LOS ANGELES — The Fourth of July. Postgame fireworks at Dodger Stadium. Pitching for his hometown team.
Check that. Pitching very well for his hometown team.
Forgive Rockies left-hander Lucas Gilbreath for pinching himself.
“Sometimes I have to take a step and think about where I am and I say, ‘Wow!’ ” Gilbreath said prior to Monday night’s game. “I stand out here and look around this ballpark and think, ‘Wow.’ ”
Gilbreath, 26, is a Colorado native who graduated from Legacy High School in Broomfield. His parents, Chris and Theresa, were in attendance at Monday night’s game.
“They came out to see me play, plus my dad has never been to Dodger Stadium,” Gilbreath said.
The lefty grew up as a die-hard Rockies fan, playing youth baseball at Larry Walker Field in Thornton. He became a hot prospect playing in the non-profit Broomfield Baseball League, at Legacy High, and in the Rockies’ Scout Team Program. He moved on to the University of Minnesota, where he was a first-team all-Big Ten honoree in 2017.
Selected in the seventh round of the ’17 draft, he’s now evolving into a solid piece of Colorado’s bullpen. Gilbreath (0-0, 4.03 ERA) entered Monday’s game against the Dodgers with a 0.49 ERA in his last 19 outings since May 10, the fourth-lowest ERA in the majors across that span, while holding batters to a .197 average.
“More than anything, he’s been more consistent in the strike zone,” manager Bud Black said. “His fastball has played and his velocity has ticked up over a period of time. And he has the ability to throw the fastball at the top of the zone, where hitters take a rip at it, but also it’s a borderline strike if the hitter takes it.”
Black added that Gilbreath is flashing a more consistent slider, with a harder break.
“He’s just been pitching,” Black said.
Gilbreath’s fastball averages just a tick under 94 mph and he throws his slider at 82 mph, according to FanGraphs. But Black has seen an increase in velocity lately, something he traces to Gilbreath’s increased strength. The lefty began this season on the COVID-19 injured list and needed a five-game Triple-A rehab stint before he was called up to the big-league team in early May.
But if Gilbreath can pin his recent success on any one thing, it’s this: He’s stopped nibbling at the edges of the plate.
“It’s getting my fastball command back and being more aggressive in the zone,” he said. “When I start to struggle it’s when I start to nibble a little bit. That’s when the walks start to go up and that gets you into trouble.
“There were times last year, and even this year, when I would get a little too fine with my pitches. So, sometimes, I have to tell myself to just be aggressive with my stuff, and if I get beat, I get beat.”
“What happens with a lot of relief pitchers with good stuff, is that if they do get hit, they think they have to be a pitcher that hits the corners,” Black said. “There’s a fine line there. Because if you try to pitch too fine, you are going to end up being behind in counts.
“For guys who don’t have the ability to pitch the corners and hit the glove, it hurts them. But (Gilbreath) doesn’t have to because he’s got such good stuff.”
Rotation news. Right-hander Antonio Senzatela, on the 15-day injured list with shoulder inflammation, threw from 110 feet Monday and said his shoulder “felt really good.”
Black is encouraged by Senzatela’s progress, noting that the training staff never believed the injury was serious, even though Senzatela was worried when he departed Friday’s game after pitching just two innings against Arizona.
Senzatela’s eligible to return from the IL on July 16, just before the All-Star break. He doesn’t know if he’ll be ready to make a big-league start by then. Senzatela most definitely won’t be able to make his scheduled start on Wednesday against the Dodgers.
The likely fill-in will be right-hander José Ureña, who is with the Rockies in Los Angeles as a member of the taxi squad. He elected free agency in May after being outrighted by the Brewers. The 30-year-old broke camp with Milwaukee and spent a month on the active roster, appearing in four games out of the bullpen and posting a 3.52 ERA.
Ureña has appeared in five games for Triple-A Albuquerque, going 0-1 with a 7.29 ERA over 21 innings.
“He’s a veteran pitcher and has pitched in the big league with many starts,” Black said. “He’s got a good, live fastball with velocity and movement. Good sync. He has a slider and a changeup. He mixes in a curveball. He’s got a really good arm.”
In 172 career games (116 starts) in the majors, most of them with the Marlins, Ureña is 36-54 with a 4.76 ERA.
Footnotes. Right-hander Ryan Feltner was a possibility to start Wednesday’s game but now he’s dealing with a back injury and might be facing a stint on the IL. … Colorado recalled right-hander Justin Lawrence from Triple-A to shore up the bullpen and optioned right-hander Ashton Goudeau to Triple-A.