Going into the 2019 season, it was widely believed that pitching would be a strength for the Colorado Rockies. That hasn’t been the case...except for German Marquez. The 24-year-old pitcher from Venezuela has earned his spot as ace of the Rockies, plain and simple. Fans, coaches and players have been thinking it for some time. His stats have been head and shoulders above the rest of the Rockies starting rotation. Still, with the presence of Kyle Freeland, the team's opening day starter, the title of Rockies ace was somewhat in doubt.
There is no doubt anymore. On Friday, Rockies Manager Bud Black sent Freeland down to Triple-A in hopes that he can regain his 2018 form and confidence. The Denver-born pitcher went 17-7 with 2.85 ERA and finished 4th in NL Cy Young voting in 2018. Unfortunately for Freeland and the Rockies, 2019 has been a drastically different story.
Friday, also coincided with a Marquez start against the Toronto Blue Jays. He left little doubt that he is the club’s true ace in a 13-7 Rockies victory.
Marquez pitched seven innings, allowing two runs on six hits with three walks and seven strikeouts. His ERA for the game was 2.57 while his seasonal ERA dropped to 3.48. Marquez’s record improved to 6-2 on the year and 3-0 in May.
Marquez grew stronger as the game progressed, after walking the first two batters that he faced. He credited a mid-game adjustment in his mechanics with allowing him to have a better command of the ball.
“I was a little quick with my mechanics,” Marquez said. “(I) slowed it down.”
His teammates took notice and were grateful that they didn’t need to generate a comeback on Friday like they've had to do so often as of late.
“(It was a) great job by Marquez,” said Rockies shortstop Trevor Story. “He's done that for us all year. He's been really solid, really consistent. We lean on him and we have a lot of confidence in him, and he showed why tonight. “
Another facet of Marquez’s game, that was on full display on Friday, was his hitting prowess. He went 2-for-3 and scored a run. Performances like that are a rarity amongst pitchers, but in the case of Marquez, it was no surprise.
“I’m always doing my best to get the team win, whether it be pitching or hitting,” Marquez said.
In 2018 Marquez was awarded the Silver Slugger award for pitchers, for being considered the best offensive player at the pitching position as voted on by the NL managers and coaches. Statistical categories like batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage are all factored in, along with “overall offensive value.”
Friday's game also extended Marquez’s hitting streak to five games, which is the longest streak by a Rockies pitcher since Mike Hampton in 2002. Marquez didn’t come up with an RBI against the Blue Jays, but his nine RBI in May are the most by a pitcher since Rick Wise in 1973.
On the season, he is batting .280.
Marquez credit much of his hitting success to his childhood playing baseball.
“When I was a little kid, I was pretty good (at hitting), Marquez said. “I had to hit in AA and AAA too.”
Marquez and the Rockies are lucky that his hitting talents can be utilized in the NL, where there is no designated hitter. This may not be the case for long, as the DH coming to the NL seems imminent. Only two leagues in the world (NL and Japanese Central League) don’t utilize the DH. For now, Marquez is just happy that he can still do one of his favorite parts of baseball.
His hitting prowess aside, his true value for the Rockies comes with his pitching consistency. He has been reliable all-season for a Rockies team that has struggled with starting pitching.
One of the biggest problems with the Rockies starting rotation recently has been their inability to get past more than five innings, sometimes less. This has forced the bullpen to be utilized earlier and earlier. An overpowering Rockies offense has made this weakness less glaring, but in the long run, is unsustainable.
In Thursday’s 10th inning walk-off victory against the Arizona Diamondbacks for the Rockies, the team used seven relievers after Freeland lasted only three innings. Fast forward to Friday and Marquez pitched a very solid game ,and more importantly, lasted seven innings. This level of consistently producing quality starts brought a sense of normalcy to a starting rotation that had just lost their former ace (Freeland) to Triple-A, and to a depleted and tired bullpen. In 2019, Marquez’s shortest appearance has been five innings.
Marquez has done that all season long. Friday’s win was the sixth time that he pitched at least seven innings, and his 10th time eclipsing six innings in a start. In 13 total starts, that level of endurance has been crucial in maximizing bullpen potential.
“It was critical,” Black said. “If he had a tough one, it would have been a tough night. It would have been tough again tomorrow, but that alleviated a little bit of stress for us. We should be getting closer to feeling good about the overall strength of our bullpen and how their arms are, but that was really really big.”
The Rockies sit two games above .500 and are playing their best baseball of the season. They owe this in large part to their high powered offense, but also because of consistent play from Marquez. He credited the team's offense with giving him confidence. He said that it is nice to know that he can give up a few runs, and the team will be okay.
As the team’s unequivocal ace, he will be pivotal in the Rockies success moving forward.
He is a leader in the rotation, and it’s likely that his play will set the standard for the rest of the starters. There will be added pressure. He will be in high stakes games and go head-to-head against the best pitchers.
When asked if he felt pressure being the go-to guy, he was confident.
“I don’t think so,” Marquez said. “I’m just doing my thing.”
With the talent level on this Rockies team, combined with two consecutive playoff appearances anything but a postseason bid will be disappointing. Much of that falls on the shoulders of Marquez, but if Friday’s game and the last two months are any indication, he is ready for the job.