BRONX, NEW YORK — Over his 13-year career, Mark Reynolds played for eight different teams and belted 298 career home runs. On Sunday morning, the Colorado Rockies cut the veteran, who probably will retire from Major League Baseball. He was able to become such a savvy and consistent player for a decade-plus because he constantly made adjustments, whether it was with his swing or in the field, originally being drafted as a shortstop before moving to third base and then first over the latter part of his career.
Tewksbury’s Scott Oberg has been a teammate of Reynolds on two different occasions., first when the two helped the Rockies into the playoffs back in 2017 and over the course of this season. When Reynolds found out that he was being cut, he said it was “a blow to his stomach”, which was along the same line of the feelings that Oberg had when the Rockies sent him to the minor leagues back in May of 2018. Oberg was told at the time of the demotion that he needed to make adjustments to become a better and more consistent relief pitcher.
He has certainly done that!
Since getting called up to the Big Club a month later, Oberg has not only dramatically turned his career around, but has been the Rockies’ best pitcher — starter or reliever — for the past calendar year and one of the best relievers/set-up pitchers in not just the National League, but all of MLB.
“The tempo and his delivery were huge (adjustments),” said Rockies’ pitching coach Steve Foster from the visiting dugout before Sunday’s game at Yankee Stadium. “He was 1. (to) 1.6 (seconds) to (home) plate with a big leg lift and now he’s 1.25 consistently and it’s a quicker leg kick. Now he's doing that with every pitch. It wasn’t every third pitch, it’s with every pitch the same timing and that's helped too. It's also a lot of work.
“If you are a guy with a big leg kick that’s a very tough thing to change. It was about him using (more of his) arm than his legs, so now the timing is right on most of those pitches. The less time you have with your delivery, the less you have for margin of error. The longer the delivery, the longer the levers and the more time you have for margin of error. When your strike foot hits, it's go-go and that's what he is doing now, all of the time, consistently.”
Before the 2017 season, Oberg had four pitches his arsenal and had ERAs of 5.09, 5.19 and 4.94 through his first three seasons. The Rockies then named Bud Black the team’s manager and he along with Foster urged Oberg to eliminate his curveball and change-up, use a four-seam fastball instead of a two-seamer, all the while change his delivery and speed up his tempo. The results? Oberg’s first half ERA this season was the lowest in franchise history and his current ERA of 1.35 is second in the National League.
“(Making those adjustments) was our message and he came back and did exactly what we told him to do,” said Foster. “That’s a great message for all players because going down is a shock to the pride and a shock to the ego to go back to the minor leagues. When you are asked to do something that we know will help you and you go back there and do it, and come back and it works for you, it’s just a great message for all players.”
Before Sunday’s game, Oberg had a 5-1 record with a 1.35 ERA. In 40 games, he has pitched 46.2 innings, giving up just 27 hits, 7 earned runs, while walking 18 and striking out 50. Over his last nine games, he has given up just one run. Since the Town Crier last chatted with Oberg when he pitched at Fenway in May, he has given up just three earned runs, while striking out 37 batters in 27.2 innings. He currently ranks fifth in the NL with a .168 batting average against. On top of that, Oberg has a 1.69 ERA at hitter friendly Coors Field compared to 5.08 ERA at the same park just two years ago.
“Overall I feel good and I’m happy where I’m at mentally and physically. I’m excited to take the ball whenever I’m given the opportunity and go from there,” said Oberg from the team’s clubhouse that same morning. “Things are going well for the most part. I’m keeping the walks down and that’s what hurt me (last Tuesday against the Giants). The last couple of times I have given up runs, it's been a reoccurring theme where I have walked a batter and the runner comes around to score. It’s funny how that stuff works out.
“The confidence is definitely there, it’s just a matter of going out there and executing the pitches and doing everything I can to help the team on that day."
LET’S SLIDE TO THE RIGHT
Back when Oberg was a star pitcher at TMHS, his bread and butter was his electric fastball and his dominating curveball. From there, he went to UConn where he was converted to a relief pitcher and had tremendous success as an individual, while being on a team with a handful of other now current MLB players. Oberg was then drafted by the Rockies and he quickly moved up the minor league ladder making his debut against the Giants in April of 2015.
Becoming the first kid from town to appear in a MLB game certainly was not easy. If you ask Oberg, he said a big reason he made it to the 'Show' was his two-seam fastball which was clocked in the mid to high 90s, but today that pitch is off the table.
“Some guys have a good feel for (the two-seamer) and some guys don’t,” said Oberg. “It was a pitch for me that got me up to this level and then when you get here, you have to make adjustments. It’s stuff that I have worked on and I’m comfortable with where I’m at. I feel as if I can put the ball on both sides of the plate and I’m in a good place with my four-seam fastball.”
Today that four-seam fastball registers at an average of 94.3 miles per hour (although he frequently gets it up to the 96-to-97 mile per hour range) — the average across the league is 88.9. Add that to an absolutely devastating slider, which Oberg has vastly improved since coming back from his minor league trip, and the results and numbers speak for themselves.
“Once we put all of the focus on the slider, it became more of a consistent pitch – between the release, the way the ball comes out of my hand, the break and everything like that, and I'm able to control it a little bit better," said Oberg. "Then I was able to put the two-seamer off to the side a little bit and (also) focus on the four-seamer and being able to drive the ball through my target. That's giving me a better chance of having the ball go where I want it to go as it's supposed to be on a straight path. I don't have to worry as much about controlling movement so much but control the pitch.
“I was almost doing myself an injustice to myself and it took me a little bit to realize that (the two-seam fastball) doesn’t work or this is not working right now, so let’s try something different.”
That’s exactly what the entire Rockies organization wanted from Oberg when he was sent down — try to do some things differently. With the help of the Triple-A Manager Glenallen Hill, Oberg was able to work on his slider, while making the other adjustments.
“The curveball and change-up have been complimentary pitches for him,” said Foster. “We felt like in the one or two innings (he would pitch out of the bullpen) that if he stuck with his two primary pitches and got those in and out of the zone like we wanted, it would be better than having one really good pitch and three average pitches. Now he has two really plus pitches.
"His slider is a wipe-out pitch. I think (the improvement of that pitch is a) combination of the grip, the lateness of the break, lengthening it, getting it further down the slope and closer to the hitter where the break starts exactly. It's hard to pitch identification for the hitter and I think that has really improved with him. I think it's just a matter of there's no one more disciplined that's more, not stuck in his ways as far as being stubborn, but a strong believability because he puts in the time and the work. He does dry work everyday and he does it by himself. That discipline is part of who he is and it has gotten to become who he is.”
It’s clearly evident this year that Oberg is much more comfortable on the mound, with his arsenal of pitches and being able to execute them all at any given time. If that wasn’t the case, he wouldn’t be such a popular player with the Rockies Fan Base.
“I don’t know about any of that,” he said with a smile. “Everything for me stays the same. Maybe it’s that way on the internet, but I don’t pay attention to that stuff.”
Certainly the rest of MLB has paid attention to this flamethrowing right-hander, who continues to get better and better.
“The more than you get out there and the more that you perform what you practice doing and he does it in his mind over and over,” said Foster. “The elite athletes for me, the great ones, they perform what they are going to do before they get there and again that goes back to his discipline and his training.
“(Oberg’s) numbers have changed because of the pitch execution and the pitch selection is a product of the work that he puts in. You put those two things together (along with) you are talking one tremendous human being with incredible, positive everyday consistency. When you have that combination with the talent — it’s character plus talent and it’s discipline plus talent, so it’s not just talent — and he has put in the time and effort to become who he is and now he believes.”
Getting a later break with his slider and being able to execute it on both sides of the plate to both lefties and righties has changed Oberg from a sixth inning guy to an elite eighth inning pitcher, setting up for veteran Wade Davis. Two years ago, Oberg had a 4.50 ERA against left-handed pitchers and today its 0.93.
“(I’ve had success against lefties because) I’m able to throw the slider back door, I can throw the fastball on both sides of the plate, either down and away or I can go up (and all of that) just opens up more possibilities," he said. "If I have a decent enough feel for the change-up I’ll throw it for a strike. It doesn’t have to be that great of a pitch, it just has to be in the strike zone and something different. It’s not a fastball and it’s not a slider, so that’s definitely one of those pitches that just resets some things a little bit. Once guys think that they are sitting on a specific pitch and then I throw that one then they are thinking that ‘he threw me something I wasn't looking for'."
Before Sunday’s game, the Rockies were in the middle of a tough six-game losing streak and were 2-12 in the month of July. The team took some hits in the standings and will need to regroup and get on a hot streak in the next few weeks if the team wants to make a third straight trip to the post-season. Oberg has helped the Rockies make two straight playoff appearances, including being the winning pitcher in last year’s epic extra inning wild card game against the Cubs.
“If we continue to stay positive and with the type of talent that we have on this team, I think we can definitely make a run, put some pressure on some other teams and get a little closer down the stretch,” said Oberg. “There’s still a lot of games left (on the schedule). We know how good we are, so at the end of the day it’s a it frustrating of where we are (in the standings) because it seems like everything (wrong) is happening at the same time and it makes for a tricky situation.
“As long as we keep our composure, and move forward, I think we will have a shot for one of those wildcard spots."