Chacin to start home opener for Rockies vs. Giants
The NL West boasts some of the best arms in the game in Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Jhoulys Chacin.
Wait, Jhoulys Chacin?
The Colorado Rockies' hard-throwing righty who has 20 career wins, one fewer than Kershaw had in his Cy Young Award-winning season a year ago?
Yep, that one.
Don't chuckle, because Chacin could very well be the next big thing in a division that's already loaded with elite pitchers.
The ace in the making has even more electric stuff this year, and it will be on display in Colorado's home opener Monday against the San Francisco Giants.
That's why manager Jim Tracy gave Chacin this stage: To show off the 24-year-old youngster to the capacity crowd donning purple pinstripes.
''We're going to send him out there where expectations will be high,'' said Tracy, whose team finished up a season-opening, three-game series Sunday in Houston. ''He's come a very, very long way and is starting to show some signs. With the right development, he could become one of those next big names out of the NL West.''
That's lofty praise, too, especially since five of the last six NL Cy Young Award recipients have come out of the division.
Such chatter won't go to Chacin's head, though. Too many other things to worry about.
In the buildup to the home opener, he's just trying to keep the butterflies at bay.
''I just want to go out and do my job,'' Chacin said. ''I can't worry about all the people, just go out and pitch. It will be good to see how I do after all the work in the offseason and in spring training. You just want to go and throw how you throw.
''You try to just go and throw and go deep in games, and that's how you have to think.''
Chacin showed glimmers of his budding talent last season when he finished 11-14 with a 3.62 ERA. He was making steady progress this spring as well, until a bothersome blister surfaced on his right index finger.
He said the crack near his cuticle won't be a concern as he goes up against Barry Zito on Monday and a Giants lineup led by star catcher Buster Posey.
''It's been good the last few times I've pitched,'' said Chacin, the lone Colorado pitcher to remain in the rotation the entire 2011 season. ''I think it will be fine. It's healed. Everything's good.''
All spring, Chacin has been concentrating on one area - keeping the ball down. That way, he can get more groundouts, which is quite valuable at Coors Field.
He said his problems last season surfaced when he tried to blow his fastball by hitters. This time around, he's not afraid of contact and is willing to let his fielders do more of the work.
''I just wanted the strikeout. Now, I try to use my pitches and just make my pitch, and don't worry about what happens,'' explained Chacin, whose team was 38-43 at home last season. ''In the beginning, that was a little bit hard to say, `OK, don't think about striking this guy out.'
''I've been practicing and I'm just happy with the hitter making contact, as long as I feel like I made the pitch I wanted to make. I feel pretty comfortable with it.''
Good thing, too, because that's one way to go deeper into games. Quick outs always help keep the pitch count low.
''If you throw a lot of pitches early in games, you've got less chance to win,'' Chacin said.
He's got two role models preaching the importance of that principle. In one ear is Jamie Moyer, the 49-year-old ageless wonder who's long gotten by thanks more to his smarts than his strikeouts. The other is Jeremy Guthrie, an innings eater who frequently goes deep into games.
''You saw what Guthrie did the other day: He allowed three runs, but he went seven innings and we won,'' Chacin said. ''That's a really good example of what I need to do.
''Things won't always be all good, so you just keep working and keep trying to get better.''
AP Sports Writers Kristie Rieken and Chris Duncan in Houston contributed to this report.