McGee returning to dominant form

McGee returning to dominant form

DENVER -- Rockies lefty reliever Jake McGee demonstrated Monday that when his fastball is on, he is a weapon. And he's close to what the club expected when it acquired him in a trade before last season.

During Monday's 6-5 loss to the Mariners, McGee replaced Adam Ottavino with the bases loaded and one out in the eighth. McGee struck out pinch-hitter Guillermo Heredia, forced a Robinson Cano fly ball and pitched a scoreless ninth to give the Rockies a chance.

McGee has 29 strikeouts in 20 1/3 innings this season, and has a 7 1/3-inning scoreless streak.

"He's been very solid in whatever role we put him in, whether it's with guys on base, whether it's the start of an inning," Rockies manager Bud Black said. "You hope for a strikeout in certain situations because it might call for that. He's been able to get some key outs. His work pretty much all year has been pretty consistent, especially lately."

In a key development, McGee threw 96-mph fastballs on his final two pitches -- a foul ball, then a swinging third strike against Mike Zunino.

In 2014 with the Rays, Pitch F/X clocked his average fastball at 97 mph, and the following year Statcast™ (the system being observed going forward) had it a 95.1. It was late in 2015 that McGee missed time with a meniscus tear, and the injury was connected to the drop in velocity.

The Rockies acquired McGee and righty starter German Marquez for outfielder Corey Dickerson and Minor League infielder Kevin Padlo before last season, but McGee's knee never returned to full strength. McGee battled through, in part because other injuries left him taking on a bigger role than his health allowed, and went 2-3 with a 4.73 ERA and 15 saves.

But late last season, the Rockies put McGee on a knee strengthening program. He didn't take time off after the season, pushed himself into shape to represent Team USA in the World Baseball Classic and arrived closer to past form. This season, Statcast™ has his average fastball at 94.5 mph, but he has topped 96 on 46 occasions and his hottest pitch was 97.5 on May 16.

McGee's strengths, when healthy, are velocity and location.

"It's get the fastball inside for a strike, get the fastball outside for a strike," McGee said. "If I can throw strikes on both sides of the plate, the hitter has to respect both sides.

"Last year, not only did I not have velocity but I didn't have as much movement because I didn't have my legs under me. I couldn't throw the ball where I wanted to."

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb and like his Facebook page.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.