The only problem is that De La Rosa has been here before and fans seem hesitant to get too excited about his return. In 2009, De La Rosa earned the hope of fans and the faith of management after winning 16 games that season. It was no surprise to see him in the No. 1 slot for 2011, but that all changed on May 24 of that season.
Can De La Rosa keep his hot start this year going all season?
On July 12, against the Washington Nationals, De La Rosa's fastball dropped off in speed by the top of the fourth. By the time he was pulled in the fifth, De La Rosa had already thrown 96 pitches. While that is an average count for an ace, the fact that only 54 of them were strikes is disconcerting.
To keep his hot start going, De La Rosa has to reduce his pitch count in the early innings. In order for De La Rosa to be regarded as a true ace, he has to show more ability to consistently get outs in the early innings while keeping his pitch count low enough to last into the seventh.
Aside from building his endurance, De La Rosa and Jim Wright need to do something about the inconsistency of his slider. That pitch was once an integral part of De La Rosa's arsenal, but today it just seems like he's hoping for the best when he puts it out there. His slow breaking ball and changeup appear to be working, but they are not enough to keep him hot or crown him a legitimate ace.
How did we get here?
It has been a slow and challenging recovery for De La Rosa following his surgery in June of 2011 to repair the torn ligament in his left elbow. Tommy John surgery is becoming pretty common among big league pitchers, so management and De La Rosa were very optimistic about his future with the club. When he came back to work last September, De La Rosa's performance scared even him. His slider was gone. He was obviously gun shy with the new elbow, but management still had faith.
De La Rosa was put on a strict rehab program that pushed him to finally hit that breakthrough status last November. That was when De La Rosa experienced that "aha moment," as he described it to the Denver Post. The Rockies wanted De La Rosa to pitch winter ball, but he declined, citing knee problems; everyone started to get nervous again. His arm seemed ready, but it was hard to tell if his confidence had been lost after such a long recovery.
Then this season's April 2 start came and De La Rosa's premiere against the Milwaukee Brewers was less than remarkable. The Rockies got the win, but De La Rosa gave up four runs before being pulled in the bottom of the fifth. Out of 77 throws to 20 batters that day, he had thrown 45 strikes. However, the 8.31 ERA De La Rosa earned against the Brewers did not look like the return of the dominating ace that the Rockies were hoping for, but his momentum started to build a couple weeks later. By the time De La Rosa faced the Arizona Diamondbacks in the second half of April, things were looking up.
Then out of nowhere came that awful showing against the Los Angeles Dodgers when De La Rosa gave up 11 hits in four innings. Apparently Psy, the Korean pop star, is the bad-luck charm for the ace that should be banned from attending any future Rockies games. Fortunately, that poor performance is looking more like a fluke as we now progress through the season.
De La Rosa's ERA has not been over 3.58 since the end of April, but how can management keep it going? This is De La Rosa's contract year, so the tendency might be to wring everything out of him to make up some difference on his cost; however, that does not appear to be Walt Weiss is thinking. Management has only let De La Rosa pitch into the 7th inning three times so far. Only against the Houston Astros on May 28 did De La Rosa hit a 110-pitch count.
It may be tempting to test out De La Rosa's second-chance elbow, but the better option is to keep him at the low 90-pitch count. The Rockies may not be dominating the division with their starters, but nobody in the National League West is this season. Keeping De La Rosa consistent and healthy is going to give the Rockies that payoff this year that his arm has been promising since 2009.
Lou Hebert, a former sportswriter for the OC Voice newspaper, is a freelance journalist and commentator covering the Colorado Rockies for the Yahoo! Contributor Network.
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