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Rockies Pitching with Steve Foster

If you listen to Colorado Rockies pitching coach Steve Foster you might assume his office is full of motivational posters. That’s just the way he is wired as a coach. The way he approaches conversations and development is about more than results. A phrase he uses is growth step. Simply put, dealing with a situation, learning from it and getting better.

“It’s a game of failure,” Foster said as a guest on The Opening Drive.

“There’s not many places in life where you can be successful when you fail more than you succeed.”

The Rockies went 6-4 on their most recent 10 game road trip. They have the ninth best ERA in baseball, 3.38, away from Coors Field. Plant them at home and their ERA sits dead last. Foster knows the numbers are not going to be steady across the board based on ballpark variations which is why he knows that Rockies staff just needs to give their offense a chance in games at home.

Chad Bettis and Tyler Chatwood have paced the Rockies rotation this season. However at home it has been a different story. Bettis holds a 4.05 ERA while Chatwood was rocking a 7.88 mark heading into his start on Sunday. Those numbers have to change for the Rockies if they want to keep pace with the top of the NL West. Chatwood had his best home start as he settled in for seven innings of work after giving up three early runs on Sunday. His effort gave the Rockies a chance and they finished off a comeback and series sweep.

Jon Gray picked up his first major league win Friday as the Rockies beat the New York Mets 5-2 at Coors Field. Gray gave the Rockies a chance only giving up two runs as the offense had time to chip away at Matt Harvey. Eddie Butler, Saturday’s Starter, was coming off what could have been the best start of his career; Six innings, no runs, six strikeouts and just two walks in a win at San Francisco. While he survived the outing, Foster knows the process is a long one for both of his young starters.

“It takes time to get comfortable with your environment. It takes time to experience the failure and still know that you belong,” he explained when asked about player progression.

Gray is starting to put together a consistent string of results this season. Through 28 2/3 innings of work he has 36 strikeouts to just seven walks. Don’t get caught up on that 4.71 ERA. Look at his FIP. What is FIP? Here’s a handy breakdown thanks to FanGraphs. FIP is an attempt to isolate the performance of the pitcher by using only those outcomes we know do not involve luck on balls in play or defense; strikeouts, walks, hit batters, and home runs allowed.

Gray’s FIP is 2.30. If he had enough innings to qualify for the MLB leader board he would be sixth. He would sit among starters such as Clayton Kershaw, Noah Syndergaard and Stephen Strasburgh.

Foster likes what he is seeing from this duo, “Both possess tremendous stuff. They possess great velocity with their fastballs. They both have great out pitch breaking balls and they both have great changeups.”

Foster than laid out what that could mean,”Those are indicators that in time they are going to be successful with proper growth emotionally, learning to control the running game and all the other secondary stuff that goes along with pitching.”

The Rockies are hoping they get a boost from statistically one of the best pitchers in franchise history, Jorge De La Rosa. DLR made five starts before landing on the disabled list with a groin injury and it wasn’t pretty; Thirty hits against in 20 1/3 innings of work with a 10.18 ERA.

Foster watched De La Rosa’s first rehab start with the Albuquerque Isotopes and saw the things that had been hurting him early in the season.

“I saw a guy that continues to struggle with fastball command…Historically he’s been a slow starter but this year his velocity was down and he wasn’t commanding his fastball with regularity.”

Commanding the fastball at the big league level, no matter the velocity, is important for every pitcher. Foster addressed what the goal is for a pitcher early against a batter.

“You’ve got to be able to throw two of those first three pitches for strikes. And when you don’t you end up in deeper counts, your pitch count goes up and you don’t end up deep in games.”

De La Rosa is expected to make another rehab start for the Isotopes. Jordan Lyles is also continuing as a member of the Topes rotation. Lyles has two decent starts sandwiched around a 10 hit, five run blowup in 2 2/3 innings. There is plenty for Isotopes pitching coach Darryl Scott to work on while Foster and company keep an eye on what’s ahead.

Colorado made three marquee additions to their bullpen in the off-season. While their bullpen ERA is 27th best in baseball, 4.73, Colorado is seeing a rebirth with Boone Logan and might have found a key piece in flame thrower Carlos Estevez.

Estevez is averaging 96-mph on his fastball. The 23 year-old is an exciting pitcher who keeps you on the edge of your seat. Through 10 innings he has walked seven to go along with nine strikeouts. Walt Weiss has called on the righty in the 8th inning of his last three outings. The first two appearances didn’t go his way as he walked two in San Francisco then faced just one batter, Paul Goldschmidt who doubled Wednesday. Weiss wasn’t hesitant to go right back to him Friday night with the lead.

Estevez struck out David Wright and after giving up a triple to Micheal Conforto it looked like his last two outings. He wasn’t going to finish the inning. All he did was get Yoenis Cespedes to foul out and struck-out Lucas Duda looking.

“Carlos has what we consider the most important part of the pitching delivery, that’s timing and separation,” Foster said. “If you get the ball out of your glove before you head towards the hitter, you give your arm a chance to work properly.”

“We think he is going to be a great dynamic pitcher up here in Colorado,” Foster said praising his tools and secondary pitches.

Jeff Hoffman continues to live up to the Rockies expectations. Over his first seven Triple-A starts Hoffman has a 2.16 ERA with 35 strikeouts and 14 walks through 41 2/3 innings of work.

Count Foster in as one that isn’t surprised at what he is seeing, “He’s been what we thought he would be…It’s strike throwing, his ability to put guys away with big stuff and control of his emotions. All the things you have to be able to do when you get here. Its been great watching him.”

Steve Foster has a job based on results. His approach is much more than that. From the mental aspects of the game to embracing failure Foster has it covered. And yes he is more than just a pitching coach.

“My days get busier when I don’t have baseball,” said Foster looking ahead to the rare day game into an off day at home the Rockies had last week.

“Got to cook on the grill, may want to enjoy an adult beverage and may want to spend a little time with your wife who you see rarely,” Foster joked as he was looking forward to some time at home with the wife and kids.

The Rockies are looking forward to their pitchers making a difference. Colorado has made an effort to stack their organization with prospects. When you look at the list there is no doubt they have potentially built the deepest list of arms with big-league upside they have ever had. Growing and winning, Foster is dealing with both as the Rockies roll forward.

Here is our full interview with Steve Foster.

About J.J. Buck

J.J. Buck – Sports radio host in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Also a student at the University of New Mexico. I grew up just outside of Denver in Arvada, Colorado. My parents took me to the first ever Rockies game at Mile High Stadium. While my memories are hazy, I was five years-old, it got me hooked on the game. My passion for sports runs deep. From the Rockies to the Avalanche, a Rocky Mountain sports fan to the bone.

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