Rockies right-hander Dinelson Lamet has been working as a reliever for the past couple of years but the Rockies are considering a move back to the rotation for him. Manager Bud Black tells Thomas Harding of MLB.com that the club is “contemplating the possibility” of moving him back to a starting gig. Lamet seems keen on the idea, telling Harding that “I don’t like starting — I love it. But it all depends what the team wants.”
Lamet, 30, once seemed like one of the better starting pitchers in the entire league. It started with some decent results as a rookie with the Padres in 2017, as he posted a 4.57 ERA in 2017. Tommy John surgery then wiped out his 2018, but he followed that up by returning to post a 4.07 ERA the year after. He then took things to another level in the shortened 2020 season, with a tiny 2.09 ERA over 12 starts, striking out 34.8% of batters faced and walking 7.5% with a 36.9% ground ball rate. He finished fourth in the National League Cy Young voting that season.
The road has gotten bumpy since then, however. He dealt with elbow issues late in 2020 that prevented him from pitching in the playoffs, and those carried into 2021. He began that year on the injured list and struggled once he returned to the Friars. He went on the injured list again in June with forearm inflammation and worked out of the bullpen when he returned late in the season. He finished that year with a 4.40 ERA in just 47 innings.
The Padres kept Lamet in relief in 2022, eventually flipping him to the Brewers in the Josh Hader trade. He was quickly designated for assignment by Milwaukee and claimed by Colorado, eventually finishing the year with a 6.12 ERA. Here in 2023, he posted a ghastly 12.66 ERA through 12 appearances before landing on the injured list due to lower back tightness.
The fact that the Rockies are now thinking about revisiting the possibility of Lamet as a starter is a bit surprising given his run of poor results and health issues in recent years, though there are also reasons why it makes sense for them to be open to it. The club came into the season with a poor on-paper rotation and things have generally gotten worse. Germán Márquez is out for the rest of the season due to Tommy John surgery. Antonio Senzatela returned from last year’s torn ACL but landed back on the injured list after just two starts due to an elbow sprain. Meanwhile, Noah Davis, Ryan Feltner and Ryan Rolison are also on the IL.
Amid all those injuries, the club’s rotation now consists of Kyle Freeland, Connor Seabold, Chase Anderson, Austin Gomber and Karl Kauffmann. Freeland is doing well overall and Anderson made one good start after getting claimed off waivers, but the other three each have an ERA of 5.97 or higher. Overall, the club’s starters have a 5.74 ERA, ahead of just the Reds and A’s among teams across the majors.
Considering those general struggles and Lamet’s past results, it’s understandable that the Rockies would take a gamble on him rediscovering his previous form. As Harding’s report notes, the club suggested he experiment with shortening his stride while on the injured list, which seems to be showing some positive signs. Lamet recently joined the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes on a rehab assignment and has found some good results. His first outing resulted in two innings of one-run ball, but he followed that up by throwing 38 pitches in four perfect innings his next time out, striking out four.
A nice outing in the minors doesn’t necessarily mean that Lamet will just slide back into his 2020 form but getting anywhere close would be a nice storyline for a Colorado club that has had few. Not only would it be good for them in the short term, helping to stabilize the shaky rotation, but it could also turn Lamet to into an intriguing trade candidate. He’s in his final year of arbitration control, having agreed to a $5MM salary this season. As an impending free agent on a club that is unlikely to be in the playoff race, he would naturally turn up in trade rumors if he seemed to be getting back into form. With so many clubs throughout the league dealing with pitching injuries, he would undoubtedly garner interest by getting even partway to his 2020 form.