Questions for spring: Can the rotation be trusted?
Entering spring training in 2010, the Colorado Rockies starting rotation looked remarkably similar to their 2009 rotation, only with former acereturning from injury in place of Jason Marquis, who had left as a free agent. Yet a rotation that went 69-50 with a 4.10 ERA in 2009 dropped to 58-52 with a 4.21 ERA in 2010. Remove from the equation and the rotation’s numbers dropped from 54-38 with a 4.28 ERA to 39-44 with a 4.61 ERA.
The difference? In 2009, 10 pitchers made starts for the Rockies but 155 of 162 games were started by just five pitchers — Jimenez, Marquis,, and . In 2010, only eight pitchers made starts, but the five pitchers expected to fill out the rotation — Jimenez, Francis, Cook, De La Rosa and Hammel — accounted for just 125 of 162 starts. The Rockies’ second-best starter arguably was , a rookie who bounced between the bullpen and the rotation as well as between the majors and the minors.
In 2011, the Rockies again will bring back a similar group of starters, this time with Chacin in the rotation full-time in place of Francis, who left as a free agent. But a lingering question hangs over each starter:
- Can Jimenez maintain his dominance for a full season?
- Can De La Rosa, the second-highest-paid Rockie in 2011 after , live up to his contract by pitching 200 innings and be the No. 2 starter the team needs?
- Can Chacin, whose solid rookie season went almost totally unnoticed outside Colorado, emerge as the frontline starter his stuff suggests he could be?
- Can Hammel move to the next level ?
- Can Cook regain his form?
The success of the rotation could depend on health more than talent and as long as they’re healthy, Jimenez, De La Rosa, Chacin, Hammel and Cook will answer their questions in the regular season. But Cook will be watched closely in spring training after a season in which he nearly lost his spot in the rotation with an inconsistent stretch in late July and early August but instead went on the disabled list with a toe injury. If the anticipated rotation can again account for the vast majority of the team’s starts, the Rockies could be in line for a season more like 2009 than 2010. But worth watching in spring training is whether or not the Rockies have an answer to perhaps the biggest question regarding their pitching staff: what happens if the rotation is again hit with injuries? Next in line are, , and . Behind them are prospects , and . If the Rockies are going to be able to withstand even minor injuries, they’ll need a backup plan better than they had in 2010 when Greg Smith and Rogers combined to go 2-4 with a 6.28 ERA and the team won just three of the 16 games they started.