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Say “Pitchers and Catchers Report” Like it’s a Good Thing

By Chris Jacobson

It’s almost springtime in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Bone chilling cold and ski season is on its way out. Football is done and the NFL draft is still over two months away. Perfect. Perfect because springtime in the Rockies means springtime in Tucson and springtime in Tucson means pitchers and catchers reporting for our boys from Blake Street.

Generally speaking, pitchers and catchers reporting is merely something that whets ones appetite for spring training, but this year is different. These are not the Blake Street Bombers of old, winning every game in a shoot out, using Coors Canaveral to their advantage, winning at home and losing on the road. Not to be mistaken for a team that can’t hit, but for the first time in a long time the Rockies are winning with pitching, not in spite of it.

Long gone is the optimism of David Neid, the promise of Kevin Ritz, the contract of Mike Hampton and the dating woes of Denny Neagle. This year’s spring training has real starting pitching questions, an odd feeling for long time Rockies fans.

How is Jeff Francis’ shoulder? Can he return to the form that made him so dominant in 2007 or even “Mr. Reliable” in the two seasons before that? How good is Aaron Cook going to be? The Rockies could use the version of Cook that pitches 175 to 200 innings. Is Ubaldo Jimenez ready to make the next step? The flashes that can be seen in him seem to be coming more and more often. There were moments last year when he was unbeatable, but just moments also there were moments that he couldn’t find the strike-zone with a map and a Sherpa. Is he really going to grow into the machine that the Rockies and Peter Gammons think he can be? Can Jorge De La Rosa continue to tear up opposing hitters? The sixteen wins of De La Rosa’s were arguably the biggest reason the Rockies set a team record for wins. As a fan you really have to be impressed with the young De La Rosa rebounding from a zero and six start to finish sixteen and nine. Jason Hammel rounds off the starting five and looks to build on successes which have seen his ERA drop in each of his first four seasons in the majors. The Rockies have added Greg Smith from the A’s as a potential fifth starter. Smith is young and took some lumps his rookie season but a four run ERA and almost two hundred innings pitched his rookie year says he may be someone to utilize in injury relief or as a fifth starter in case Hammonds or Francis can’t go or a middle reliever who can chew up innings.

There are questions about middle relievers, closers and who’s going to catch for them. We will all miss Yorvit Torrealba’s late game heroics but should look forward to what Chris Ianetta can do with a full season with less platooning. The Rocks also brought in Paul La Duca for his bat and experience; the latter should be a true benefit to this young staff. The assumption can be made that Huston Street will be the closer and continue to grow into his potential. The set-up men seem equally established with Franklin Morales throwing from the left side and Rafael Betancourt pitching from the right. We shouldn’t expect too much from Taylor Buchholtz as he is recovering from Tommy John surgery and won’t be on the mound until at least June. It should be interesting to see if Manny Corpas can regain some control. He started 2009 on a decent note but quickly lost command and his spot to Street. He has a couple of minor surgeries in the off season and looks to make a bigger contribution. Fans should also look forward to seeing appearances by Jhoulys Chacin, an up and coming Rockies pitcher who pitched a few innings in the majors in 2009 and his strike out to innings pitched ratio would be impressive is not seen next to his walks per IP. The Rockies expect great things from him.

We will miss Torrealba and Jason Marquis. Torrealba’s late innings and Marquis pre-all star break will be missed but the 2010 season is full of expectations and promise. Its baseball in the Rockies and for once fans are looking for their pitching to guide the Rockies past the Dodgers and Giants. It feels a little different, sure, but it’s still our boys of summer, only this time we don’t have to hold our collective breaths every time a pitcher takes the mound.

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