Coming off a season when they lost a franchise-record 98 games, the Colorado Rockies are unlikely to be worse this year. Realistically, 2013 can be a transitional season leading to better days, but for any significant strides to be made this year, the starting pitching will have to be notably better.
And in particular, the Rockies will need contributions from Jhoulys Chacin, Jorge De La Rosa and Juan Nicasio, each of whom missed significant time due to injury last season.
"For us to make any noise and to be taken seriously, we have to have those guys go to the post consistently," manager Walt Weiss said.
The trio combined to make a mere 28 starts and pitch just 137 2/3 innings in 2012.
Last year, the Rockies starters went 29-68 with a 5.81 ERA. At Coors Field, the starters' ERA was an even more unsightly 6.70 ERA.
Chacin would appear to offer the best reason for hope this year. He came off the disabled list on Aug. 21 after nearly a three-month stay with nerve irritation in his right pectoral muscle, and in his final nine starts had a 2.84 ERA in 44 1/3 innings.
Chacin was eligible for arbitration for the first time this winter, and the Rockies rewarded him with a two-year, $6.5 million contract. His status has changed immeasurably from a year earlier, when general manager Dan O'Dowd was critical of Chacin's offseason conditioning. The right-hander tried unsuccessfully to pitch through spring training and the first month of the season with the injury that resulted in his lengthy stay on the disabled list.
Chacin, who turned 25 last month, has made 67 career starts and pitched in 82 major league games.
"I think the next step for him, as it is for a lot of big-leaguers, is consistency," Weiss said. "It's about putting together numerous (good) starts, and that's easier said than done. But he has a bit of a track record and has dominated some good lineups for a period of time."
De La Rosa, whose $11 million salary is the highest on the team, made three starts for the Rockies in September after finally working his way back from Tommy John surgery in June 2011. Understandably, De La Rosa was rusty and inconsistent and admitted he became very tentative, particularly with breaking balls, and didn't feel comfortable throwing any pitch. But in November, De La Rosa, who turns 32 in April, said he finally felt normal and threw his breaking pitches with confidence and without pain.
"We all know the type of arm he has," Weiss said. "It's electric stuff. But the fact is, he hasn't been out there a lot in the year and a half (since his surgery). There's going to be a period to get him back on track. We are really counting on him to be a top-of-the rotation guy."
Nicasio, 26, met with misfortune for the second consecutive season, albeit nothing as serious as in August 2011, when he was hit in the right temple with a line drive off the bat of the Nationals' Ian Desmond and suffered a broken neck and fractured skull. On June 2, 2012, he twisted his left knee reaching to his right for a ball hit past him. Six weeks later, he underwent season-ending surgery to have four bone chips removed as well as a microfracture procedure.