Rockies’ Carlos Estevez eager to embrace late-game bullpen chance

A door of opportunity has opened for Carlos Estevez and he plans to step through it and take full advantage.

The Rockies’ 29-year-old reliever said he’s in a good place to do that.

“This is a game about consistency, but that wasn’t in there for me at the beginning of the year,” the right-hander said Saturday before the Rockies hosted Arizona at Coors Field. “But I’ve found my way back by just throwing strikes and getting ahead of hitters.

“I’m getting away from walks and giving up free bases. That makes everyone mad. It makes me mad, too. In this place, a walk is so dangerous because a bloop hit becomes a double and then you’re in trouble.”

On Saturday, the Rockies placed struggling set-up man Alex Colome on the 15-day injured list with lateral epicondylitis, commonly known as tennis elbow. Over his last nine appearances, the right-hander had given up 11 runs in 6 2/3 innings (14.85 ERA) with 10 hits, five walks and three strikeouts.

Colome’s trip to the IL gives Estevez to prove himself in high-leverage innings.

“I want that chance, absolutely,” Estevez said.

With Daniel Bard unavailable Friday night, Estevez stepped in and shut down the Diamondbacks for his second save of the season.

“The bigger sample size of his last 10 or 15 games, he’s been better,” manager Bud Black said. “For a lot of our guys, what’s come back to haunt them is the walk rate. We’ve walked too many guys as a bullpen, and Carlos is a part of that.

“But recently, the strikes are more frequent. The walks are down and the strikeouts are more frequent. I think overall, his stuff is better.”

Estevez entered Saturday’s game having held opponents scoreless in 14 of his last 16 games, with a 2.57 ERA, dating back to July 5. That’s a big improvement from early in the season when he posted a 6.46 ERA and served up four home runs in his first 18 outings. Still, Estevez’s overall walk rate is 10.5%, up from 7.8% last season and his highest since his rookie season in 2016 (11.4%).

Estevez still throws hard. His average fastball velocity is 97.6 mph according to FanGraphs, and he throws his slider at 87.5 mph and occasionally works in an 88.7 mph changeup.

He’s also scheduled to become a first-time free agent at the end of the season. He understands that pitching well, late in games, over the final nine weeks of the season is important to his future.

“Of course it is,” he said. “Heading into free agency, a lot of teams are going to look for guys who can pitch in high-leverage situations. Finishing in that role, and staying healthy, is big as I head toward free agency.”

Joe’s role. Outfielder/first baseman Connor Joe was not in the starting lineup again Saturday and had not played in a game since Aug. 7 at Arizona. He’s not injured, but he is in a slump.

Joe, who was a productive leadoff hitter earlier in the season, entered Saturday’s game having hit 3-for-33 (.091) in nine games since the All-Star break and was hitting .143 (13-for-91) over his last 26 games since June 28.

Black acknowledged that opposing pitchers have gathered “a book” on Joe and said Joe must now adjust. Black also said that the long season might be wearing Joe down a bit.

Black, however, was quick to praise what Joe brings to the club.

“He’ll play, he might be in there tomorrow,” Black said. “He’s part of the team, he’s doing fine. He’s hanging in there. He’s ready every night to play.

“And I expect him to be ready to play, which he will be because he’s got a good head on his shoulders. He’s a pro and he’s a good teammate. He’s unselfish. He’s awesome. I’m a Connor Joe fan, as you guys know.”

 

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