Maligned Rockies rotation dependent on youth, health
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) The NL West has plenty of dominant starting pitchers. None of them reside in the Colorado Rockies' clubhouse.
''That's no one's fault except ours,'' right-hander Jordan Lyles said Sunday.
Sense a little bit of edge? There was anticipation the Rockies would try to trade for a starting arm in the offseason. It never happened, and the ensuing criticism of the guys left over has stung.
''I think it puts a chip on our shoulders to prove a point we don't need to bring in anybody,'' right-hander Tyler Chatwood said. ''We have the guys here. We just had to get them healthy and stay out there for a full season. We've got something to prove.''
Chatwood is trying to return from a second Tommy John surgery. Lyles has been slowed by freak injuries, the last of which required season-ending toe surgery in 2015.
Left-hander Jorge De La Rosa is the closest thing to an ace, but will turn 35 in April and has been injury-prone. Righty Chad Bettis finished last season well, but it remains to be seen if he can be a top-of-the-rotation guy. Righty Jon Gray is the top prospect, but hasn't pitched a full season in the big leagues.
''The talent is unreal,'' Gray said. ''If everyone is healthy, it could be a very dangerous group.''
But there's no Zack Greinke, who is on the other side of the Salt River Fields complex after signing with the Diamondbacks. The Dodgers still have Clayton Kershaw. The Giants got Jeff Samardzija to go along with Madison Bumgarner. The Padres have Tyson Ross and James Shields.
The Rockies have only potential -- and questions -- following a 94-loss season. Rockies starters had the highest ERA (5.27), fewest innings pitched (857 1-3) and highest batting average against (.291) in the majors.
''We didn't make the big acquisition, but we've got some guys who really weren't a part of it last year,'' manager Walt Weiss said. ''I'm optimistic about our starting rotation.''
The Rockies need De La Rosa, the franchise leader in wins and strikeouts, to avoid the disabled list. He threw only 149 innings in a 2015 bookended by injuries.
The 24-year-old Bettis was 3-2 with a 2.97 ERA over his final seven starts, and could become the No. 1 pitcher after a confidence-building finish.
''Getting in the mindset of not thinking I can throw a fastball down and way, but knowing that I can,'' Bettis said. ''Once I knew I could do that whenever I needed to, everything else just opened up for me.''
The success rate for second Tommy John surgery pitchers isn't great, but Chatwood's first surgery happened in high school. He said surgeon Dr. James Andrews told him since his bone had healed, it was like doing a first surgery.
Chatwood is facing no restrictions after pitching 50 innings in the instructional league and the Dominican Republic.
Chatwood is one of the few pitchers to have success in the thin air of Coors Field.
''You can't have that doubt in your mind of, `Oh, it's Coors, I can't make a pitch,''' Chatwood said. ''You've just got to make your pitches, just like anywhere.''
The 23-year-old Gray, the third pick in the 2013 draft, is eager to be turned loose after an up-and-down nine starts a year ago in which the Rockies limited his pitch count and innings.
''A lot of times I really wanted to stay in the game and not have an innings limit,'' Gray said. ''It looks like this year I'm going to get the opportunity to fight until the end.''
Prospect Jeff Hoffman, acquired from Toronto in the Troy Tulowitzki trade last summer, is in big league camp. But he's expected to start the season in Triple-A.
That means any chance for the Rockies to avoid a sixth straight losing season will rest upon a group of unsung guys with a history of injuries and inconsistency.
''It's not on the front office to go get someone,'' Lyles said. ''We have a lot of talented guys here, guys that stepped up last year like Bettis. Chatwood and myself are coming back, but at the end of the day, you've got to perform.''