Rockies bring back Estevez, put Qualls on DL

Rockies bring back Estevez, put Qualls on DL

DENVER -- Rockies right-handed reliever Carlos Estevez took the express trip to the Majors last year. A little more than a calendar year out of Class A last season, he made Major League appearances. But his route is more circular this year.

The Rockies recalled Estevez, 24, from Triple-A Albuquerque on Sunday for his fourth Major League tour and placed righty Chad Qualls on the 10-day disabled list with lower-back spasms.

It's been an odd ride. Estevez set a Rockies rookie record with 11 saves last year. Now, with the team having improved its bullpen during the offseason, he is being groomed -- as he should be -- as closer of the future. That means Minor League time to correct some delivery issues, such as rushing with runners on base and not having weight properly distributed on his plant leg (a flaw that robs his fastball and slider of consistent location).

"Through everyone's mind goes that moment, 'What am I doing here,' but you've got to be realistic and know why you're where you are," Estevez said. "I've got options and they're going to make the decisions.

"I've shown what I have and I know they know what I have. But I have to leave everything to the process."

Last year, when Estevez wasn't closing, he was setting up for Jake McGee or Adam Ottavino. The signing of closer Greg Holland to an incentive-driven one-year deal that almost certainly will give him a second year pushed McGee and Ottavino to setup roles and at times pushed Estevez off the roster. Because the Rockies are grooming Estevez for the end of the game, they prefer to let him train in Triple-A than use him in a multi-innings role in the Majors.

But when he is in the Majors, he has plenty of learning opportunities. Instead of depending on being used in a given inning, he notes, "You've got to have game awareness."

Estevez has gone to a lower leg kick with runners on base and has had to adjust his delivery. Rockies manager Bud Black noted he has seen calmer mechanics from Estevez from Spring Training to now. In the Majors, Estevez's numbers are indicative of a pitcher gaining experience. He went to 4-0 after striking out Buster Posey, the only batter he faced in the ninth before the Rockies' dramatic 7-5 victory over the Giants. Estevez has a 7.98 ERA with 16 strikeouts in 14 2/3 innings. He has thrown scoreless ball in 12 of his 17 appearances.

"Carlos, to me, I look at the long term as this fellow being a great Rockie," Black said. "He's going to make contributions this year because he's talented."

Qualls, 38, began the year on the DL with right forearm tightness and was 1-0 with a 4.60 ERA in 15 2/3 innings. Black said Qualls' back issue cropped up Friday, so they decided to call up Estevez to help a bullpen that has been stressed recently.

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.