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Who Can Close for the Rockies

The closer in baseball is a vital talent and is often overshadowed by the focus on starters. Relief pitching in general can make or break a season regardless of how well the starters do. Having a bullpen plan saves games because many times the late innings will come down to the man on the mound, but the Colorado Rockies latest trade to the Tampa Bay Rays seems to show the club values stockpiling utility fielders over developing bullpen talent.

On Thursday Colorado traded lefthanded pitcher Joe Rock to the Rays for Greg Jones. Then on Friday, Jones was optioned to the Albuquerque Isotopes as a shortstop. It seems like heading into the 2024 season with Ezequiel Tovar and Alan Trejo already fully capable at shortstop, it would have been wiser to retain Rock so he could potentially increase the number of lefties in the bullpen beyond two at some point this season. Regardless, the bullpen still has plenty of remaining good middle relievers. The true question is who can close?

Justin Lawrence and Tyler Kinley are the two likely closers for the Rockies at the start of the 2024 season. However, these two have had radically different Spring Training experiences this year, which seems to point to this not being as settled a choice as many are assuming. With the end of Spring Training practically here, Lawrence has a 9.82 ERA after 7.1 innings pitched to Kinley’s 4.26 ERA after 6.1 innings pitched. It is more helpful to look specifically at the situation from which these numbers arose since this is such a small sample size.

Lawrence pitched in 8 games thus far in Spring Training and gave up runs in 4 of them. The worst showing came on March 16th against the Oakland A’s when Lawrence was brought in at the top of the 8th during an 11 to 3 lead. He strikes out Daniel Susac to begin and everything seems to be on par for a smooth finish from Lawrence. The A’s send Jack Winkler in to pinch-hit, and he gets on. Next Jonny Butler walks, and Darell Hernaiz fills the bases with a grounder to left. Lawrence, at this point, has worked himself into bases loaded with one out and the last three batters in the lineup on deck. This is when Lawrence starts to hemorrhage runs. Instead of bringing a smooth ending to the inning and taking a dispirited Oakland into the 9th, Lawrence allows them to start a rally. The damage continued to grow until Lawrence is pulled at OAK 8, COL 11 with still only one out. Matt Carasiti continued around the lineup to end the inning with a third out to Susac.

Everyone has a bad day, but fans do expect to see a more impressive performance across single-inning appearances since Lawrence is a possible closer option for the Rockies. A better closer option might be Kinley, but he has also had a bad day this spring. On March 19th, Kinley came in at the top of the 7th with the Rockies ahead 7-0. Kinley started the inning with a walk to Chase DeLauter and a single to Daniel Schneemann, which resulted in a run due to an error. However, instead of shutting it down, Kinley builds Cleveland’s momentum by walking Raynel Delgado and giving a double to Dom Nunez that brings the game to 7-3 and one out. Kinley is pulled after striking out Estevan Florial and giving up a single to Gabriel Arias. This showing is the only time this spring that Kinley has given up any runs.

In seven mound appearances this Spring Training, Kinley gave up four hits, but three were in that Cleveland game. Overall, Kinley’s performance this spring showed that he can get the three outs needed. Lawrence wavered this spring between bad days and mediocre days with half his appearances resulting in runs. If these are the choices, then Kinley seems the more favorable choice to be the Rockies’ 2024 go-to closer, or maybe Colorado should look for trades that bring options to the bullpen instead of more utility fielders.


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