On Thursday, the Rays went up against the Miami Marlins hoping to cap a dominating series with a sweep. This time, though, there was a twist: Alex Cobb had been scratched with a fingernail issue, sending right-hander Alex Colome to the mound for his major league debut. But if Colome was nervous making his first start, it certainly didn’t show. Colome went 5.2 innings allowing just an unearned run on 5 hits, striking out 7 while walking 2. In doing so, Colome showed the stuff that gives him the ability to be an excellent major league pitcher someday–but also reasons for concern that he will have to continue to address.
Colome befuddled Marlins hitters with three pitches that all showed tremendous potential: his fastball, his changeup, and his slider/cutter. Using the Pitch F/X data from Brooks Baseball in one of my original displays, here’s a visual representation of how Colome’s pitches moved.
With three quality pitches like Colome has, it’s pretty clear that he has a ton of potential as a starter, At the same time, though, you look at his arsenal and it would be dominating in relief. Colome’s fastball didn’t move a ton most of the time, but it doesn’t have to when he’s pumping at at 95-96 MPH consistently and touching 98 MPH. His slider hit 89 MPH almost half the time he threw it, but when you think of it as more a cutter than a slider, it’s easy to see how hitters couldn’t do anything with it. And then there was his changeup, which also touched 90 MPH with movement that almost perfectly parallels his fastball before disappearing with a major bottoming-out action. Everything is hard like what’s the case with many hard-throwing relievers, but considering Colome was able to use his pitches effectively to both righties and lefties and maintain his velocity throughout the game, he has a chance to be one heck of a starting pitcher someday.
On the outing, Colome threw 61 of his 96 pitches for strikes, a nice display of control for a pitcher who has struggled through wildness in the past. However, his great control did not extend to his fastball. Colome threw his fastball for a strike just 24 of 47 times, just 51.1% of the time. Colome did throw his secondary pitches for strikes 37 of 49 times (75.5%), but that’s not a figure that’s bound to persist. It’s obviously quite a difference between Triple-A and the major leagues, but Colome was lucky enough to have his first start come against the Marlins, one of the worst offensive teams in baseball and one of the most aggressive as well, and the Marlins’ task was even tougher than usual because they didn’t have much of a scouting report on Colome. Colome’s secondary pitches were great on Thursday, but he won’t be able to force too many swings-and-misses on them moving forward unless he can do a better job establishing his fastball as a strike. Colome’s fastball doesn’t feature much sink, leading Colome to leave it up in the zone far too often, and despite that he still was unable to throw it for strikes consistently. Even when the pitch is in the mid-90′s, major league hitters will learn to punish Colome’s fastball left up as they see him more often, and he has to find a way to do a better job locating it down in the zone.
Colome’s breaking ball is an extremely interesting pitch as Colome did a great job adding and subtracting velocity from it to drive hitters nuts. When he throws it around 90 MPH, it features excellent late break to force weak contact, especially when used after his fastball, while in the 86-87 MPH range it features more dynamic downward action and is a true swing-and-miss pitch. His changeup, meanwhile, was easily his best pitch in his outing, forcing whiffs almost half the time he threw it with thanks to outstanding late bite, especially for a pitch thrown at such a high velocity. For both his slider and changeup, though, they’re especially effective coming off his fastball because they’re primarily chase pitches and also because that helps him get away with mistakes he makes with both pitches over the middle of the plate. They’re both potential plus pitches, but they won’t be nearly as effective moving forward if he doesn’t do a better job locating his fastball.
Colome showed on Thursday that he has the stuff to blow away hitters again and again, and he didn’t even throw his fourth-pitch, his high-70′s curveball, the entire game. However, he has to do a better job locating and pitching off of his fastball to remain a starter and that was a serious concern even as he pitched extremely well against the Marlins. Colome was sent down to Triple-A following the game, and while Rays fans may want him to get another start, that’s the best thing for his development because additional big league starts would likely not go nearly as well as his first one. His talent is undeniably there, but he’s enigmatic enough that whether he stays as a starter or moves to the bullpen is very much up in the air. Only time will tell whether he will be able to make starts like he had against the Marlins something we see from him quite often as the years go by.