Jeff Hoffman‘s shuttle ride between Albuquerque and points north will likely land him in Philadelphia on Monday when the Rockies need a spot start against the Phillies. The rookie right-hander, the 24-year-old with front-rotation stuff, is still looking for an in.
Hoffman’s late-season call-up last year — and his pedigree as a first-round draft pick and the key piece in Colorado’s trading of Troy Tulowitzki to Toronto in 2015 — seemed to set him on a path to the big leagues this season. But he was surpassed by three other young pitchers in spring training. Antonio Senzatela, 22; Kyle Freeland, 24; and German Marquez, 24; all are thriving in Colorado’s rotation.
Hoffman remains on the outs.
“He’s coming along fine. His changeup has been good. He’s throwing his curveball for strikes,” Rockies director of pitching Mark Wiley said. “But he’s got some things that he has to improve on. His pitch sequences need to not be predictable.”
In his one start for the Rockies this season, a spot appearance against the Dodgers on May 11, Hoffman flashed an impressive arsenal with eight strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings. But he gave up three runs on six hits. With Triple-A Albuquerque, Hoffman’s up-and-down outings reveal areas of needed growth. In back-to-back April starts, he first got rocked for six runs on eight hits against visiting Reno. Seven days later, at Las Vegas, he struck out eight in seven one-hit innings.
He can get by, at times, on pure stuff, a high-angle fastball and an above-average curve. Hoffman, though, is trying to master an ability to sequence through an at-bat, using one pitch to set up another, then navigating a lineup, using one at-bat to tee up another the next time through. Colorado veteran Chad Bettis schooled Hoffman on these points with a long walk-and-talk in the final days of spring training.
“You don’t have to be a pitching coach. Just use common sense,” Wiley said. “This is what I tell our pitchers: If you see a hitter hit a good pitch, analyze why. Look at how you pitched him in that at-bat. What didn’t you recognize? They don’t just hit good pitches unless you walk them right into it.
“One too many times down and away and then the hitter gives up on everything else and drives one to right field. How did he do that?” Wiley went on. “Well, you just threw two of them in the exact same spot. They are major-league hitters. Sometimes it doesn’t take a genius. Maybe three in a row wasn’t a good idea.”
A doubleheader in Minnesota on Thursday left Colorado’s rotation on short rest for Monday. Hoffman will likely be the fill-in. His eventual place in the rotation this season, which seems likely, still depends on becoming big league-minded.
“That’s how you learn. You can throw the right pitch and not execute it. Don’t worry about that,” Wiley said. “If you don’t execute and you threw the wrong pitch, that’s on you. It’s not brain surgery and nothing is chiseled in stone.”
Cardullo released. The Rockies on Thursday released Stephen Cardullo, the longshot former Independent League hitter who rose to the big leagues last season. This year he broke his wrist. The club hopes to re-sign him during his rehab, but they wanted to open a roster spot.
His backstory is incredible. In Cardullo’s first week in the big leagues, and on his 29th birthday Aug. 31, he hit a pinch-hit homer against the Dodgers in Game 1 of a doubleheader, then hit a grand slam in the nightcap. He had spent four years without a parent club in the desert of the Independent League, a circuit of misfit toys.
The Rockies signed him to a minor-league deal on the recommendation of Wiley, who happened to see him play in Florida years before. And, after his impressive call-up last season, Cardullo made the Rockies’ opening-day roster in April as a pinch-hitter.
The daily grind of a baseball season leaves little room to escape routine. But late in spring training, I asked Cardullo if, on long bus rides between obscure minor league fields, he allowed himself to hope for the big leagues.
“I try to live in the present, take it day by day. But yeah, honestly, with the power of dreams, you always want to have that end vision,” Cardullo said. “Every day, I was working toward playing in the major leagues, being a starter, making an opening day roster. That’s with anything in life, not just baseball. You always have to have a goal to reach.”
Cardullo was sent down the Triple-A in late April after hitting .143 in 15 games with the Rockies.
“I love playing baseball. It gives me and my family so much joy,” Cardullo said late in spring. “This is my true calling in life. This is what I want to do. And I’m so grateful for it.”