Dodgers @ Rockies June 6, 2014: Interview With Zach Marburger of Mile High Sports

Photo by Daniel Brim
Photo by Daniel Brim
5:40pm PT
Denver, CO
Ryu (L)
Butler (R)

In advance of the upcoming series with the Rockies, the following is an interview with Zach Marburger, who covers the team for Mile High Sports. Before we get there, though, there is some minor news to cover. Erisbel Arruebarrena was optioned to the Isotopes, which makes sense because he wasn’t getting any plate appearances in the majors. To take his place, Miguel Rojas was called up. Rojas and Arruebarrena have very similar profiles, but since Rojas has spent more time in the minors we already know that he won’t hit, while there’s still a sliver of hope for Arruebarrena.

Hanley Ramirez is hitting second, (no, he hasn’t been moved to second base) which is fine. Andre Ethier is still starting in center against the right-handed pitcher Eddie Butler (who is making his major league debut – more on that in the interview), but he has been shifted down to sixth in the order.

Now, on to the interview. Zach Marburger was gracious enough to answer a few questions about the state of the Rockies and what Dodgers can expect in the upcoming series. I did an interview on the state of the Dodgers for Mile High Sports here, as well. You can follow Zach on twitter @burchburger.

Brim: Whenever the Dodgers visit Coors Field, it always seems like an outfielder gets hurt. Yasiel Puig left Denver dinged up twice last year, and of course there was the injury which derailed Matt Kemp‘s career in 2012. Do other teams or players who get traded to the Rockies have this issue?

Marburger: I can’t recall noticing a trend happening to outfielders, minus the Rockies own problems keeping their own players healthy. There is a lot of ground to cover out there, and I know that after very publicly proclaiming that Carlos Gonzalez would play centerfield this season, the team backpedaled during spring training, citing the toll it would take on his body.

It just looks like one of those freak occurrences. Call it the Coors Field Curse?

Brim: When we last spoke, Charlie Blackmon was hitting .410/.463/.692. Since then, he’s hitting .242/.277/.391. Is he turning back to what he was before (a useful outfielder with unremarkable numbers), or is there any hope that he can settle between the two levels?

Marburger: There’s definitely a middle-ground to be found, and Blackmon’s shown signs that he’s breaking out of his funk, including a home-run the other night against Arizona.

Blackmon’s always been loaded with tools – it was his plate discipline that held him back at times. He can be vulnerable to breaking stuff down and out of the zone, and after walking seven times and striking out just eight times over the first month of the year, he’s walked seven times and struck out 17 times since then.

That’s not the end all be all, but pitchers are definitely being more cautious with him now, and he has to adjust. I’m confident he can still be a good player with his combination of speed and power in center field.

Brim: Speaking of Rockies outfielders and injuries, Carlos Gonzalez is back on the disabled list. How long will he be out, and is there any way for the Rockies to protect him from continuing to injure himself?

Marburger: He’s been placed on the 15-day disabled list with a lingering finger issue, and he’s also had problems with tendinitis in his knee this year. Gonzalez also had problems with a finger last season, but apparently this is a different digit.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much the team, or Gonzalez, can do when it comes to these hand issues. They’ve clearly bothered him this year, as his slash-line is an un-Cargo-like .255/.307.449. There isn’t much they can do but wait it out and hope he gets better.

Brim: Is Troy Tulowitzki human?

Marburger: Unfortunately, we’ve seen he’s all too human over the past few years as he’s dealt with all those injuries. That being said, he’s looking like a cyborg this season. He went through a rough road trip last week, as did the entire team, but coming back to Coors Field should get him back on track. He looks rejuvenated on defense, and his 4.9 WAR according to baseball-reference to this point in the season is insane.

There’s a long way to go in the season, and MVP voters might punish him for play half his games at Coors Field, but he should definitely take home some kind of hardware this year if he stays healthy. This is the season Rockies’ fans have been waiting to see.

Photo by Daniel Brim
Photo by Daniel Brim

Brim: As a fellow Northeastern University alumnus, I have a real soft spot for Adam Ottavino. It looks like he’s having something of a breakout season this year. What is he doing differently this season?

Marburger: Ottavino started his breakout last season, but since it was in middle relief, nobody really noticed. Now, he’s probably the only member of the bullpen the team can really rely on.

Pay close attention to his slider, which he throws over half the time, because it’s nasty. And don’t be shocked if you hear calls to install him as the team’s closer in the second half of the season.

Brim: Top prospect Eddie Butler is making his debut against the Dodgers tonight. What should Dodgers fans expect from the young right-hander?

Marburger: First professional start, at Coors Field and with the team trying to stop a losing streak? No pressure, kid.

In all seriousness, Butler looks like the real deal, a number two starter in the big leagues. The former first round pick has a mid-nineties fastball that generates plenty of movement and groundballs, and he can command it to both sides of the plate.

The breaking/off-speed stuff is less reliable, though both his slider and changeup flash plus at times. He posted a 2.49 earned run average in 11 starts with Double-A Tulsa, so despite skipping a level, he’s ready. Coors Field has sucked the life-force from many a Rockies pitching prospect, but I’m expecting Butler to be up for good. How he fares in his debut, well, we’ll just have to see.

Brim: So far this season, non-pitcher Rockies batters are hitting .351/.401/.581 at home and .244/.296/.403 on the road. This split seems crazy, even for Coors Field. Are there any theories as to why this is?

Marburger: There are tons of theories, but I’m not sure there’s anything the team can do about it. It’s been a problem for 20-plus years now. The common assumption is that since breaking balls are affected at Coors Field, it’s hard for their hitters to adjust once they go on the road.

This season, things have been even more pronounced than usual. The Rockies new hitting coach Blake Doyle, has talked about focusing on making contact more often and striking out less. That’s fine at Coors Field, where the ball travels further and there’s lots of outfield grass, but it might be a problem at sea-level.

The biggest problem, in my opinion, comes not from the play on the field but from player evaluation. The Rockies have been fooled before by players who kill it at home and struggle on the road. They have to be careful not to make those same mistakes again. It’s a big challenge when it comes to young players, and aside from just getting more talent, I’m not sure there is anything the team can do about it.

Brim: Even more strange are the splits of the pitching staff. Rockies pitching is doing better at home (4.08 ERA) than on the road (4.42 ERA) so far this season. What adjustments are the pitchers making to enable such success while pitching in Colorado, and do you see this split continuing as the season progresses?

Marburger: The biggest thing with the Rockies pitching staff is getting ground-balls. Jhoulys Chacin, Jordan Lyles (now on the disabled list with a broken hand), Jorge De La Rosa – all of them get an above-average amount of ground-balls, and the Rockies have an excellent infield defense, with Tulowitzki, DJ LeMahieu, and Nolan Arenado (also now on the disabled list) behind them.

Of course, that only works when the defense is solid behind them, and with Arenado out, things are a bit dicey over at third base. Still, the Rockies seem to have found a model for dealing with the problems of their home turf, and my guess is they’ll continue to target the sinker/slider pitchers in the future.

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About Daniel Brim

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Daniel Brim grew up in the Los Angeles area but doesn't live there anymore. He still watches the Dodgers and writes about them sometimes.