Hoffman's New Look Has Rockies Looking Forward to His Game Time Execution
SCOTTSDALE -- It's not merely the start of spring training when the Rockies host the Diamondbacks at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick -- weather permitting -- on Saturday afternoon.
It's the start of a new-look Jeff Hoffman, the right-hander the Rockies acquired from Toronto as part of the Troy Tulowitzki package.
Now, Hoffman came with an impressive resume, Toronto selecting him with the ninth selection in the first round in the 2014 first-year player draft -- immediately after the Rockies used the eighth selection for Kyle Freeland.
The Big Leagues, however, became a big hurdle for Hoffman. He had the breaking ball. He had the velocity on the fastball. But something was missing -- success. In assorted big-league opportunities with the Rockies the last four seasons, Hoffman was 8-15 with a 6.11 ERA, appearing in 52 games, 38 as a starter.
Then, at the end of August last season, Hoffman had a day of reckoning with himself. What had been good enough to spark the attention of scouts had not been good enough to have big-league success.
And now he gets a chance to put what he has worked on refining into results.
Jon Gray and German Marquez are the top two in the Rockies five-man rotation, and there is every expectation that Freeland will regroup from his struggles a year ago. That leaves four candidates for the final two spots -- Hoffman, Antonio Senzatela, Chi Chi Gonzalez, and Peter Lambert.
"There is more a sense of urgency, for sure," Hoffman said when asked about the importance of the next five weeks. "I have put in a lot of work for this year. I have been very focused. I had a clear goal in mind."
The goal is to be wearing a Rockies uniform on March 26, the day the team opens the regular season in San Diego. Now, he won't be the Opening Day starter, but he'd like to show enough this spring that he could slip into one of the slots in the five-man rotation.
And the first step in that direction was honest self-evaluation.
"For me, it was a matter of being sick and tired of being mediocre," he said. "I looked myself in the mirror. I looked at where I was, and made the commitment to myself to do what I needed to do to get back on track."
It's not like Hoffman needed a complete change in his approach. He had the "stuff" as scouts will say of velocity on the fastball, break on the breaking ball, and velocity differential from the fastball to the change-up. Big-league hitters, however, had not been impressed.
But of the 11 pitchers who made 10 or more starts for the Rockies in the last four seasons, Hoffman the ninth highest OPS (.889) and the 10th highest on-base percentage allowed (.363)
The end result?
Hoffman struggled. Even when he was 6-5 in 2017 (he was 2-10 combined the three other seasons he spent big-league time at Coors Field), his ERA was 5.89. He allowed 15 home runs in 99 1/3 innings. And his baserunners per nine innings.
Life was more challenging in the big leagues than it had been as a kid back in Latham, N.Y., or as a college talent at East Carolina University or even in the minor leagues.
"Basically (at those levels) you can get away with a lot of stuff," said Hoffman. "That's not the case (in the big leagues). You are facing the best hitters in the world every night. "
The important thing was Hoffman realized it.
"That is a tough reality," said first-year bullpen coach Darryl Scott, an organizational pitching coach the last three seasons who was the pitching coach at Triple-A Albuquerque four years ago where Hoffman pitched the bulk of the time in the four years since coming from Toronto. "He had success everywhere he had been since Little League, and all of a sudden the hitters speed things up and it is a challenge. ... And it is not easy to come to grips with, but he did.
"With Jeff the physical side has always been there. He has had the velocity and movement, but more so it was the quality. He reached the point where he wanted to take the next step. He made the commitment. Just like (Friday). He was heading out to the fields at 8:30. He said, `Let's do some dry work and get better.' That's the big step in getting things worked out."
The reconstruction of Hoffman began last September as the big-league season came to an end. It continued in the winter, Hoffman, who lives in Scottsdale in the off-season, showing up daily at Salt River Field where Scott oversees workouts of any Rockies pitcher who is in the area. And it has continued in the opening days of spring training.
"Obviously there is a lot of room to grow," said Hoffman. "I was only pitching into the fifth or six innings (on good days). I want to go deep into the game. We didn't skip a beat at all (in the workout program). There was total transparency. I was frustrated with myself more than anything. I knew changes had to come."
And they did.
"He shortened his arm slot," said Scott. "He used his legs a little more. He put in a ton of work. He focused on getting his delivery shortened. He put in a ton of work in the weight room, strengthening his lower body. Nobody forced anything on him. That's the exciting part. These are things he embraced because he wanted to be better."
Now, it is a matter of him putting what he has worked on to use in game situations. Yes, it is only spring, but he's going to be starting games, facing the primary hitters on opposing teams, seeing how they react to the new approach.
Hoffman's excited about what the spring will be, and so are members of the Rockies staff.
"It makes sense for him to get out there often," said manager Bud Black. "We need him to feel comfortable. That's the most important part, that he feels good with where he is. That he feels comfortable. It's time for him to get in a game. He looks good out there. I like him a lot."
The words are comforting for Hoffman.
Now it's up to him to take the mound and reaffirm the confidence he has created for himself, and the Rockies staff.