Rookie pitchers keeping Rockies’ starting rotation afloat

Freeland, 23, and Senzatela, 22, have each made six starts after their latest outings Wednesday and Thursday. Both have managed to post sub-3.00 ERAs.

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Antonio Senzatela has a 2.84 ERA six starts into his MLB career. (Chris Humphreys/USA Today Sports)

Antonio Senzatela has a 2.84 ERA six starts into his MLB career. (Chris Humphreys/USA Today Sports)

One played his high school ball 13 miles away from Coors Field, just a hop, skip and jump up I-25 from Thomas Jefferson High School to LoDo.

The other played the game in his formative years roughly 3,000 miles away from the Rockies ballpark, a trip that requires a plane ride over the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico and a couple states.

Kyle Freeland, who grew up in Denver, and Antonio Senzatela, who came all the way from Valencia, Venezuela, took very different paths to get here. But one thing they have in common is that a month into the Rockies’ 2017 season, the two rookie pitchers have kept afloat a starting rotation that could’ve sunk with all the turmoil it’s already endured.

In early March, the Rockies announced righty Chad Bettis would be out indefinitely after the cancer he once thought he’d beaten came back. Then on April 13, Jon Gray, Colorado’s Opening Day starter, was forced to exit his third start of the season with what was later diagnosed as a stress fracture in his foot.

Somehow, despite the loss of those two and with Tyler Anderson struggling, the Rockies rank near the middle of the pack in park-adjusted starting pitching ERA.

Freeland, 23, and Senzatela, 22, have each made six starts after their latest outings Wednesday and Thursday. Both have posted sub-3.00 ERAs.

Senzatela, who got the win Wednesday against the Padres, has found success by pounding the strike zone with fastballs. He’s throwing the pitch 76.4 percent of the time, according to FanGraphs, which is among the highest rate for any starting pitcher. Senzatela isn’t striking many guys out — with just 20 in 38 innings — but what he has done is keep hard contact to a minimum.

Things are going so swimmingly for him, his teammates have already given him a nickname: Principito, which stands for The Little Prince.

Freeland has yet to be given a nickname by his teammates. (At least to my knowledge.) The hometown kid has been equally instrumental, however, in Colorado’s 18-11 start. So far, he’s excelled at inducing grounders. Nearly two-thirds of the balls opponents put into play are on the ground.

Freeland’s latest performance Thursday, in which he gave up three hits and one run across 6 1/3 innings, helped Colorado win a 3-2  extra-innings game in San Diego and finish the road trip 4-2.

The Rockies hold a 1 1/2 game lead in the NL West headed into a 10-game home stand with the Diamondbacks, Cubs and Dodgers. Colorado is without 40 percent of the starting rotation it figured to have at the start of spring training. The ship has stayed on course, thanks in large part to the work of Freeman and Senzatela.

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