Making progress

Devin Burke back with
GJ Rockies on injury rehab

Devin Burke went 5-2 for the Grand Junction Rockies in 2013 and the right-handed pitcher is back at Suplizio Field as he works his way back from a torn right Achilles tendon. Burke is looking forward to being a mentor to the Rookie Rockies.

Steve Ascher is in Grand Junction with the GJ Rockies to work on his pitch location. Ascher signed with the Rockies at the end of spring training and struggled with his control at Double-A Hartford.

Devin Burke sure didn’t see starting over in Rookie ball four years after signing with the Colorado Rockies.

It wasn’t the plan for the Rockies, either, after the former undrafted free agent had worked his way up to Triple-A Albuquerque last season.

Burke’s right Achilles tendon blew those plans out of the water.

“I don’t recommend it if you can avoid it,” Burke said Thursday before workouts began. He tore the Achilles tendon in January during a workout, had surgery and is now working his way back to pitching again. Wednesday was the 21-week mark from surgery, and he’s out of the walking boot and is starting to resume baseball activities.

“I broke a bone in the bottom of my foot doing some agility work three years ago now, and pitched on it. That injury changed the way I walked, and in turn changed the way the Achilles works,” the 26-year-old right-hander said. “I was doing sprints this offseason, and I’d always had Achilles pain, just when I started running again, but it would go away. It went away in the form of snapping in half.”

He’s about a month away from pitching, slowly improving his strength and flexibility. Since it’s his push-off foot, he has to make sure he’s completely healthy so it doesn’t affect his pitching motion and create bad habits when he does get back on the mound.

“Right now the big leaps of progress are over,” Burke said. “That was walking in the boot, that was a big deal, and getting out of the boot was a big deal. Now it’s just day-to-day strength. I can kind of feel it day to day. It used to bother me, the back, just walking, and now that’s gone away.

“I’m starting to jog on it again, load it, and get that spring back in it. It used to be just a taut rope and now there’s a little elasticity into it. It’s just a pain in the butt.”

But, he said, getting out of Scottsdale, Arizona, and into an actual team setting helps. He likes being around the other players, even if he’s not going through a regular practice yet.

He went 5-2 in Grand Junction in 2013, then started moving up the organizational ladder, pitching in Class A at both Asheville and Modesto in 2014, then from Modesto to New Britain (Double A) and finally Albuquerque, where he threw 7 1/3 innings out of the bullpen in 2015. Last season he spent part of the season again at Asheville as a starter, then moved to Double-A Hartford and Albuquerque, mainly in relief.

He’s one of several older players starting out in Grand Junction this season as the club awaits the arrival of players from the just-completed Major League Baseball draft. As long as he’s here, Burke sees his role as one of a mentor.

“A lot of the guys from my draft aren’t even (in the organization). We haven’t gotten a lot of the kids yet, but when we do we have an older presence on the team, so I think leadership is going to be pretty easy,” Burke said. “I’m just looking forward to starting games. It sucks having to wait until Monday to start. I’ve been saying (sucks) for five months now.”

That’s part of the grind of rehabbing an injury, especially when he had climbed into the higher levels of the organization and was continuing to prove that a guy overlooked in the draft can make it.

“I’m always going to have a chip on my shoulder,” he said. “I’m always going to be trying to prove myself. I think that gives me an advantage over people, whether they realize it or not.”

Rockies notes: Steve Ascher took a hike on Colorado National Monument after arriving in Grand Junction.

“I’ve never really been in altitude like this,” said the new GJ Rockies pitcher, who is from Stony Brook, New York. “I was on the monument the other day and it was 6,600 feet. Walking down wasn’t bad, but as soon as I started walking back up, man, it’s hard to breathe.”

He was interested to see what his pitches would do during his first bullpen session later in the afternoon, especially to see if he could get his breaking pitches to break.

Ascher, who signed with Colorado after he was released by Tampa Bay at the end of spring training, started the season in Double-A Hartford. In nine appearances out of the bullpen, he had a 4.91 ERA and had struggled with his control, with only two strikeouts and seven walks. He was sent to extended spring training for a couple of weeks, then assigned to Grand Junction.

“I’ve been working on my breaking ball; I struggled with that in Hartford and was put in situations where it was tough to work on pitches during the season. That’s what I did in extended, worked on bettering that, and I think I’ve done a good job with that,” he said. “Now it’s just pitch, get outs and keep getting better.”

Second-year manager Frank Gonzales likes the look of the 18-man roster he has for now, and is eager to see which players arrive from the draft in the next few days. What he really likes is being out of the searing Arizona heat.

“Getting out of Arizona this time of year is a good thing, it’s 105 every day and it’s not cooling down much at night,” he said. “And getting them out in front of a crowd, playing meaningful games ... statistics are good and bad. Some guys get affected by them.

“You might have a kid hit really well in extended where you don’t have any idea what his stats were, and now they’re public everywhere. He sees he’s hitting .240 and he’s mental about it and his approach. Stats don’t always help, but it’s nice to get in a league where things are accounted for.

“They were ready to get out of Arizona for sure.”


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