<
>

Real or not? Jeff Hoffman is real deal for Rockies, Brett Gardner an All-Star

Jeff Hoffman, who came to the Rockies from Toronto in the Troy Tulowitzki trade, has 15 strikeouts over 12 1/3 innings in two spot starts. AP Photo/Matt Slocum

When the Colorado Rockies traded franchise icon Troy Tulowitzki back in July 2015, the prospect they got in return from the Toronto Blue Jays was Jeff Hoffman. While the impetus for the trade included dumping $98 million in future salary owed to Tulowitzki, the Rockies took a risk in acquiring Hoffman.

He had been in line as a potential first overall pick in the 2014 draft out of East Carolina before blowing out his elbow and undergoing Tommy John surgery. The Blue Jays took him with the ninth pick, and at the time of the trade, Hoffman had returned to make 13 starts in the minors. While he had shown that mid-90s fastball again, he had struck out just 46 batters in 67 2/3 innings and allowed more hits than innings, hardly desirable numbers for an elite prospect.

What were the Rockies getting? Maybe the pitcher everyone saw before the injury. Hoffman had a solid season at Triple-A Albuquerque in 2016, striking out more than a batter per inning, although he struggled in 31 innings with the Rockies. He returned to Triple-A to start 2017 but has now made a couple of spot starts in the majors, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 11 and the Philadelphia Phillies on Monday after allowing one run and three hits over seven innings in an 8-1 victory. The stat to note: He has fanned 15 batters in 12 1/3 innings in those two starts. Strikeouts are good.

Against the Phillies, Hoffman consistently hit 97 mph in the early innings. He lost a little juice in his last couple of frames, then adjusted by throwing more breaking balls. In his final inning, he struck out Tommy Joseph on a curveball, then toyed with Maikel Franco, throwing him three curveballs and then a slider off the plate that Franco helplessly waved at. Fifty-nine of Hoffman's 99 pitches were fastballs, and he mixed in 17 curves, 16 sliders and seven changeups. He changes eye level by throwing the fastball up in the zone, then dropping in the curveball. That four-pitch mix and growing confidence to use any of them in any count has him looking like a pitcher the Rockies can count on.

This Rockies team might have more rotation depth than any in franchise history. Keeping pitchers healthy always has been an issue for them. Check out the total starts over the past decade by the five pitchers with the most starts (along with the total WAR for the entire rotation):

2016: 131 (12.1 WAR)

2015: 111 (4.7 WAR)

2014: 109 (5.8 WAR)

2013: 124 (10.9 WAR)

2012: 97 (2.6 WAR)

2011: 109 (8.4 WAR)

2010: 127 (16.3 WAR)

2009: 155 (16.8 WAR)

2008: 126 (12.0 WAR)

2007: 122 (11.8 WAR)

The Rockies can't rely on five starters. Getting through a season at Coors Field with five or six starters isn't realistic. A lack of depth in the rotation has always burned the Rockies, and they've cycled through some bad pitching. Last year's rotation actually was pretty healthy. This year, however, already has seen the loss of Chad Bettis, who is battling testicular cancer, and Opening Day starter Jon Gray with a broken foot in his third start.

The Rockies have thrived even with three rookies in the rotation in Antonio Senzatela, Kyle Freeland and German Marquez, and now Hoffman as a fourth rookie. Gray will come back at some point, giving manager Bud Black seven viable options for the rotation. The thing Hoffman brings is the potential for strikeout stuff. Gray fanned 185 in 168 innings last year. Marquez also comes with a big fastball. The Rockies might still look for a veteran starter in July, but the kiddie corps is looking solid.

Instant replay helps Yankees The Yankees beat the Royals 4-2 behind three home runs, but the key play came with two outs in the top of the seventh with the Yankees up 3-2. Alcides Escobar grounded up the middle, Starlin Castro making a nice play way to his right, but Escobar initially was ruled safe as Jorge Soler hustled all the way from second base and beat Chris Carter's throw home to tie the game. Upon further review, Escobar was called out, the run nullified. Carter's home run in the bottom of the inning provided an insurance run.

By the way, Brett Gardner had one of the Yankees' three home runs, his ninth. He's hitting .346/.429/.726 in May with seven home runs and 20 runs in 19 games. Gardner was an All-Star back in 2015, when he had big first half before fading to a .206 average in the second half. His power numbers certainly are Yankee Stadium-inflated, as he's hit six of his nine home runs at home, but the American League outfield candidates are a pretty slim group. In fact, entering Monday, three of the top seven outfielders in WAR were on the Yankees -- Aaron Judge second, Aaron Hicks sixth and Gardner seventh. Corey Dickerson is third, and he's mostly been a DH. Mitch Haniger is still eighth in WAR among AL outfielders, and he hasn't played since April 25. If All-Star selections were today, Gardner probably would be there.

Lady and the Gramp The Cubs lost, but David Ross looked like a winner in the "Dancing with the Stars" finale. He and partner Lindsay Arnold received a perfect score from the judges. (Anthony Rizzo had said before the Cubs game he'd be asking for an in-game update.) The winner will be announced on Tuesday's show on ABC.

Play of the day Albert Almora in a losing effort for the Cubs:

The Giants won the game 6-4 as Ty Blach took a shutout into the eighth, a remarkable effort given the 15 mph wind blowing out at Wrigley. The Giants hit three home runs, all solo shots -- which is par for the course. Grant Bisbee points out that the Giants have just 46 RBIs on their 38 home runs this year, while ESPN Stats & Information reports that the Giants' past 18 home runs have all been solo shots. The most consecutive solo home runs since 1969 belongs to ... the 2011 Giants, with 21.

Quick thoughts ... Two more Rockies notes: They're now 16-7 on the road, which always has been their bugaboo. Yes, I just wrote "bugaboo." They were 33-48 on the road last year. Friend of the blog Richard Bergstrom also reports that the Rockies historically play better at home as the weather heats up. From 2007 to 2016, the Rockies were .526 at home in April and .467 in May. But in June, July, August and September, the winning percentages jumped to .532, .585, .558 and .571. ... Scott Schebler has 13 home runs for the Reds. He was part of the three-team trade with the White Sox and Dodgers back in December 2015. ... Congrats to Brandon Phillips for his 200th career home run. He's one of just six players who primarily played second base with 200 homers and 200 steals -- joining Roberto Alomar, Craig Biggio, Ian Kinsler, Joe Morgan and Ryne Sandberg. ... Ender Inciarte, one of my favorite underrated players, had a 5-for-5 day for the Braves. ... Chris Devenski had one of those relief gems for the Astros: He tossed 2 2/3 hitless innings as Brad Peacock and three relievers combined to one-hit the Tigers. That's seven outings of at least two innings for him. Managers: Find your Chris Devenski!