DENVER — A lot has changed for Los Angeles Angels closer Carlos Estevez since the last time he entered Coors Field.
Of course, the last time he had been at the corner of 20th and Blake before this weekend’s series between the Angels and the Colorado Rockies was when he was working as a late-end, high-leverage reliever in the Colorado bullpen. Raised in the Rockies organization, Estevez spent seven seasons trying to understand and master the art that is pitching at altitude.
When the 30-year-old right-hander signed a two-year, $13.5 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels during the offseason, however, he began a new project on the mound. Moved into the closer’s role in Anaheim, Estevez can now focus on pitching without the well-documented tough task that faces all Rockies players when it comes to playing at a mile high, then traveling to sea level and having to adjust.
Los Angeles Angels closer Carlos Estevez dishes on the difficulties of pitching at Coors Field
Known as the Coors Field hangover by so many, bouncing between altitude and just above sea level can be a daunting task. Former Chicago Cub Kris Bryant even discussed its difficulties shortly after starting his first full season in Colorado. For a pitcher, the task can be even more daunting as what your pitches do at altitude may not be the movement you see from them in other ballparks.
“You can be a lot more consistent with your fastball,” Estevez said. “You don’t have to change it every seven days or when you get back from the road.
“I was starting my fastball up here (Estevez says as motioning with his hand). Now I have to go lower because I have more carry and other stuff. Now, I don’t feel like I have to make that adjustment. I can be much more consistent with everything I throw and that’s what I feel has made it easier.”
The adjustment has been good for Estevez, who has become exactly what the Angels hoped he would be. Sporting a 1.74 ERA/3.59 FIP/1.194 WHIP through 31.0 innings, Estevez has converted all 19 of his save opportunities while upping his strikeouts per nine innings to a career-high 11.6 and his ERA+ to an eye-popping 250.
Estevez says the Angels “tweaked a few things” but credits the consistency of his fastball and his ability to pitch longer and recover quicker for part of his success this season.
“Up here (Denver), you get crushed with all of the altitude. The oxygen doesn’t get to your whole body the same way. Down there, it’s a lot easier to recover and control your pitching,” Estevez said. “Now that I see it from the other side, I’m surprised I was able to go 300-plus outings here.
“It’s a grind. It is a lot different. Recently, I pitched like seven (games) out of 10 and I was tired. But when I would do like four out of seven here, I was like, ‘Man, I’m drained.’ That came into my mind when I got here that it was a lot different when it comes to recovery.”
While Estevez didn’t get into any games of the three-game series in Denver, he did contribute by helping his fellow Angels pitchers, including Friday starter Patrick Sandoval, who didn’t have as much experience pitching at altitude understand what to expect on the mound.
“I told him (Sandoval) don’t let it get too much into your head,” Estevez said. “Make sure when you’re going to try to execute a breaking ball, throw it lower in the zone. If you’re going to use your fastball, attack with it. If you’re going to go up, go higher because the ball doesn’t carry as much here like at home.”