I was very eager to get a look at this season’s Rockies as they opened up 2013 in Milwaukee yesterday. The front office cleaned house by firing-except-not-really-firing Jim Tracy and allowing Walt Weiss to start fresh with an almost entirely new coaching staff (bench coach Tom Runnells remains, which was a smart move on Weiss’s part, but everyone else has been replaced). Also, for the first time since May, our starting lineup featured the right guys in every position. The only ones that were up in the air coming out of spring training were 2nd and 3rd base, and Weiss chose to fill those with 2012 mainstays Josh Rutledge and Chris Nelson. Hard to argue with those choices, though I’m still waiting for Nelson to really prove himself and looking forward to Nolan Arenado‘s call-up. So really, it shouldn’t have been hard for these Rockies to do their job. Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki are, healthy, among the best 3-4 combos in baseball, and Dexter Fowler has shown himself to be an able lead-off man. Filling in the gaps, it could get much, much worse than Todd Helton, Michael Cuddyer, and Wilin Rosario. It’s a sturdy lineup with great potential.
And then there’s the pitching. The current starting rotation (Jhoulys Chacin, Jorge de la Rosa, Juan Nicasio, Jeff Francis, and Jon Garland) have all battled recent injuries, and those of the first three partly led to the disastrous “paired-pitching” system we tried out in 2012. But each of these guys is capable of being a powerhouse. Well, maybe not Garland. But you don’t need him to be in the 5th spot. You just need him to be pre-meltdown Jason Hammel-ish.
So it’s a good look. Finally, everyone who’s supposed to be contributing to this ball club is in fighting form. And the leadership is new which means fresh eyes and fresh strategies. How does this team execute?
In truth, I was mostly pleased and gratified. Gold stars in abundance to Chacin, who gave a masterful performance. Far more encouraging than his line (6 2/3 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 6 K’s) was his mentality. The first two innings were rough; Chacin threw 38 pitches between the two and was having trouble locating his fastball. He was saved from damage by some heads-up defense and some quality breaking balls, two things that were good to see in and of themselves. In the past, a rough beginning has been Chacin’s undoing. He sweats, he sighs, he gets nervous, he fails. If he is going to be an ace, he must learn to focus, put mistakes behind him, and have a game plan for when things aren’t going his way. This was the first time in recent memory I actually saw him do that. The sweating was still there, but he pep talked himself almost nonstop, and he worked it out. Something the coaches did with him this spring worked, because his pre-season stats were not good. He could easily have gone into this season a total head case, as he’s been in the past, and blown it. Whether or not he can maintain his coolness is yet to be determined, but this was extremely encouraging. Chacin seems to be gaining some of the confidence and levelheadedness he needs to lead this pitching staff.
As for the offense, well, they more or less did their jobs. Cargo, Tulo, and Fowler all hit home runs and the team combined for 12 hits. There were some ominous signs that things haven’t really changed (stranded runners, baserunning errors), but honestly it just felt so good to see Cargo and Tulo swinging the bat and doing it well that I couldn’t feel too upset about those things.
Of course, we still lost the game, and that was not the desired outcome. Wilton Lopez certainly didn’t do much to recommend himself in his Rockies debut, surrendering 3 runs and the lead in the 8th inning. So maybe it was all too good to be true. But I’m saying, as a Rockies fan from the beginning and therefore witness to a lot of garbage over the years, there are reasons to be hopeful. The 2013 Colorado Rockies are not a perfect organization, but they are a healthy one, and perhaps not as broken as in previous years.