DENVER — As soon as he throws a quality pitch, Rockies right-hander Antonio Senzatela becomes something of a spectator.
“I just like to let the other team ground it to them,” Senzatela said. “Because I love watching them.”
The mound was a unique and wonderful vantage point for Senzatela on Friday night. A defense that had endured a cover-your-eyes series in Philadelphia — seven errors in four games, all losses — was airtight while turning four double plays in the Rockies’ 10-4 victory over the Reds at Coors Field.
Senzatela pitched 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball and forced three of the double-play grounders himself — all in the game’s tight early stages. Each began with a grounder to Ryan McMahon, the normally dazzling third baseman who committed a shocking four errors in Philadelphia.
Elias Díaz’s wind-aided homer in the first and McMahon’s three-run second-deck shot to right in the fifth, both off hard-throwing Reds rookie Hunter Greene, helped the Rockies take a 5-1 lead into the seventh. Then Jhoulys Chacín ended the seventh by forcing Jonathan India to hit a double-play grounder with the bases loaded.
Double plays and ground balls in general are not by happenstance.
Believing balls in the air can be problematic in the light mile-high atmosphere (fly balls were even more unpredictable on a windy Friday), the Rockies have built a grounder-oriented staff. Colorado entered Friday leading the Majors with 20 double plays (one more than the Orioles), and it added four to that.
Also, Statcast figures going into Friday showed how successful the strategy has been at keeping the ball out of the air — one key to an 11-9 start.
Highest team ground ball rate, SP, 2022
1. Phillies (PHI): 50.9%
2. Giants (SF): 49.4%
3. Braves (ATL): 48.6%
4. Athletics (OAK): 48.4%
5. Rockies (COL): 47.5%
Lowest team fly ball rate, SP, 2022
1. Rockies (COL): 19.1%
2-T. Cardinals (STL): 21.5%
2-T. Cubs (CHC): 21.5%
4. Royals (KC): 22.1%
5. Marlins (MIA): 23.3%
So maybe Friday night’s game didn’t didn’t restore confidence. The Rockies never felt like they lost it — “Whatever happened in Philly, forget about it,” Senzatela said. But it was fun to play their normal defense.
“[Senzatela] did a great job all night just going after their hitters, throwing stuff in the zone and getting good contact,” McMahon said. “And, yeah, we did our thing.”
Rockies manager Bud Black said he saw some rushed defensive play overall in Philadelphia. He brought it to the players’ attention before Friday’s game, then watched Senzatela force the grounders that allowed fielders to work out the problems among themselves.
“There are such things as defensive slumps, too,” Black said. “We had one as a team. There’s no doubt about it, we broke out of that today with four double plays.”
The fourth might have been the most important. Senzatela left in the seventh with one out, two on and a four-run lead. Chacín walked Colin Moran to load the bases, but forced India to ground to shortstop José Iglesias to end another threat.
“That changed the way the game was going,” said second baseman Alan Trejo. “They could have had an easy rally there.”