To clarify: Jhoulys Chacin does not have a problem with Jeff Francis. There is no feud, nor does Francis pose any other problem for him. What I mean is that Chacin has a problem now that Francis used to have when it comes to the way the Colorado Rockies organization views him.
Francis won 17 games in 2007. His path to that career-best season always proceeded with the tag “franchise ace” attached to it. In the injury-plagued seasons that followed ’07, he was dubbed a disappointment. We know now that those expectations were not reasonable for Francis. That one season aside, he never had the stuff or the makeup to be an ace. Yet it seemed impossible to look at him any other way.
In that same tenure with the club, he presumably could have become a serviceable back-of-the-rotation guy. But nobody involved could see him as anything other than “the pitcher who was supposed to be our ace.” It took him leaving and coming back for the Rockies and their fans to realize that Francis is an ideal fit as #4 or #5 man.
For different reasons, Jhoulys Chacin faces this expectation problem as he prepares to return to the team after his final minor league start last night. From the first time he appeared in a Rockies uniform we have heard about his nasty swing-and-miss stuff. We have known that he can rack up strikeouts in a hurry. His talent and his quick ascension through the minor leagues dictated that he had a chance to be a stud at the top of the rotation. Once the team traded Ubaldo Jimenez and Jorge De La Rosa had Tommy John surgery, Chacin was dubbed the new staff ace.
Will it ever be possible for Chacin to be anything less than that for the Rockies, even if the “anything else” is a perfectly fine pitcher? Will we ever accept anything less than dominance from him?
The way I see it he has one thing working for him and one thing working against him. The thing working in his favor is the apparent decision by Jim Tracy to continue using the four man piggyback paired whatever the hell it’s called rotation. No pitcher, ace or not, can be fairly assessed in that situation. In that sense the pressure will be off Chacin as he eases his way back into things in the next month or so.
The thing working against him is the utter incompetence of the starting pitching this season. This organization is starved for an effective starting pitcher, let alone a guy who can dominate. As the only guy who has shown flashes of that capability, there will be unfair pressure on him to reach that level right away.
When Francis takes the mound tonight, nobody will be upset if he delivers a competitive but average showing: 5 IP, 3 or 4 ER, etc. It took years away from the team and an eventual return under different circumstances for those expectations to be acceptable. Even with the strange turns of this season and the struggles Chacin has worked through, he is still saddled with high expectations. It will be interesting to see if he can either meet that level or find a way to shift those expectations without having to leave and then return. Because really, ace or not, any good starting pitching should be enough.