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Rockies ready to sort out starting pitching depth

Manager Black looking to settle on top eight options coming out of spring

By Thomas Harding / MLB.com

Monday, February 19, 2018 6:30 PM MT

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies manager Bud Black believes a Major League team needs to go into a season knowing it can depend on at least eight pitchers capable of starting. His Spring Training squad has seven who have actually done so.

That means opportunity is there for pitchers to prove they are ready if needed.

Left-handers Harrison Musgrave, who made a bid for last year's rotation until late in the spring, and Sam Howard, along with righties Yency Almonte and Zach Jemiola, all saw time at Triple-A Albuquerque last year. Righty Ryan Castellani pitched last year at Double-A, so the Majors would be a quick rise for someone who won't turn 21 until April 1.

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None of them were ready last season. Musgrave suffered a broken left ring finger last June 30 when he collided with catcher Anthony Benboom while chasing a popup, and Jemiola missed 2 ½ months due to an oblique injury. Howard and Almonte began the year at Double-A Hartford and had Triple-A growing pains, which can be expected.

"They're getting closer," Black said. "I don't know if 'real close' is what we want to say, but they're getting closer. Anytime a guy is in big league camp and projected to go to Triple-A, they're close. Then it's up to them, how they pitch. You can see great strides made in one player from one offseason to the next year."

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Musgrave, 25, was not added to the 40-man Major League roster after his abbreviated 2017 season, but last year he pushed for a spot by striking out 14 batters versus two walks in Cactus League play. He struggled early for Albuquerque (6.79 ERA) but felt he was finding his stride when he was injured. The surgically repaired ring finger is healed, but considering it's on the ball only on his changeup, it's not much a factor anyhow.

"I learned to compete and not try to do too much; that's what really helped my spring last year," said Musgrave, an eighth-round Draft pick out of West Virginia in 2014. "I didn't nibble. I threw strikes, tried to keep it low and let the defense work behind me. That's the goal in Spring Training, during the season and any other time."

Video: COL@SF: Musgrave records his first Spring Training K

Jemiola, 23, a 2012 ninth-rounder out of Temecula (Calif.) Great Oak High School, had a disjointed Albuquerque season (5-5, 6.83 ERA) because of the injury. But he rebounded and gained confidence with a Arizona Fall League performance that included a 2-1 record and 2.74 ERA in six starts.

"I'm definitely more confident and more comfortable being in the clubhouse with these guys," said Jemiola, who posted a 1.00 ERA in five Cactus League games last year, including outings against "A" lineups of the D-backs and the Giants. "Last year was a 'what if?' This year I'm looking at it as 'when' I get my opportunity. I feel ready."

Almonte, 23, a 17th-round pick by the Angels in 2012, moved in trades to the White Sox and then the Rockies (for reliever Tommy Kahnle). He went 5-3 with a 2.00 ERA in 14 starts at Hartford, and 3-1 with a 4.89 ERA with Albuquerque. Now he's in an organization that rarely trades its starting prospects.

"I've been through two trades but feel like I found a home here with the Rockies," said Almonte, who posted a 6.97 ERA in nine Arizona Fall League relief appearances and said that the bullpen mentality has helped his thought process. "They've shown me a lot on the pitching side, [minor league pitching coordinators] Darryl Scott and Doug Linton and now [Rockies bullpen coach] Darren Holmes working with me on mechanics. I hope to help them out this year."

Video: Rockies prospect Yency Almonte on pitching in bullpen

Like Almonte, Howard saw his ERA spike after going from Hartford (2.33) to Albuquerque (3.89), but he found value in learning to attack more advanced hitters.

"When I got to Triple-A, I went through a phase the first month where I got hit around and had to learn how hitters got better with their approaches and the strike zone got tighter," said Howard, a third-round pick out of Georgia Southern in 2014. "It led to success, and the last two months were pretty strong."

Castellani, a second-round pick in 2014 who is in his second big league camp, said general manager Jeff Bridich told him to aim high.

"I was telling him I don't have control of it, but he said, 'You indirectly do,'" said Castellani, who went 9-12 with a 4.81 ERA for Hartford as the youngest pitcher to spend the full year in the Eastern League. "The decisions are out of my mind, but if I work on what they tell me to work on and show the consistency, I can make it hard on them."

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, listen to podcasts and like his Facebook page. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.