Rockies need healthy Chacin, De La Rosa to compete
Hurlers made only 17 starts between them last year, winning three games
MESA, Ariz. -- The Rockies enter 2013 with no false illusions about their team's potential. They know they could make dramatic improvements over last year's 64-98 season and still only elevate their stature to a .500 club. For the Rockies to hope for much more than .500 is to believe in miracles for a club whose key components remain status quo.
It's within the realm of reason that three of last year's members of the Opening Day pitching rotation will return for another shot, as Jhoulys Chacin (3-5, 4.43 ERA), Juan Nicasio (2-3, 5.28) and Drew Pomeranz (2-9, 4.93) hope to earn a spot. With Jeremy Guthrie (3-8, 6.35) and Jamie Moyer (2-5, 5.70) gone from Colorado long before last season's end, the Rockies hope to see Jorge De La Rosa (0-2, 9.28) and Jeff Francis (6-7, 5.58) return to the rotation in good health.
Tuesday's game against the Cubs saw Chacin and De La Rosa make their Cactus League debuts in an attempt to validate the Rockies' belief in them after seeing them take the hill only 17 times in 2012.
If Chacin and De La Rosa -- projected for two of the top three spots in the rotation -- could simply return to form, the Rockies could most likely pencil in 10 wins apiece, or a 17-win improvement from the tandem's tally last year. Add 17 wins to the Rockies' 2012 total and they're suddenly an 81-win club.
Chacin gave the Rockies reason to smile in his first innings of the spring, throwing two perfect frames. He induced a pair of grounders in the first and ended the inning with a strikeout, then got a fly to left and two soft infield liners in the second to make a great first impression.
"I was trying to keep my ball down," Chacin said. "Trying to locate my fastballs. That's pretty much what I was trying to do. I threw like three breaking balls. I was trying to throw my [sinker] and my fastball down, in and out. I was just trying to make them swing the bats. They did, because they saw I was throwing pitches close to the zone. "
Chacin got quick outs with an efficient 18 pitches in two innings.
"That's something we're looking for," Chacin said.
What the Rockies aren't looking for from Chacin and De La Rosa is any sign of injury, so when catcher Ramon Hernandez made a trip to the mound after two quick outs in the second, head athletic trainer Keith Dugger joined the battery to check on Chacin's right big toe, which he injured four days earlier during fielding drills.
"Just working out, I sprained my foot a little bit -- a bruised contusion on my big toe," Chacin said. "It bothered me a little when I was landing, but it wasn't a big deal."
The toe was feeling better during bullpen sessions, but Chacin thought shifting from "nice and easy" bullpens to "throwing hard" in a game situation probably accounted for why it bothered him more Tuesday.
Manager Walt Weiss wasn't concerned about Chacin's toe as much as he was happy with his arm.
"He's one of those guys that's going to be huge for us," Weiss said of Chacin. "He's got a great feel for pitching. What makes him tough is his changeup and how well he commands his secondary stuff. It makes it tough on a hitter when you can throw anything at any time and command it."
De La Rosa was not as happy with his first outing. He saw one pitch get away from him up in the zone as third baseman Christian Villanueva took advantage and drove the pitch for a homer deep to the left-center berm, breaking the scoreless tie in the third inning.
"My mechanics aren't there yet," De La Rosa said. "I think I'm up and out a little bit. I have to work on that."
De La Rosa admitted he may have been overthrowing, and noted he was dropping his arm a little. He gave up two runs on two hits and a walk in two innings. The second run came after a leadoff double, a groundout, a walk and a sacrifice fly, earning the left-hander the loss.
"I was excited a little bit," De La Rosa said. "I was a little anxious. I need to be able to control that."
There isn't a lot of anxiety evident on the Rockies coaching staff, but preparing this potentially potent and dynamic duo for a healthy and effective season is among the biggest keys to the Rockies recovery. Chacin lost 97 games in 2012 to shoulder inflammation, and De La Rosa lost more than nine months of baseball in 2011 and 2012 as he recovered from Tommy John surgery on his left elbow.
Weiss compared De La Rosa's over-amped outing to Juan Nicasio's rough debut outing, as he allowed four runs in 1 2/3 innings. Nicaso missed the last four months of 2012 with a knee injury, and is another question mark the Rockies are counting on for a resurgence.
"These guys haven't been out there a lot," Weiss said. "They have to try and find that rhythm and that timing that you search for when you've missed a lot of time. It's just a matter of finding that rhythm for both those guys."
Even Tuesday's mixed results were a step in the right direction as the rotation seeks to recover the rhythm of the Rockies.
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.