Isotope hurler, pitching coach go way, way back - Albuquerque Journal

Isotope hurler, pitching coach go way, way back

Isotopes pitching coach Frank Gonzales, right, has known pitcher JD Hammer (left) and his family since Hammer was roughly 6 years old. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

Frank Gonzales remembers more than a decade ago seeing something special in the right arm of J.D. Hammer – then his star shortstop at Fort Collins (Colo.) High School.

And since Gonzales had known Hammer since he was about 6-years-old and was close with his family, he was open about his thoughts for the young player’s future.

“His dad and him were like, ‘We don’t think he’s a pitcher,'” recalls Gonzales, now the pitching coach for the Albuquerque Isotopes, where Hammer is now a relief pitcher for the Triple-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies.

“But my eyes from past experience as a professional pitcher, I was like, ‘Man, I really like your arm. I think there might be something there.'”

Hammer, who picked up the win after picking up two key outs in the eighth inning in Friday’s 12-9 Isotopes win over the Round Rock Express, admits now that maybe his high old high school coach may have been on to something.

“Yeah, I was naive,” admits Hammer, who is now eight years into a professional pitching career that includes two seasons at the Major League level with the Philadelphia Phillies.

“I was one of those kids that was like, ‘Ugh, pitchers aren’t athletes’ And that’s not true at all. … But, yeah. Gonzo was right.”

And don’t think Gonzales, now in the highly unusual role of coaching at the Triple-A level a player he coached in high school a decade ago, doesn’t enjoy relishing in being right way back then.

After Hammer’s college coaches converted him to pitcher, where he starred for two seasons at Navarro (Texas) Junior College and then at Marshall University, he was drafted in the 24th round of the 2016 MLB Draft by the Colorado Rockies.

By then, Gonzales had been hired by the Rockies to coach the organization’s rookie ball affiliate in Grand Junction, Colorado, where Hammer was headed.

“When we drafted him, I said, great. I can’t wait to call his dad and tell him he is going to pitch,” Gonzales said Friday afternoon with a grin.

This season, Gonzales and Hammer, now 27, are back together working on getting Hammer and that right arm back to the big leagues, where he had a 4.38 ERA over 40 appearances with the Phillies in 2019 and 2021.

“It’s kind of come full circle,” says Hammer, who is 1-0 after picking up the win on Friday and has an ERA of 5.19.

“The baseball world, it’s just such a small community and it’s cool that we ran back into each other and are getting to experience all this.”

The two are still very close – and were even when Hammer was in college and for the seasons he was playing in the Phillies organization. And their relationship now is as close as ever.

“He’s still a coach, you know? And there’s the respect there, but it’s turned more into like relationship where we’re helping each other,” Hammer said. “We talk about stuff a lot. We have a pretty open relationship. I mean, pretty much everyone in the bullpen that I know of has a good relationship with Gonzo.”

While they reminisce about the past, it’s often more about friends and family back in Colorado more than baseball games of the past.

“I’ve been part of probably 4,500 games over the years,” Gonzales said. “So they get a little fuzzy way back when. J.D. probably knows what I’m talking about. We remember some of our pro stuff a little more – his start in Grand Junction, his debut with Philadelphia I remember – but mostly, we try and keep as present as we can.”

And the present is about Hammer trying to help the Isotopes win and trying to get himself in a position to get a call-up down the road with the Rockies.

“The fastball is coming out pretty good right now,” Gonzales said of Hammer. “He’ll bump a 96 (mph) here and there, which is fine. The slider is a commanded slider. He got a little bit of a funk the last couple of weeks where he didn’t feel like his slider was as good as it had been, but that happens. …

“But all of this is just really cool. To be the coach that coached him in high school and both of us to be in Triple-A together, I mean that’s got to be pretty low odds, right? It’s been a really cool thing to be a part of.”


6:35 p.m., Isotopes Park, 610 AM/95.9 FM

PROMOTION: Adult Isotopes jersey giveaway

PROBABLES: Express RHP A.J. Alexy (1-1, 6.48) vs. Isotopes RHP Zach Neal (4-3, 6.63)

FRIDAY: Wynton Bernard’s two-run homer in the eighth inning broke a tie and the Isotopes won back-to-back games for the first time since May 5 in a 12-9 win over Round Rock.

Bernard and Coco Montes went a combined 4-for-7 with six runs scored and four RBIs.

Colorado Rockies starter Antonio Senzatela, making a rehab start for the Isotopes on Friday, allowed four earned runs off eight hits in four innings pitched.

TRANSACTION: The Colorado Rockies announced on Friday they reinstated RHP Robert Stephenson from the COVID-19 IL and optioned RHP Justin Lawrence to Triple-A Albuquerque.

Box Score: Isotopes 12, Round Rock 9

Home » From the newspaper » Isotope hurler, pitching coach go way, way back

Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email

taboola desktop

A numbers game: How UNM has shifted toward Title ...
ABQnews Seeker
As the nation celebrated 50 years ... As the nation celebrated 50 years of Title IX, the University of New Mexico is still trying to add opportunities for female athletes.
Lobo women's hoops staff undergoes several changes
Keith Freeman showed up in Albuquerque ... Keith Freeman showed up in Albuquerque this week with much to learn and eager to get started. He spent Wednesday afternoon prepping for his ...
Briefs: Amateur golf, Gladiators football, youth soccer
Featured Sports
Aidan Thomas, the former St. Pius ... Aidan Thomas, the former St. Pius standout who will be a junior at New Mexico State, shot a 10-under par-62, bogey-free round Friday and ...
Virgen: Two NM stars and what might have been ...
Featured Sports
About a year ago, Aidan Krafft ... About a year ago, Aidan Krafft of Cibola High and Quinn Yost of Piedra Vista might have had Cherry a ...
United expects defensive battle vs. 'really talented' Birmingham
Featured Sports
Birmingham has won three straight, holds ... Birmingham has won three straight, holds a playoff position and is coming off a win over Eastern Conference-leading Memphis
UNM has its three opponents for November's Lobo Classic
UNM's first in-season home tournament in ... UNM's first in-season home tournament in 15 years to be held Nov. 25-27 at the Pit
UNM law grad Shapiro balances academics, big-time Ironman competitions
Featured Sports
Whatever Athena Shapiro does at the ... Whatever Athena Shapiro does at the World Triathlon Championships on Saturday in Montreal, it will be hard to top what she accomplished in a ...
Stewart, Cey, Moots going into ABQ Pro Baseball Hall ...
ABQnews Seeker
Two World Series MVPs and the ... Two World Series MVPs and the creator of the Albuquerque Dukes logo will be inducted into the Albuquerque Professional Baseball Hall of Fame.
Combat sports notes: 'Cowboy' tries again, to fight on ...
Edgewood resident Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone, denied ... Edgewood resident Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone, denied a fight by food poisoning in May and by a freak in ...