As the Colorado Rockies go for the sweep today against the San Francisco Giants, Drew Pomeranz makes his Major League debut for the club. He does so at a time in which there is at least one, and maybe two, spots that are wide open in the starting rotation.
The fact that the Rockies have already taken two from their stumbling division foes removes a certain measure of pressure for Pomeranz. Still expectations are high as we envision the possibilities of a rotation that has a 4th strong starter to go along with Jhoulys Chacin, Jorge De La Rosa, and Tyler Chatwood.
In two different stints with the big league rotation over the past two years, Pomeranz’s problems were attributed to poor command of the strike zone. Unable to command his fastball, Pomeranz cut his own legs out from under him by making too many mistakes and offsetting the effectiveness of his best pitches. As he fought his command he started to have troubles staying on top of the ball, working underneath his pitches and making even more mistakes.
At only 24 years old, Pomeranz presumably still touts the same impressive raw talent that made him a first round pick. Needing some time to develop and struggle a little bit does not make him a bust. Having said that, there has to be increased urgency for Pomeranz to want to stick with the big league club this time around. A third round of problems followed by another round of tweaking would certainly be a red flag, even if Pomeranz is still so young.
Thankfully for Pomeranz and for the Rockies, they can learn from the fact that they recently had another young pitcher who kept getting in his own way because he could not command his fastball. No, not the more recent case of Tyler Chatwood. I am referring to the years of struggles with none other than Jhoulys Chacin, he of the 7-3 record and 3.59 ERA in 2013. With Chacin it was always a question of if he could be efficient enough with his fastball to set up his nasty secondary pitches.
Now Chacin is thriving, and in so doing he provides a road map for the young Pomeranz. It wasn’t always easy this season, but lately Chacin has pitched like an ace, flirting with two complete game shutouts in his last three starts. The key will be for Pomeranz to command his fastball and then some: for Chacin it has been more like pound the strike zone constantly. Take his start Friday night, in which he needed only 95 pitches to go eight innings. The reason? 65 of those 95 pitches were strikes.
Interestingly enough, Chacin only struck out three hitters in that start. Like Chacin, Pomeranz has the ability to miss a lot of bats. Like Chacin, he needs to learn to command the zone and be efficient before he starts reaching for those nasty strike three pitches. There will always be something valuable in having the ability to go get a strikeout, but as Chacin showed on Friday, sometimes you won’t need to very often in a given game.
That lesson, one which it took Chacin years to fully master, will be the key for Pomeranz on Sunday against the Giants and every other time he takes the mound for the Colorado Rockies.