Rockies make their pitch for NL West contender
Offense is there, but can they keep opposition off scoreboard?
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Like much of the civilized world, the big variable with the Colorado Rockies is pitching. But with the Rockies, some of the possibilities are truly diverse.
There shouldn't be much quibbling with the rest of the Rockies' operation. The Rockies have surrounded the young stars at the core of their lineup, Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki, with a group of veterans who are not only solid players, but solid citizens.
Michael Cuddyer in right, Marco Scutaro at second, Casey Blake at third and catcher Ramon Hernandez are all new additions. And they provide the kind of positive clubhouse presences that make "additions" a living term.
There can be some concern that Blake, 38, may not be able to bounce back from an injury-filled 2011. But the Rockies' intentions here, obtaining people who are productive not only as players, but as human beings, is worth applause.
"We're going to score some runs," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said Friday in his office at Salt River Fields. "I believe that, I really do. We're improved offensively."
There should be little dissent around that notion. The questions for this club have more to do with what will happen when the other guys are at bat.
On the mound, the Rockies hope and believe that they will have the kind of rotation that will hold up for the long run and will protect the bullpen from overuse. That didn't happen in 2011, when a combination of ineffectiveness and injury hit hard.
Ubaldo Jimenez suffered a dramatic decline and was traded to Cleveland. Jorge De La Rosa was lost for the season with Tommy John surgery.
Juan Nicasio was struck on the temple by a line drive and missed the last two months of the season. Some of this was simply bad luck, but this experience reinforced the notion that getting a procession of pitchers who can consistently deliver six-inning starts, at a minimum, is absolutely essential.
"I think the most important thing is that there is the understanding [among] the guys that are in the rotation, [about] having the capability of giving us at least 18 good outs and keeping us in the game," Tracy said. "That's a wonderful place to start. Anything beyond that, obviously we're going to take that. But the consistency of that is so important.
"You get a couple days of short starts, then the next thing that happens is that the trickledown is just amazing as far as the damage it does to the bullpen."
One of the rotation variables, one of the notable choices, is the fifth spot. This is a contest between Jamie Moyer, 49, and Tyler Chatwood, 22. By the time Chatwood was born, Moyer already had won 32 games in the big leagues, while losing 43. (That record wasn't all Moyer's fault. He was mostly pitching for the Cubs in those years.)
The venerable Moyer missed 2011 while recovering from Tommy John surgery. His will to continue competing appears to be unmatched. Any regular season victory from this point forward will make Moyer the oldest pitcher ever to win a big league game.
Moyer took a major step in the direction of making this rotation by pitching four perfect innings against the Giants on Thursday night. Moyer demonstrated that he still can have complete command of his craft.
Chatwood, on the other hand, was roughed by the Cubs Friday at Salt River Fields. Chatwood, who made 25 starts for the Angels last year, has a Major League arm. But Friday, he had particular trouble with Cubs catcher Geovany Soto, who hit two two-run homers and had five RBIs off Chatwood. By the time the damage had been tabulated, Chatwood had given up nine runs, seven earned, over 4 1/3 innings.
Tracy turned this into an occasion to anticipate how Chatwood would return from this adversity.
"I anxiously await when his next opportunity comes, as far as the bounce-back is concerned," Tracy said. "I really believe that with young people, when they have a tough time, you anxiously await their next opportunity. I think that's very important because there's not a human being we're going to send out there who's going to be perfect every time."
In the more settled portion of the rotation, Jeremy Guthrie has been named as the Rockies' Opening Day starter. Guthrie's work is well-regarded. Coming to the Rockies after four seasons with the Orioles, it will be interesting see how Guthrie fares in a situation in which the club he is pitching for is not doomed to a fifth-place finish.
The rotation order has not been announced, but room will obviously be made for Jhoulys Chacin, whose career ERA of 3.52 is the lowest in the history of the Colorado franchise, for any pitcher with more than 50 starts.
Left-hander Drew Pomeranz, the key to the trade that sent Jimenez to the Indians, will get a spot in this rotation. His potential is undisputed. Based on the way Jimenez has pitched since the trade, an opening exists for Pomeranz to make this deal look like a pro-Rockies proposition. Nicasio will give the Rockies a minimum of three starters who will be very young, but very talented.
In the NL West, which seems to become more competitive with each passing day, the Rockies have an offense that is well above the division norm.
But in this pitching-rich division, the rotation is where the Colorado club, as Tracy clearly indicates, will need stability, consistency, steadiness from a group of starters who are still not a known quantity. You can see the potential, but how soon will that turn into production?
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.