A Fresh Start for Rockies Young Arms

It didn't take Bill James to figure that the Rockies needed better pitching last season. General Manager Dan O'Dowd said after the Jorge De La Rosa injury and before the trade deadline that he wanted to acquire pitchers with club control beyond the 2011 season. He did that when he added LHP Drew Pomeranz and RHP Alex White from the Indians in August as well as RHP Tyler Chatwood in the offseason.

"They're all progressing nicely, improving in certain areas and particularly in the strike zone and low in the strike zone," said Rockies pitching coach Bob Apodaca. "They're refining their deliveries so we can have consistency in the strike zone and repeat it."

"Those three are at the head of the class in terms of power arms and power potential."

Indeed they are. It is interesting, however, in the way the pitchers contrast. Pomeranz is the largest of the bunch and therefore has the easiest gas of the three.

"I'm a power guy, I throw mostly fastballs in the low to mid-90's," Pomeranz said. "I have a 12-6 curveball that sometimes gets on the side and it has sharp, late break."

One thing Pomeranz, who stands 6'5, and Chatwood, who is generously listed at 6'0, don't have in common is height. But, they both made it to the major league level in their very first seasons of professional baseball, an accomplish that is nothing to snicker at. In fact, they both used the word "awesome" to describe the experience. 

"Everybody wants to be in the big leagues their first year, but you never know if that's actually going to happen," Pomeranz said. "I got picked up by a team that wanted me there and wanted me to stay there and it was a very exciting time."

"I thought it was awesome just being able to pitch in front of my family and friends every time I threw," Chatwood, a native of California, said. "It's pretty neat, but at the same time over here it's going to be less distracting with everybody calling me for tickets and everything. I still get a chance to go home and play the Dodgers here, so I'm excited for that."

Chatwood was in the big leagues for the majority of the season and he was able to finish it with the same team and 100% health. Unfortunately the same couldn't be said of Pomeranz and White, who were in a holding pattern in the Indians organization knowing they'd be shipped to Colorado after an August deadline. 

"It was harder for me to stay focused last year knowing I was traded but couldn't come over to the Rockies until later in the season," Pomeranz said. "I threw a few simulated games and bullpens, but there wasn't a whole lot for me to do."

White not only had to deal with the trade, but also an injury to his right middle finger.

"Coming off the injury and the trade in August, I was really happy being with the Rockies," White said. "It's a great organization to be a part of. Pitching wise, I wasn't back to where I needed to be. I wasn't where I was before the injury and that hurt me a lot. Coming into this Spring Training, I'm healthy and back to where I want to be. Right now, I'm just trying to compete and make this rotation."

Apodaca talked about not holding the end of last season against either Pomeranz or White. 

"Last year, obviously we got Drew Pomeranz and White from the Indians in midseason interrupting their seasons and those guys weren't at their best," Apodaca said. "So, we'll wipe the blackboard clean and give them all a fresh start from day one."  

White especially struggled with the Rockies in September, especially with giving up home runs. He tied the MLB high by allowing five home runs in a single start against the Reds and overall he had an 8.42 ERA in 36.1 innings. 

"It all boiled down to location of pitches, up in the strike zone and flat plane with no depth with any of his pitches, so he was very hittable," Apodaca said. "Really good hitters feast on that and they did. He gave up five home runs in one game against Cincinnati. This is an area he can improve. You can mess with a hitter's depth perception if you have depth to your pitches, and movement will even do more to a hitters' eye. We really need them to focus this spring on refining every aspect of their deliveries and getting balance in their deliveries."

"I think it all comes back to coming off an injury and not being back to where I wanted to be with feeling the baseball and being able to do with the baseball what I want to do," White said. "I left some balls up in the zone and made mistakes. Honestly, just balls getting away from me throughout my delivery. It was something where I came back from that injury so quickly and looking back now I certainly wasn't where I needed to be to be a dominant pitcher, especially at that level. After the time off and the offseason, getting 100% healthy, I kind of agree with [Apadaca] about just wiping the slate and start clean here." 

Giving up home runs hasn't been White's reputation in the minors as his strength is keeping the ball down in the zone and getting batters to hit the ball on the ground. He can do this with his fastball, but he also throws a pitch that we've seen almost phase out in baseball. Surely, the splitter isn't going the way of the dodo bird, but there are about as many pitchers who throw it now as there are knuckleballers thanks to Curt Schilling's retirement and Brandon Webb not being able to recover from arm injuries. 

"The splitter is really good for me," White said. "It's something that's been a big pitch in a lot of situations. I think one of the bigger keys is kinda keeping that one as a weapon and using it later in counts because it is so good. I feel so comfortable throwing it, that we're looking at not using it early in counts. Now, I can use the two-seam or the four-seam to get ahead and then I can use the splitter as a put away pitch. I can't rely on it too much because the splitter is a pitch that the more you see it the easier it is to stay on it and hit it. That's why we're trying to move it to the back of the repertoire to where it's the go-to pitch in a big spot. I think it's certainly something we're capable of doing now with my two-seam and four-seam command coming back." 

"It was probably his number two pitch as far as confidence and throwing," Apodaca said of White's splitter. "He has the ability to throw it again and again, it can be a swing and miss pitch for him, and he can throw it in the strike zone too. The dillemma is that he needs to have that third pitch. The slider that goes away from right handers and gets in on lefties in the zone and then out of the zone. He has focused on that particular pitch this offseason. He has broken it out here in Spring Training and batting practice. So, it can be a very effective pitch for him and he has his two seam fastball that he's confident in and has some good downward movement. Then, there's the power fastball, the four-seamer. He's improving because he's improving his weaker pitches."

Seemingly all young pitchers these days are searching for that good third pitch, for White it's the slider and for Pomeranz it's the change.

"The slider is really a feel pitch," White said. "I hurt my finger on the slider by putting a lot of pressure on my middle finger. That was the one pitch getting back that was going to be the hardest to harness again. I think, especially in my last bullpen, that my slider is really getting back to where it needs to be. The slider doesn't have to be the best pitch in my repertoire, it just has to be something I can throw early in counts and also go to late in counts to strike guys out. I just have to be consistent with it and that's what I'm working on. Making sure it's consistent in the strike zone."

"[My] changeup is a regular circle change that I've been working pretty hard on now this year," Pomeranz said. "I think it's real important [to have that third pitch]. At times last year I'd have two of my pitches working, either fastball and curveball or fastball and changeup. It's a lot easier to pitch when you have all three of those working instead of one lagging behind."

Chatwood, on the other hand, has an assortment of pitches. 

"I've added a two-seamer and a slider and I still have my changeup," he said. "So I'm going to be mixing it up a bunch this year." 

He is also working on his curveball in camp. 

"[The curveball] is something I've had my whole life actually and I'm kind of finishing it a little more. Throwing it for a strike and having it dip out of the zone, so, that's really what I've been working on and getting better at it."

All three of these young arms seem to be getting better and they're all in a competition for the starting rotation. A competition that includes Guillermo Moscoso, Jamie Moyer, Josh Outman, and Juan Nicasio with only three spots available in the Rockies' rotation. 

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