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Keeler: Rockies’ German Marquez is bringing heat again. But skipper Bud Black won’t rush a reconstructed elbow. “It’s a totally different pain.”

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Late July. Early August. Even though German Marquez never hurt so good.

“Normal soreness,” the Rockies’ ace right-hander told me with a grin Friday at Salt River Fields, a few hours before a Nolan Jones home run to right-center brought enough rain to cancel a Cactus League game with the Texas Rangers after one strange, solitary inning.

“It’s a totally different pain. When I got hurt, (my elbow) was swollen. Now it’s good when I have normal soreness. It’s good. It’s been 10 months already. So I’m just waiting.”

More importantly, he’s throwing. Hard. A bullpen session Wednesday, he said, brought back readings of 93 miles per hour on the four-seamer. Then 95 mph. Even better.

As benchmarks go, per’s tracking data, Marquez averaged 95.7 mph on his four-seamer last spring. In 2022, the heater was clocked at 95.6.

“Nice bullpen (session),” he continued. “But I feel like I have to slow down a little bit, because I (need) a lot of time.”

And the waiting, as the song goes, is the hardest part. Marquez hit the injured list last April 28 with right elbow inflammation, the soreness abnormal enough, and painful enough, to necessitate Tommy John surgery after only four appearances.

Late July. Early August. Even though the alternatives don’t exactly set the world alight.

We have (righty) Cal Quantrill. We have (Dakota) Hudson,” Marquez said, nodding at the locker stalls to his left. “And I feel those guys, they’re going to do it well.”

Mind you, when it comes to 2023, it would be hard to do it much worse. The Rox as a staff averaged 67.2 quality starts — three or fewer earned runs over at least six innings of work — per 162 games from their rotation from 2018-22 with a relatively healthy Marquez, who annually chipped in 18 of those himself.

Last season, with no ace, no stopper, the train went off the tracks early and spent months of descent along a craggy chasm, striking stone after stone en route to a franchise-worst 103 losses. Without Marquez and fellow righty Antonio Senzatela to help buffer the load, Colorado recorded just 39 quality starts total.

“It is hard to be (gone),” Marquez reflected. “And when (you) don’t play, you feel that (urge) to be in the game.”

On a roster laden with Hobson’s choices, if stuck between a Rockie and a hard place, manager Bud Black’s call on Marquez is easy. No matter how much better the arm feels, no matter how zippy the fastball looks, you don’t rush a Tommy John recovery. Play Russian roulette with an elbow ligament, and everybody winds up with blood on their hands.

“German’s doing great,” Black said Friday. “He and (Lucas) Gilbreath and Senzatela are all doing very well in their process. Marquez is still a ways away, as (is) Senzatela. (They’re slated to return) after the All-Star break. But German is doing pretty well.”

Late July. Early August. Although, ya know, after Wednesday …

“I made the right decision,” Marquez said of the surgery and its two-season recovery timetable. “I don’t want to stay (on the sidelines), still waiting. But I’m doing the right things to get on the (mound).”

And if you had your way with the schedule?

To that, he leaned back on his stall and grinned. Ravenously. Rapaciously. Voraciously.

“For me? I’d throw on (Friday),” Marquez said. “But you know, it’s a process. And I have to understand that.”

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