The Rockies, already hobbled by a thin starting rotation, were bracing for bad news about starting pitcher Antonio Senzatela. They got it on Friday.
The right-hander has a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his left knee and will be out for the rest of the season. Manager Bud Black said Senzatela will undergo surgery at some point in the next two weeks.
Black said the hope is that Senzatela will be able to begin pitching again in six to eight months.
It’s a devastating blow for a team that touted its starting pitching as a strength before the season only to see it underperform as the Rockies slid into the National League West basement with a 51-69 record. Entering Friday night’s game against San Francisco, Colorado starters had a combined 5.26 ERA, the second-highest in the majors. Only Washington’s 6.01 ERA was worse.
“It’s unfortunate, especially to happen to a guy like ‘Senza’,” left-hander Kyle Freeland said. “I mean, for it to happen to anybody, it sucks. But, you know, an injury like that, it really stinks. We’re losing a core member of our starting staff and he’s got a long road ahead of him.”
Senzatela was injured Thursday during the second inning of the Rockies’ 13-0 loss at St. Louis when he tried to cover first base on Brendan Donovan’s infield single to Elehuris Montero. Senzatela pulled up lame and crumpled to the ground in obvious pain, clutching his knee.
Senzatela, 27, is in the first season of a five-year, $50.5 million contract. He’s had an up-and-down season but entered Thursday’s game on a good run, having pitched four quality starts and reducing his ERA from 4.98 to 4.67.
“I think he’s a very solid major league starting pitcher,” manager Bud Black said when asked to evaluate Senzatela at this point in his career. “He has the ability to keep his team in games, every fifth day. He’s working on a few things. We’ve talked about the curveball and changeup coming into play more. I think that’s going to be a focus for him, on his return.”
Losing Senzatela, Colorado’s No. 3 starter, puts the club in a bind, now and going forward.
For now, right-handers German Marquez, Jose Urena, Ryan Feltner, and Freeland, a lefty, will make up the rotation. Lefty Austin Gomber and right-hander Chad Kuhl will compete for the fifth spot.
Kuhl, who’s been on the 15-day injured list with a right hip flexor, is scheduled to pitch a rehab game with Triple-A Albuquerque on Saturday and then might rejoin the Rockies’ rotation. Gomber, who was demoted to the bullpen and has been used as a long reliever, is still a work in progress as he looks to get right.
Looking forward to 2023, Black said the Rockies hope that injured left-hander Ryan Rolison (shoulder surgery) and right-hander Peter Lambert (lingering elbow issues) will be healthy for spring training. But that doesn’t mean they’re ready to be big-league starters and they both face an uphill climb.
“I’m hoping that both of them are healthy enough to show us what they can do,” Black said. “Once they are healthy, they still have to prove that they are major league pitchers. Peter’s had some flashes, but not consistently.
“Rolison has never pitched in the big leagues. He’s barely pitched in Triple-A, and not even a lot at Double-A. He’s got to pitch and perform.”
After debuting in 2019 and making 19 starts with a 7.25 ERA, Lambert underwent Tommy John surgery in July 2020. The 25-year-old started two games last September (11.12 ERA) but he’s still plagued by elbow problems.
Rolison, 25, Colorado’s first-round pick in 2018 out of Ole Miss, went 2-1 with a 3.07 ERA in three starts with Double-A Hartford last season and 2-2 with a 5.91 ERA in 10 starts at Triple-A.
“We were hoping that both of those guys, this year, would be guys, who at the very least, would be in Triple-A, competing and trying to get here,” Black said.
As for the current crop of young pitchers, no one appears ready to compete for a starting job at the big-league level next season. Right-hander Karl Kauffman, a second-round pick out of Michigan in 2019, now pitching at Triple-A, is probably the closest, but he’s walking too many batters for the Isotopes. In six starts since getting promoted from Double-A, he has a 5.60 ERA with a 1.939 WHIP and is averaging 7.2 walks per nine innings.
Black said that there are “probably not” any minor-leaguers ready to make the jump to the majors next season, adding, “Things could change. Somebody could come out of nowhere.”
For now, the Rockies are throwing their support behind Senzatela’s recovery.
“The knee is always a bad injury but he will come back,” said Marquez, who’s Senzatela’s close friend. “I will pray for him and his family. I think he’s going to be ready for next season.”
Freeland has no doubts that Senzatela will work hard to return but knows it will be a battle.
“Whenever you tear something or severely strain something, as an athlete, there’s that doubt in your mind,” Freeland said. “It’s like, ‘How is this gonna affect me for the rest of my career and getting back and trying to get back?’ It’s not a comfortable feeling to have, not a comfortable thought to have.
“And I’m sure what’s going through his head right now is as it was going through my head when I hurt my shoulder last year. You don’t know how you’re going to bounce back. The older you get, the harder it is for you to recover.”
Blackmon update. In other injury news, right fielder Charlie Blackmon was out of the lineup for Friday night’s game against the Giants at Coors Field as he nurses a sore hamstring. Black said that Blackmon just needs a game or two off and most likely won’t need to go on the injured list.
Blackmon aggravated his sore hamstring running out an infield hit during the first inning of Thursday’s game at St. Louis.
Footnotes. Right-handed reliever Jhoulys Chacin came off the IL to take Senzatela’s place on the 26-man roster. He’s been dealing with a toe injury. … Catcher Elias Diaz, on the IL with a left wrist sprain, was scheduled to hit on Friday.