Hoffman sent to Triple-A as rotation battle heats up

Hoffman sent to Triple-A as rotation battle heats up

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Rockies optioned right-handed pitcher Jeff Hoffman to Triple-A Albuquerque on Thursday as they began narrowing the competition for the season-opening starting rotation.

The Blue Jays' first pick (ninth overall) of the 2014 Draft, and key to the deal that sent shortstop Troy Tulowitzki to Toronto, Hoffman went 1-0 with a 4.76 ERA in three Cactus League games this spring.

"He's a guy that's on the radar for us, as he will continue to be," Rockies manager Bud Black said. "We just felt at this time, as far as it related to him making our team in the last 10 days, there are a couple guys that are ahead of him.

"The fastball has velocity, but he has to locate the fastball. The slider and the curveball are very good pitches -- outstanding, Major League quality. He just has to consistently get those into good spots, and the changeup is developing."

Hoffman, 24, also gave up two runs and four hits over three innings in an exhibition against Puerto Rico, and gave up four hits and two runs (one earned) with five strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings in his last action -- a Triple-A game against the Cubs. Hoffman is the organization's No. 2 overall prospect, according to MLBPipeline.com.

Hoffman pleased after outing

The Rockies enter the final days of Spring Training set with three rotation spots -- righty Jon Gray, the odds-on favorite for the Opening Day start at Milwaukee; lefty Tyler Anderson and righty Tyler Chatwood.

Competitors for the final two spots are lefty Kyle Freeland (2-1, 2.25 ERA in five games, 14 strikeouts and three walks in 16 innings), lefty Harrison Musgrave (1-0, 3.21 ERA, 10 strikeouts to one walk in 14 innings), righty Antonio Senzatela (0-2, 4.20 ERA, 15 strikeouts and one walk and 15 innings heading into Thursday's start against the Indians), and righty German Marquez (0-0, 8.00 ERA with six walks and seven strikeouts in nine Cactus League innings, plus six strikeouts and two walks and no runs in a five-inning Triple-A start).

The Rockies would have to find room on the 40-man Major League roster for Freeland, who was the team's top Draft pick in 2014 -- one overall spot ahead of Hoffman. It's possible one candidate who doesn't make the rotation could begin the year in the bullpen. Lefty Chris Rusin, a multi-inning pitcher with starting ability, is trying to come back from a right oblique injury. Rusin threw his first bullpen session Wednesday, but a spot could be open if Rusin isn't ready when the season begins.

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, listen to podcasts and like his Facebook page. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.