DENVER -- Aug. 18-20, 2023, are important dates on the calendar for Rockies right-handed starter Peter Lambert.
Those aren’t exactly target dates since Lambert, whose right elbow issues have limited him to two Major League appearances (and 14 in the Minors and Arizona Fall League) since his 19-game debut in 2019. He expects to complete his long comeback well before then. Lambert reported Monday morning that he has been throwing in Scottsdale, Ariz., and expects to be part of Colorado's rotation depth sooner than later in '23.
Those August dates, however, are important to Lambert and his older brother, Jimmy, a right-handed reliever for the White Sox, who will be paying a visit to Coors Field.
Peter debuted on June 6, 2019, by striking out nine -- a Rockies record for a pitcher in his first Major League game -- in a 3-1 victory over the Cubs. Jimmy, a Double-A pitcher for the White Sox at that time, was on the injured list and was able to make the trip to Wrigley Field with the rest of the Lambert family.
Jimmy debuted with the White Sox in 2020. He faced the Rockies three times in '22, twice in Denver and once in Chicago. Peter, however, was amid a long setback-filled season and could not be present at any of the games.
But the goal is to have Lambert vs. Lambert in that series.
“He had a great year,” Peter said of Jimmy, who made 42 appearances (including two starts) for the White Sox in 2022. “Pitching in the same game would be something, for sure. We’ve thought about it, especially with the new schedule, with every team playing every other team.”
For now, Peter, who turns 26 on April 18, is pushing to pitch in any Major League game.
Lambert's 2019 debut was a high point, and he went 3-7 with a 7.25 ERA in 19 starts. The Rockies believed a subtle change at the start of his delivery would help him progress. However, he left a Spring Training start in '20 with a right forearm strain, which led to Tommy John surgery during the summer.
Hopes were high for a 2022 return. But Lambert's forearm area near the elbow flared up in Spring Training. The right-hander returned to the mound in the Minors in May, but he experienced more trouble four starts later. After consulting with noted surgeon Dr. Neal ElAttrache and Rockies head athletic trainer Keith Dugger, Lambert ended his season and had a PRP shot to aid in healing.
Colorado sent Lambert to the Arizona Fall League in hopes of building his innings load. But after the best of his three appearances -- five strikeouts in three innings on Oct. 18 -- Lambert experienced tendinitis in his forearm. He and the Rockies felt the best move was to shut down for the rest of the AFL.
“There’s no point in pushing through something like that in the Fall League,” Lambert said. “I very well could’ve, but there’s no point in pushing through something like that in the Fall League.”
But Lambert said he took seven to 10 days off and returned to light throwing. His arm has continued to respond.
“My arm feels great,” Lambert said. “With how the past couple days have gone for me, that’s most important. I’ve been working on my health, being able to withstand a full season, because I haven’t been able to do that.
“Before I had Tommy John, I wouldn’t start throwing until about now. When I did pick up a ball after the Fall League, it was … at 60-75 feet. I’m not off a mound, but I’m pretty close. I’m two, three, four weeks from getting off the mound.”
The Rockies have little rotation depth. With pitching at Denver's altitude at the bottom of most prime free agents' wish lists, and trades difficult to make, there is room for Lambert to contribute in 2023.
Lambert and lefty Ryan Rolison, a 2018 first-round Draft pick who hasn’t appeared in the Majors and missed '22 because of left shoulder surgery, were brought up by manager Bud Black during last week’s Winter Meetings as part of the rotation picture, even though the Rockies will have to monitor both of their workloads.
Enough success stories grow out of Tommy John surgery that it’s easy to believe it is little more than a tune-up -- one that makes the arm stronger, after a rehab period that goes as planned. But history is full of pitchers who never make it back, and many who permanently lose effectiveness. Lambert, whose need for PRP during a long return from surgery is concerning, hopes he is in another category -- one who deals with many setbacks but finds success on the other side.
“No doubt about it, there have been times when it’s been a little rough,” Lambert said. “But I’m not the first person to ever go through this. There are more situations out there that are a lot worse. So I try to put things into perspective when times do get tough. Just try to roll with the punches.
“I’ve had my mind on one thing since Day 1. Although I do not like needles, quitting never crossed my mind.”
Which Rockies catcher holds the record for consecutive would-be basestealers thrown out with eight?
A.) Brent Mayne
B.) Elias Díaz
C.) Tony Wolters
D.) Joe Girardi
New Rockies hitting coach Hensley Meulens had an up-close look at Aaron Judge’s pursuit of the American League home run record in 2022 as assistant hitting coach with the Yankees. Meulens marveled at Judge’s ability to block out noise, or the lack thereof.
“There was the statement of one catcher: ‘That’s the first time I heard the bat actually going through the zone, because it was so quiet,’” Meulens recalled.
D.) Girardi erased eight in a row in September 1993, the last two in a Sept. 18 game against the Dodgers at Mile High Stadium.
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