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Rockies' rotation needs a push from the back

I realize that everyone has been eagerly anticipating my Spring Training preview of the Rockies’ pitchers, but it’s a very complicated case. You know, a lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-yous. And, uh, lotta strands to keep in my head, man. Lotta strands in old Duder’s head. Luckily I’m adhering to a pretty strict, uh, drug regimen to keep my mind limber.

Since the Rox have a ton of pitchers in camp, I can’t limit this to one post. To be honest, I’m not sure how many posts it will take before the job is done. Today, I’m delving into the starting rotation, sans Ubaldo. Like Helton, he is deserving of a post all to himself. After I’m done with the rotation, I’ll hit up the bullpen and the minor leaguers.

Right now, the Rockies are set with their top three starters — Ubaldo, Jorge De La Rosa, and Jhoulys Chacin. However, the back end has question marks and the fourth and fifth spots may be up for grabs. Let’s get to it.

Jorge De La Rosa

This off-season, the Tulo and CarGo signings attracted a bunch of attention, but, since they were already under contract, De La Rosa’s may have been more important. Many thought Jorge would sign for $40M or $50M. Instead, he took a discount to stay with the Rockies.

While Jorge was terrific down the stretch last year — especially in August — the Rox need more of him. He has a ton of talent, but needs to be more durable and eat up innings. He has not reached the 200 inning plateau. Hopefully, this year he will accomplish that goal.

Bill James’s 2011 Projections: 9-11 — 4.45 ERA — 27 Starts — 178 IP

Jhoulys Chacin

Since he’s been in the Rockies’ system, Jhoulys has not had a bad year; let’s hope that continues. De La Rosa received the big money this off-season, but Jhoulys was the staff’s breakout performer last year. He was a huge factor in the Rox late surge and was one of few players that continued to perform during the team’s collapse. He was particularly dominant in September and October, throwing 35.1 innings with a 1.78 ERA.

Chacin’s 2010 success has created high expectations for the young Venezuelan, but he seems prepared to handle the pressure. His teammates and coaches praise him for his poise and he obviously has the talent. If Jhoulys continues to pitch like he did last year, he will be the team’s second best starter.

Bill James’s 2011 Projections: 9-8 — 3.75 ERA — 23 Starts — 151 IP

Aaron Cook

I realize that it’s still a little early to panic, but Cookie’s shoulder has me worried. Teams like to be vague when it comes to pitcher’s injuries. They’ll say a guy is out on a day-to-day basis with shoulder pain. Two weeks later, he’s having his rotator cuff and labrum rebuilt. It’s been over a week since Cook was first pulled off the mound and it doesn’t seem like he’s made much progress. He’s already had his first spring start pushed back.

The Rockies have a lot of pitching depth, meaning they don’t have to wait on Cook. If he doesn’t get healthy soon or if he gets healthy and struggles like he did last year, the Rox won’t hesitate to go with another option.

Bill James’s 2011 Projections: 7-8 — 4.43 — 25 Starts — 136 IP

Jason Hammel

Like Cook, Hammel may also be on a short leash. Last year, he struggled while battling side effects from his cholesterol medication. He’s dropped the medicine in favor of more natural treatments and says he feels better, but he has to prove it on the field.

Ultimately, the job is his to lose. No one is expecting Hammel to become an ace. In a healthy year, he is good for 175 innings and an ERA in the low fours. That’s more than acceptable for a fourth or fifth starter.

Bill James’s 2011 Projections: 9-11 — 4.53 ERA — 30 Starts — 179 IP (Please note: I checked Bill James’s projections after I wrote this piece.)

Felipe Paulino

Aside from Ubaldo, no one throws harder than Paulino. Whether or not it translates into on field success is another story. Paulino, who came over in exchange for Clint Barmes, had a really solid start to the 2010 season, but faltered down the stretch. According to the Rox, he has all the tools. If Cook is out for any period of time, Felipe is probably first in line.

Bill James’s 2011 Projections: 5-9 — 4.86 ERA — 22 Starts — 124 IP

John Maine

If Maine pitches like he did in 2007 for the Mets, the Rockies will have struck gold. That year, he made 32 starts with a 3.91 ERA. Unfortunately, chances of him returning to his previous form are slim. Maine has battled major shoulder problems for the past several seasons. Scouts say he has looked good this off-season, but it’s doubtful he will ever be his old self again. Still, anything is possible.

Bill James’s 2011 Projections: N/A — Bill didn’t count on Maine playing this year.

Esmil Rogers

It’s hard to get excited about guys like Maine and Hammel; we know their capabilities and we’ve seen their best already. However, a player like Rogers is an unknown and his potential is stirring. Though remote, there is a chance he will be the next Jhoulys. Reportedly, he has made significant progress with his change-up this off-season, making him a dark-horse candidate for the starting rotation.

Bill James’s 2011 Projections: 5-6 — 4.59 ERA — 13 Starts — 100 IP

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Tags: Aaron Cook Bullpen Esmil Rogers Felipe Paulino Great Expectations High Hopes Jason Hammel Jhoulys Chacin John Maine Jorge De La Rosa Lotta In Lotta Outs Praying There Are No Melt-downs Starting Rotation Strands In Ol' Duders Head The Big Lebowski Ubaldo Jimenez

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