This is part 2 of the starting pitching preview. Click here for part 1, which previewed the 5th starter spot.
The ambitions for the Rockies offense this year are high. Lack of situational hitting be darned, the team was productive last year, ranking 3rd in the National League in runs scored. Coming off of that season the team added bats like Michael Cuddyer and Marco Scutaro to build on those statistics, with hopes to solidify offense as an advantage over the other pitching-heavy NL West teams.
These offensive hopes modify the expectations for certain pitchers on the Rockies staff. This is true specifically for two young guns who are projected in the middle of the rotation, each of whom needs expectations for the upcoming season to be appropriately tempered. By the “middle” of the rotation here I mean the #3 and #4 spots.
Drew Pomeranz and Juan Nicasio enter the season with a lot of hype for entirely different reasons. Pomeranz is known as the main guy whom the team acquired for Ubaldo Jimenez. He has been nothing short of dominant this spring; if not for a slight injury detour, he might have emerged from camp with even more buzz than there already will be. Juan Nicasio is the most incredible story in all of baseball, and that is not some type of homer hyperbole talking; no player has ever attempted what Nicasio is doing.
Manager Jim Tracy recently talked about the importance of getting “18 outs” from his starting pitchers. The idea is that the offense should be able to score enough eventually if the starters are competitive for 6 innings, thereby giving them that chance. If this mantra holds true it takes some pressure off the rotation, which also happens to be the shakiest aspect of the club moving forward.
This alleviation of pressure is especially important for Pomeranz and Nicasio, for two distinctly different reasons.
The Rockies hope that Pomeranz is an ace in the making, and his performances so far seem to dictate that he is on that path. But nobody can reasonably expect him to be that right now. He is tasked with a difficult yet familiar predicament for a young pitcher: he needs to simultaneously develop for the future and make contributions on the big league level now. The faster he develops the better, but the team cannot afford to rush such a valuable piece. He will be monitored carefully throughout the season. His total innings will be capped. Pitching with consistent run support will only benefit Pomeranz as he deals with the layers of hope that have been heaped on him by a franchise that recently underwent so many changes.
What is sometimes lost in Nicasio’s story is how early he still is in his development. He made the jump straight from AA last year and, on many levels, is still a raw talent. So while we will all get goosebumps each time he takes the mound, once the games start there will be some rough moments. Nicasio needs to improve his secondary pitches and show that he belongs in a big league rotation for an entire season. Therefore he also can only benefit from having a good lineup; the Rockies aren’t asking him to carry the team on any given day. That makes a real difference considering everything else that Nicasio will be dealing with.
More concrete projections: Pomeranz will come out of the gate as the #3 starter. He has earned it with his performance this spring, and it makes sense to interject a lefty in between three right handed pitchers.
Nicasio will be the #4 starter, which will slate him to debut in the Rockies home opener on April 9th. Baseball makes me cry anyway; that moment, if it happens, will make me downright weepy.