Gardner looking to get noticed by Rockies

Gardner looking to get noticed by Rockies

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Right-handed pitcher Joe Gardner began the process Friday of showing the Rockies that he's not just "the other guy."

When the Rockies sent erstwhile ace pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez to the Indians during the 2011 season, they received four players. Three of them have seen Major League time. Left-hander Drew Pomeranz is the key to the deal and could be part of the season-opening rotation. Utility man Matt McBride came up at the end of last season. Alex White spent last year bouncing between the Rockies and Triple-A and was traded to the Astros this offseason for righty reliever Wilton Lopez.

As for Gardner, he has pitched exclusively at Double-A Tulsa since the trade, going 11-11 as a starter and a reliever. But his 2.04 groundouts to flyouts last year, the 2.43 grounders per fly ball for his Minor League career and his team-leading 99 strikeouts last year intrigued the Rockies enough to place him on their 40-man Major League roster this winter.

Friday in an intrasquad game, Gardner pitched two innings -- facing hitters with Major League time -- and gave up one hit, a walk and no runs. All six of his outs were via ground balls, and two came on a double-play grounder by recent first-round Draft pick Kyle Parker. Gardner displayed a windup that starts with an odd hesitation of his front leg and kept a fastball, changeup and slider low in the zone.

"It's a funky at-bat," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said.

Gardner, who pitched at the University of California at Santa Barbara and turns 25 on March 18, doesn't mind being the forgotten piece of the trade for now.

"It's good that you have those frontrunners like White and Pomeranz, while I can kind of fly under the radar," Gardner said with a smile. "We all came in together and we're all here for the same goal. They've been talking and preaching ground balls, double plays, and I feel like I can help the team in that way, being a sinkerballer.

"But I don't get upset that way. I've always been under the radar my whole life."

Gardner was a third-round Indians pick in 2009, two rounds behind White. At the time of the trade, the Rockies saw him as a reliever at the big league level. Last season, he finished 8-8 with a 3.97 ERA, but it broke down to 6-7, 4.35 in 23 starts and a sparkling 2-1, 0.53 in five relief appearances.

If he had to be placed in the Majors today, it would be as a middle reliever, but that would happen only if he were to have a lights-out camp and injuries were to hit the starting rotation in a big way. Gardner is likely to begin the season at Triple-A Colorado Springs. The Rockies had him prepare for camp as a starter would, and they'll let how he pitches determine the rest.

"I see a guy with tremendous sink, a real good changeup and a useable slider as a secondary pitch," Rockies pitching coach Jim Wright said. "I think when he stays behind it, it's a better pitch than it gets credit for. He throws strikes and is not afraid.

"But the biggest thing he does is sink the ball. He can impress people with keeping the ball on the ground. We like guys that keep the ball on the ground."

Although Pomeranz and White were the more highly touted pitchers, Gardner said the Rockies' front office and coaches -- Wright, assistant pitching coach Bo McLaughlin and assistant pitching coordinator Bob Apodaca, who was the Rockies' longtime pitching coach until late last season -- have put their full efforts into helping him succeed.

"Bo was in Tulsa when I got there, and I like the style of coaching with him and Jimmy," Gardner said. "They keep it simple and let me work on little things. They don't try to disassemble you and bring you back. It's the same with Dac, who has had a lot of influence on me. He's another set of eyes and a mind I can relate to."

Now Gardner hopes to take what he has learned and make the jump from just plain hidden to hidden gem.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.