|Starting pitching can't be rocky |
by Nick Shlain of TigsTown.com, March 27, 2012 at 4:08 pm ET
Jeremy Guthrie Profile
Starting pitching largely will determine whether the Rockies have a successful season and can contend this season. This was known before spring training began, but Cactus League play did bring some pitching concerns into focus.
Four spots seem set with Jeremy Guthrie, Jhoulys Chacin, Juan Nicasio, lefties Drew Pomeranz and Jamey Moyer, and right-handers Guillermo Moscoso and Tyler Chatwood competing for the fifth spot. Nicasio has made a remarkable comeback after suffering a broken neck Aug. 5 when he was struck in the right temple with a line drive. He is healthy, pitching without fear and locating his plus fastball as well as he did before his horrific injury. Nicasio also has a plus changeup and is still working on making his slider more consistent, but he has erased the doubts and concerns about whether he would, one, return to pitch, and two, be effective.
Pomeranz, the key acquisition in the trade that sent RHP Ubaldo Jimenez to the Indians at the trade deadline, made four starts in September for the Rockies. He solidified his spot in the rotation with a very good spring, showing poise, command and better movement on his pitches. Since he's entering his second professional season and pitched 119 1/3 combined innings last year at the high Class A, Class AA and major league levels, the Rockies, mindful of his bright future, will avoid having him make a huge leap in his innings pitched this year. That, in turn, will create the need depth when Pomeranz doesn't take his pitching turn.
Moyer, 49, came to camp on a minor league contract after missing the 2011 season following Tommy John surgery and showed he can still pitch effectively, including four perfect innings against the Giants on March 22.
The Rockies will get a lift when veteran left-hander Jorge De La Rosa returns from Tommy John surgery, but that won't be until July or perhaps June.
The bullpen looks solid, assuming that Rafael Betancourt, who has never held the closer's role to start a season, picks up where he left off when he went 8-for-9 in save situations and was almost unhittable when he took over as the closer in August, following an injury to the departed Huston Street.
Catcher Ramon Hernandez and right fielder Michael Cuddyer as well as second baseman Marco Scutaro, who hasn't had a good spring, are veterans who should make the lineup more formidable and the clubhouse more team-oriented. Hernandez's presence behind the plate, his uncanny and fearless throwing and his ability to work with some of the young starters will help immensely.
The NL West is typically an up-for-grabs division and hardly predictable. Indeed, in the 17 complete seasons dating back to 1995 when three-division play began, only the Dodgers in 2008-09, Padres in 2005-06 and Diamondbacks in 2001-02 have won consecutive NL West titles. The Rockies are the only NL West team that has never won the division. Can they win it this year? Probably not unless a couple of the inexperienced starters have breakthrough seasons. More likely, the Rockies are positioning themselves for a stronger run in 2013 when some of their better prospects are ready, but they improve in this a bridge season from their 73-89 debacle in 2011 and possibly stay in the race until some point in the second half.