Rockies need better starting pitching

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

The Colorado Rockies endured the worst season in their 20-year history and lost a franchise-record 98 games. They didn't enter the season with realistic hopes of contending after 89 losses in 2011 but expected to improve and finish with a record around .500. Instead, they regressed badly.
The silver lining in this lost season was that a host of rookies and players with limited experience had the opportunity to play a lot due to a slew of injuries.
Catcher Wilin Rosario, third baseman-first baseman Jordan Pacheco, shortstop-second baseman Josh Rutledge, infielder Chris Nelson, outfielder-first baseman Tyler Colvin, infielder DJ LeMahieu, outfielder Eric Young Jr. and outfielder Charlie Blackmon improved and generally performed well. The Rockies have a much better feel for the capabilities of these players than they did at the outset of the season and know they can be contributors -- and in some cases may be trade pieces.
The flip side is that a group of young starting pitchers was given ample work, and the results were nowhere near as encouraging. Drew Pomeranz, Alex White, Christian Friedrich and Tyler Chatwood all struggled, although Pomeranz and Chatwood showed promise at the tail end of the season.
These pitchers must improve greatly to show they belong in the majors. And even then, it's questionable whether any of them will be more than bottom-of-the-rotation types.
The Rockies need better starting pitching, plain and simple. Jhoulys Chacin performed well when he came back from a three-month absence in August. Jorge De La Rosa finally returned from a 16-month layoff following elbow surgery and was predictably erratic in three late-September starts. But he's pain-free and should be better next season. That might be the case with Juan Nicasio, who missed the final four months of the season following knee surgery.
Notwithstanding these three pitchers, the Rockies need at least one dependable starter; two would be ideal. It was a tumultuous season pitching-wise. Pitching coach Bob Apodaca resigned in June after 10 years on the job. On June 19, the Rockies went to a four-man rotation with each starter limited to about 75-80 pitches. But that system lessened the side work that could be done in the bullpen between starts and created too much of a focus on pitch counts, particularly the remaining pitches after a lengthy inning. Starters were also lulled into thinking they had done their job with four decent innings, which wasn't the aim of the system. So when Chacin came off the disabled list Aug. 21, the Rockies went to a five-man rotation with roughly a 90-pitch limit.
The Rockies are expected to stay with a five-man rotation that limits the starter to no more than 90 pitches next season and utilizes hybrid relievers who work multiple innings on a more or less set schedule. There are some strong pieces at the back end of the bullpen in Matt Belisle, Rex Brothers and closer Rafael Betancourt -- although the latter, who will turn 38 during the first month of the 2013 season, raised at least mild concern with ninth-inning homers and blown saves in his final two appearances.
The Rockies also need to play better defense, which will help the pitching immensely. Rosario was a liability behind the plate, save for his throwing, but worked hard and was steadier in the final weeks of the season.
The Rockies have shown they will hit and will score runs even with veterans such as Troy Tulowitzki, Michael Cuddyer and Todd Helton missing significant time due to injury.
Changes to the coaching staff are expected. All coaches returned for the 2012 season, but that was manager Jim Tracy's decision. The fate of the coaches -- and Tracy, for that matter -- rests with Bill Geivett, who in August was given the title of director of major-league operations in a front-office shuffle.
The Rockies lost their way at Coors Field, where they once dominated opponents who wanted no part of the place and knew the Rockies were waiting to pounce in the late innings. This year, the Rockies' 35-46 (.432) home record was a franchise-worst, and they were an astonishing 2-89 when trailing after eight innings, including 2-42 at home.
To make any meaningful move upward, the Rockies will need to find the swagger at Coors Field that ebbed in 2011 and vanished entirely this season.

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