Reliever Pierpont will pitch whenever needed for GJ Rockies
Matt Pierpont was breaking in his new purple tennis shoes Tuesday, quickly adopting the colors of the Grand Junction Rockies.
“I just got ‘em,” he said. “I like ‘em.”
Chances are, fans are going to like Pierpont this season.
The versatile relief pitcher for the GJ Rockies was in short-season Class A in Tri-City, Washington, last season, but an injury limited him to only eight appearances out of the bullpen before he was shut down for the season.
“I got hurt about three or four weeks into the season, only threw about 13 innings and reaggravated it a couple of times and had to sit out,” Pierpont said Tuesday as the new GJ Rockies reported.
Shoulder pain was quickly addressed with a rehab program, and as he started throwing again, he felt fine until he got to 90 feet. The pain came back.
A longer rehab stint followed, but again, he felt pain in his right shoulder when he got to 90 feet. That’s when he was shut down for the season, and he got a second opinion in the offseason.
“There was a strained muscle in my back, but it was due to the shoulder problem,” he said.
After a winter of rehab, he’s ready to go, and that’s a good thing, GJ pitching coach Ryan Kibler said.
“Thinking about it right now, before Day 1, he’s going to be my No. 1 guy out of the pen,” Kibler said. “He’s Mr. Versatile. Long, short, early, late, it doesn’t matter. Say I don’t get a (Dylan) Stamey or an (Scott) Oberg, he can be a ninth-inning guy. Ideal, eighth, seventh (inning) in a tight game, game on the line, he’s not going to get rattled. He’s Mr. Dependable.”
Pierpont was Colorado’s 26th-round draft pick last year out of Winthrop University (South Carolina). Out of spring training, Kibler said a spot at Asheville came down to Pierpont and Daniel Palo, with Palo getting the nod mainly because Pierpont was coming off the injury.
“He can no doubt pitch there,” Kibler said.
Pierpont, who was a relief pitcher his first two years at Winthrop before becoming a starter his junior year, just wants to pitch — anywhere, any time.
“I told them wherever I was coming, I didn’t care what I did, I just want to throw innings. I just want an opportunity,” he said. “I’ve done everything before, and I think it’s a good thing for me. It will give me more opportunities.”
He’s eager to work on his two-seam sinker at altitude, and he said his change-up is his second-best pitch. As all pitchers do, he took a good look at the short porch in left.
“Keep it low, absolutely,” he said. “The ball flies here from what I’ve heard. I’ve been working all offseason to keep it low, get some movement so I can get some ground balls.
“This will give me the opportunity to show I can pitch in a park like Denver, so I’m looking forward to it.”
He’s also looking forward to getting up into the mountains on off days because this is his first time in Colorado, and he can’t wait to pitch in front of the crowds at Suplizio Field.
He’s one of the few GJ players who have any time in professional baseball, so he’ll help the youngsters learn the ropes.
“It’s only my second year in pro ball, but college is similar to a point. Being older and around it a little more, I can help them with things like (media interviews), or if they’re in a slump, I’ve been there plenty of times,” he said. “I’ll be there to help them as much as I can. I want to help their careers as much as I want to help mine.”
Colorado’s first-round draft pick, Kyle Freeland, signed his contract Tuesday in Denver and met with the media. He said he plans to be in Grand Junction on Thursday. Freeland, a left-handed pitcher who graduated from Thomas Jefferson and pitched at the University of Evansville, is one of 15 draft picks on Grand Junction’s preliminary roster.
■ One of the recent draftees, catcher Troy Stein, who played at Texas A&M, arrived in Grand Junction on Tuesday. Relief pitchers Taylor Black (Texas State University) and Gavin Glanz (Oral Roberts University) were expected to arrive Tuesday evening.
■ Only three players off the 2013 GJ roster return this season, outfielder Terry McClure, middle infielder Wes Jones and catcher Dom Nunez. Nunez played middle infield last year, with the plan of moving behind the plate in the offseason. He caught his senior year in high school. They were the youngest players on the roster last year; McClure and Jones are still only 18 and Nunez is 19.
■ Palo was reassigned from Asheville to Grand Junction at the end of last week, but instead opted to retire, Kibler said.
■ The first batting practice is always a fun one for players hitting at altitude for the first time. Several balls left the park, including some monsters by Henry Garcia, a powerfully built first baseman. Outfielder Denzel Richardson rattled the upper rows of the left-field bleachers.