SAN DIEGO -- For Rockies' third baseman Chris Nelson, the 2012 season has been a tale of two halves. The first saw Nelson hit .255 with five homers and 23 RBI in 56 games. In just 39 second-half games, the 27-year-old already has bested that RBI total (24), has neared his home run mark (now has four), and is blowing away his first-half batting average with a .336 mark.
Those numbers, particularly the ones he's putting up this September, have Nelson in the upper echelon of third basemen throughout the league. And while he hasn't been quite on pace with the man across the diamond from him Sunday, Padres' third baseman Chase Headley, Nelson is certainly making a run at it.
Saturday's two-hit evening extended his hitting streak to seven games, tying a career high. He's hitting .519 (14 for 27) with five extra-base hits in that span, and has run his September RBI total to 12, third-most among NL third basemen.
Those second-half and September numbers are turning 2012 into the best season of Nelson's career, a tenure that includes parts of the 2010 and 2011 seasons. In a chicken-and-the-egg, which-came-first situation, Nelson says his increased production and recent offensive explosion have come from getting more consistent at-bats, which he earns as he establishes himself more and more as an offensive force.
"I've been getting a lot of at-bats lately and taking advantage of them," Nelson said. "I've just been seeing the ball well."
Interestingly, Nelson also cites the competition with fellow talented young infielders DJ LeMahieu, Josh Rutledge, and Jordan Pacheco as another part of his emergence in 2012.
"It's a lot of young guys trying to solidify themselves in a position going into next year, hopefully I'm one of those guys heading into Spring Training," Nelson said. "I think competition makes everybody better. It's good for me and good for the team."
With 95 games under his belt this year, Nelson has already played 32 more games than he did in 2011, and certainly looks to be finding a home at third. If he does, and therefore gets even more consistent time in 2013, he believes he can continue to put up the kind of numbers he's produced in the second half.
"That's definitely the plan," Nelson said.
De La Rosa strong in final Minor League outing
SAN DIEGO -- Jorge De La Rosa's long comeback trail from Tommy John surgery may finally be winding its way back to the big leagues in the very near future. De La Rosa pitched for Class A Modesto in Game 3 of the California League Championship series Saturday, taking the loss despite yielding just three runs -- one on a leadoff homerun -- in five innings of work.
The Nuts ultimately dropped the contest, 3-2, in what was the decisive game of a three-game sweep at the hands of the Lancaster Jethawks. But while the rest of his Nuts teammates have likely played their final games of the 2012 season, De La Rosa's strong start has the Rockies' encouraged that he will be able to return to the club and pitch in the final weeks of the season.
"Only one walk and six strikeouts pitching in a ballpark that -- my understanding is -- is way beyond hitter-friendly," Colorado manager Jim Tracy said. "I think you have to feel pretty encouraged about what it is that he did."
De La Rosa had Tommy John surgery in June 2011, and has seen his comeback stalled at various points this season. But this time, it looks like De La Rosa is finally on track for a return -- albeit a brief one -- at the end of the season.
"Once he gets back here with us and medical checks out of the way, [team doctor Keith Duggan] wants to check him out, we'll map something else out for him, and it will certainly have to be at this level," Tracy said.
"I would say there's a strong chance that yes, he will start a game for us between now and season's end."
If and when De La Rosa does return, Tracy said it will definitely be as a starter, rather than in whatever relief opportunities emerge, in order to best monitor his reintegration into the rigors of big-league pitching.
"There will be no thought of this guy coming into a game after it's started," Tracy said. "When we say De La Rosa is going to pitch on such and such a day, it will be as a starter. It must be a regimented program where he knows and we know he's going to open his eyes in the morning, have his breakfast at such and such a time, do whatever he does beforehand. Completely controlled."
That structure, Tracy said, will help the squad ensure De La Rosa doesn't re-injure the arm.
"With what it is that he's coming back from from an injury standpoint, there is nothing to mess with there," Tracy said.
The lefty is 54-49 in his career in 188 games, 126 starts. Prior to his injury in 2011, he made ten starts and was 5-2 with a 3.51 ERA and 52 strikeouts in 59 innings of work.
Bullpen's solid efforts not going unnoticed
SAN DIEGO -- With all the talk about four-man and five-man starting rotations, pitch counts and piggybacks, the recent work of the Colorado bullpen has been lost in the shuffle.
But for manager Jim Tracy, their efforts at the end of ballgames are a big reason that the Rox are just a game under .500 since Aug. 1 after going 37-54 for the first three months of 2012.
"We've got some really good arms down there, and I think the whole body of work and the progress of it is indicative of now only our win-loss record since the first of August, but the games that we have lost, we're not getting beat 7-1, 12-3, 9-2," Tracy said.
"I don't know how many one-run games we've been in the last 10 days to two weeks, but it's a very significant number. If you're going to be a competitive team over the course of a season, as tough as those one-run losses are to take, you want to find yourselves in those games day after day."
So far in September, Tracy's relief corps has done an excellent job keeping the Rockies in games, posting its best ERA of any month in the season so far (3.11) by some six-tenths of a run. That after a season in which those arms have been taxed for some 579 innings of work coming into Sunday's game -- tops in the Majors by over 70 innings.
As the rotation has settled down and the piggy-backers established themselves more and more in those roles, the back end of the bullpen has found it easier to understand their role -- something the piggy-backers and the others believe is crucial to the turnaround.
"We've just kind of embraced our roles in everything, have a good idea of what we're going to have to get done on any given night," Matt Reynolds said. "I think anytime you get consistency that reflects on performance."
Tracy said he knew what he was getting from Matt Belisle and Rafael Betancourt at the back end of his bullpen throughout the season, but that the increased stability that arms like Rex Brothers and Josh Outman have provided has been a crucial part. He's also impressed with piggy-backer Adam Ottavino, who he calls a "great find." Ottavino is pitching to a 3.56 ERA and has struck out 72 in 73 1/3 innings this year.
For his part, Ottavino says the growing consistency of himself and his fellow relievers is just a product of more chances and experience, as their mindset hasn't changed.
"I think guys have figured out their game plan a little better," Ottavino said. "We're a group down there: we want to see everyone do well. How do you pitch this guy, how'd you feel, etc, etc. That type of camaraderie helps young guys pitch better."
Chelsea Janes is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.