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You gotta admire Austin Gomber’s chutzpah.
Asked the inevitable question about the coming challenge of pitching at Coors Field, the Rockies’ new left-hander replied: “My curveball is one of my best pitches and I’m going to throw it regardless of where I’m pitching. I could be pitching on the moon and I’m still going to throw a curveball.”
That was just a bit of the self-confidence Gomber displayed Thursday during his first Zoom interview with Rockies media. He also made it clear that he’s hunting for the fifth spot in the rotation and will be disappointed if he doesn’t grab it.
As for his pitching philosophy, he offered this: “I definitely think I’m an attack guy, at least that’s what I’m trying to do. I’m never really trying to pitch around guys. I go right at guys.”
He also likes to stay in rhythm and work quickly.
The 6-foot-5, 220-pound hurler was the key component of the five-player package the Rockies got back in the Feb. 1 trade with St. Louis for star third baseman Nolan Arenado. Given that the Rockies traded away a generational player, and also gave the Cardinals $51 million to make the deal fly, the trade looks incredibly lopsided in the Cardinals’ favor.
But Gomber, 27, won’t let that tarnish his new opportunity. And he vowed not to get caught up in the trade’s fallout.
“There is nothing I can do about that, it’s out of my control,” he said. “I understand that (Arenado) was a great player and he’s definitely one of the better players in the game. But, for me, I took it more as a compliment that the Rockies would look at me as part of proper compensation for Nolan Arenado.”
The only player with big-league experience on Colorado’s end of the trade, Gomber was a fourth-round draft pick in 2016 out of Florida Atlantic University. He made his major league debut in June 2018, posting a 4.44 ERA in 29 games (11 starts) that season. After spending all of 2019 in the minors, he returned to the majors last season and impressed, posting a 1.86 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in 14 games (four starts).
Manager Bud Black has made it clear he wants, perhaps even expects, Gomber to emerge from camp as part of the rotation.
“I know the Cardinals didn’t want to part with him,” Black said. “He’s got talent and I like that he wants to prove that he’s a big-league starting pitcher. Not so much because of the trade but because of his own personal pride in his performance.”
Gomber came out of Florida Atlantic with two solid pitches: a mid-90s fastball and a changeup. The Cardinals wanted him to develop a breaking ball and he did, mastering a tight-spinning curveball that has become his best pitch.
There is, however, a giant red flag as Gomber comes to the Mile High City. He’s been a flyball pitcher through most of his career, even though he posted a 48.6% ground ball rate in 2020 — his highest at any level of pro ball. Still, he considers himself a flyball pitcher. But no, he doesn’t think it will be a problem at Coors Field.
“I’m going to get flyballs more than groundballs, always, because I throw a four-seam fastball, that’s just kind of how it works,” he said. “The thought is, ‘If I can throw a four-seam fastball to the spot I want it, I’m going to get weak contact and that flyball is going to stay in the yard. I’m not going to become a groundball pitcher. That’s not who I am and that’s not how I got to the big leagues.”
Gomber has pitched once at Coors Field, notching a win on Aug. 26, 2018, when he allowed two runs (one earned) over six innings in the Cardinals’ 12-3 victory.
“I’ve only pitched there one time, but I don’t see any reason why I can’t sustain that,” he said. “Guys have had success there in the past and guys are going to have success there in the future.”
Gomber at a Glance
Size: 6-foot-5, 220 pounds
* Four-seam fastball (92.9 mph, 52%)
* Curveball (77.7 mph, 22.5%)
* Slider (88.2 mph, 17.8%)
* Changeup (83.8, 7.7%)