Things couldn’t have been going better for the Rockies last week. The club was dominating at home and had an eight-game winning streak heading into the weekend. Jhoulys Chacin, the ace of the staff, was even looking like a true number one starter. And then after pitch 100 against the Diamondbacks, the Venezuelan showed an expression of pain.
An MRI taken a few days later revealed a mid-back strain. Manager Walt Weiss decided to put his ace on the 15-day disabled list. It may be not be a serious injury, but will force the other starters to pick up the slack during what could be the most difficult stretch of the season.
Chacin missed his first start following the injury Wednesday against the Braves. Tyler Chatwood, who saw significant time in the rotation last season, was brought up from Colorado Springs to replace him. He showed flashbacks of the disastrous 2012 season that plagued most of the Rockies’ starters, giving up four runs on 10 hits over six innings.
All signs point to Chacin only missing another two starts, which look to land against the Dodgers and Rays. No problem, right? Not necessarily. Prior to Chacin’s injury, the Rockies’ rotation was putting in solid performances on a regular basis.
Jorge de la Rosa, Juan Nicasio and Jon Garland had all won games with effective outings. Since Friday’s injury to Chacin, the rotation has managed only one quality start (de la Rosa), spanning five games. The wheels might not be falling off, but they definitely are deflating in a hurry.
The Rox now head to Phoenix for the start of a seven-game road trip, where they hopefully won’t be snowed out for a fourth time this season. Good starting pitching will be absolutely essential for the team to be successful away from Coors Field once again.
Through three and a half weeks of 2013, Chacin and de la Rosa have been the most consistent starters. Look for Chacin’s injury to put more weight on de la Rosa to possibly do too much on the mound. You don’t know what you’re going to get from the other three starters, especially after the last several games.
I’m not sold on Nicasio being a long-term starter. He relies on fastball location way too much, so if he’s off even an inch or two, he gets in trouble. Unless he finds the ability to throw two off-speed pitches to complement his fastball in the next few weeks, he needs to be moved to the bullpen.
Jeff Francis, who had the most impressive spring of any starter, has limped out of the gate early in 2013. Rockies’ fans know that Francis has had success in purple pinstripes and is not afraid to pitch at altitude.
Similar to what the ageless Jamie Moyer did for so many years; Francis tries to do the same thing on the mound. They both are like artists, using a fine brush to keep hitters off-balance at the plate and forcing them to get themselves out.
Francis just hasn’t looked right unfortunately. I’d give him another three starts to see if he can turn things around. If he can’t, the front office will be forced to make a decision with him.
Jon Garland, the fifth starter, has looked solid aside from a disastrous performance against the Braves a few days ago. He’s been everything Jeremy Guthrie was supposed to be: a reliable veteran that instills confidence in the team every time he pitches.
The Rox don’t get a break after losing two of three to the National League-leading Braves. The next series where Tulo and company can breathe a bit easier isn’t for another month when they play the triple-A lookalike Houston Astros.
Until then, the Rockies will be clawing and scratching for every win they can get. Going into May 27 at or just above .500 would be huge in this team having a chance to keep competing in the division.
But Weiss needs good starting pitching from all his starters. The persistent struggles of Francis or Nicasio should lead to the promotion of Drew Pomeranz sooner rather than later. The Rox don’t need a savior on the mound. They sure could use a healthy Chacin quickly though.