit. He only pitched about a month last year," Black said. "In Colorado, on a seven- to 10-game homestand, there is more attention to rest and how guys are feeling. If you're not pitching on a given night, we need other guys to step up and fulfill meaningful roles."
With the health of key relievers still a concern, Black said he could see the club looking to Dunn to fill any voids while the bullpen works toward full health early in the season and beyond.
"As we go through this process of bringing guys back, you never know how they are going to react during spring training. We might be a little protective of those guys, and Mike may take on a role of greater importance because we know he's healthy," Black said. "He may have to take the ball and pitch at the end of the game. He could be invaluable for us, not only at the beginning of the year if we do have to go that route, but well into the year, during the dog days in August and into the pennant race in September."
But pitching at Coors Field is no easy task. It's a hitter-friendly park with the largest outfield in the majors, and the thin air in the Mile High City affects the movement pitchers can put on the ball.
However, Dunn believes he can make the adjustments needed to find success at a mile high. He spent the past seven seasons playing for the Atlanta Braves and Miami Marlins, pitching at Coors Field during the regular season.
He also spends a lot of the offseason in Colorado, and he remembers what it was like growing up and playing in Farmington, which sits at 5,300 feet above sea level and is nearly identical to Denver in elevation.
"Yeah, I've been playing on the East Coast for a while, but in the offseason I come back, and I'm in Colorado a lot and Farmington a lot, so I'm kind of use to it," Dunn said of the elevation. "I kind of have an idea of how my body is going to react to it. There are always adjustments day in and day out of every game, no matter where you're at. It's part of playing at that level and being a professional. You have to make adjustments on the fly."
With the new additions to the bullpen and the return of players from injury, the Rockies pitching staff could be the franchise's best in years — if the staff can stay healthy.
"A healthy Ottavino and McGee, and adding Dunn and Holland, combined with the guys who were on last year's staff, the depth is improving and so is the talent," Black said. "I think we're in good shape in the bullpen."
Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.