In Jim Tracy’s first season as manager (2009) the Rockies made a second inexplicable appearance in the playoffs as the N.L. wild card team. Fans saw so many good things happening. There was so much to look forward to for this franchise. The playoff losses to the Philadelphia Phillies were definitely tough to take, but I did not agonize over them too much because the future was so bright. The Colorado Rockies were here to stay.
By keeping a laser focus on optimism after that season, many of us overlooked the long term implications of one storyline – how much the loss of Jorge De La Rosa hurt the team. Fans will recall that DLR hurt himself during the final series of the regular season as the team played the Los Angeles Dodgers and therefore was unavailable for the playoffs. With Jason Marquis ineffective, the self-proclaimed mystery man Jason Hammel was forced to take the hill. Gulp. Even still, it seemed like a mere blip from an otherwise gleaming season.
As the team has grappled with expectations and the line between underachieving and overrated since that season, one fact has remained consistently true: this team flounders when Jorge De La Rosa is out of the rotation.
My dad and I attended the game last year when De La Rosa hurt his pitching elbow. Almost in unison we both said: “Oh no…I hope it’s not serious.” It turns out it was really serious, and a team whose claim to relevance was already flimsy continued its steep decline to an eventual 4th place finish. Lots of things doomed the Rockies last season, but the loss of De La Rosa is unquestionably at the top of my list of reasons.
Now that the Rockies are apparently trying to rebuild and contend at the same time, each flaw is magnified and each hole on the roster seems larger. Nowhere is this more true than the starting rotation, which makes a successful return from Tommy John surgery by De La Rosa essential. Given recent disappointments this is not a surprise. But if I could go back in time and talk to 2009 Hayden, I would smack him out of his celebration and say: “Hey! Pay attention to what happened to them without De La Rosa…it will matter again soon.”
Just how important is Jorge De La Rosa? He might be the first player on the list of names who will determine the Rockies short term ability to contend in the National League West.