Rockies’ Antonio Senzatela made big changes, and it paid off

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Antonio Senzatela had the right stuff, that was plain to see.

The Rockies’ right-hander consistently threw a 94 mph fastball with groundball-inducing action. He could spin the ball, too, with a curve and a slider in his repertoire, even if he’s yet to master the breaking pitches on a big-league level.

But something big was missing.

“Antonio, like a lot of young pitchers, needed to make some changes,” Rockies left-hander Kyle Freeland said. “To his credit, he did. I think it goes back to the 2020 season. He truly changed his work ethic — how he does his workouts, how he thinks about baseball and how he approaches pitching overall.”

Senzatela’s commitment paid off, especially toward the end of last season. In eight of his final 10 outings, he posted a quality start, going 2-2 with a 3.90 ERA. That number was skewed by an ugly final start at Arizona when the Diamondbacks rocked the right-hander for six runs on six hits in just two-thirds of an inning.

Nonetheless, the Rockies saw enough promise in Senzatela that a few days after the season ended they locked him up with a five-year, $50.5 million contract extension.

“What’s next for me is to keep grinding, and pitch better all year, be more consistent,” said Senzatela, 27, who trained with Rockies reliever Carlos Estevéz and a host of other major leaguers in Orlando during the lockout.

“More than anything, last year gave me a lot of confidence,” Senzatela said.

On the surface, the right-hander’s 2021 season was ho-hum: 4-10, 4.42 ERA, and a 6.0 strikeout rate per nine innings that ranked near the bottom of the majors. But dig a little deeper and there are reasons why the Rockies gave him a life-changing contract.

Senzatela ranked second in the National League with 19 groundball double plays, fifth with a 51.8 groundball percentage and issued just 1.84 walks per nine innings (third-best).

“There are multiple things that I see from ‘Senza,’ ” manager Bud Black said. “His ability to make adjustments over the last couple of years; to make some adjustments on the mechanics side, was big. There were things we thought he needed to do, and he did them.

“And his pitch mix is to the point now that’s it’s solidified, and now it’s to the point of polishing. He’ll continue to work on things.”

Senzatela, signed out of Venezuela by the Rockies at age 16, said that mastering his curveball will be a key to his success going forward.

“If I can place the curveball really well, that’s going to be important for me,” he said. “I want to throw that more to keep guys off-balance.”

The right-hander threw a slider 24.5% and a curveball 9.2% of the time during the truncated 2020 season, according to FanGraphs.  Last season, Senzatela threw 31.7% sliders and 5.8% curveballs.

Freeland has known Senzatela since their days together at low-A Asheville in 2014. He sees similarities between his own struggles and Senzatela’s struggles.

“He had a regress in 2019, just like I did,” said Freeland, who was 3-11 with a 6.73 ERA that season, while Senzatela went 11-11 with a 6.71 ERA. “Senza started to realize that he had to learn more about pitching. He’s really started doing that, taking care of his body, taking care of his mind, and working on his pitch arsenal.”

Black concurs.

“Fitness, that’s a good word,” Black said. “His work ethic got better. Not that it was bad before, but he turned it up a notch. It’s about his pride of wanting to be a true professional.”

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