It’s tempting to look at 2011 as a whole and lament how disappointing the pitching was. You wouldn’t be wrong for doing so. However, that’s not to say there weren’t some standouts. There were quite a few, in fact. Enough that it took some actual thought for me to narrow it down to the 10 best. All right, so nobody’s going to mistake our team for the Phillies. But that doesn’t mean some guys didn’t do some stuff worth recognizing. I should say that the narrowing-down process was kind of agonizing. I had to leave off a lot of amazing performances. But in the end I gave the edge to those that had some importance outside the actual line.
10. Jason Hammel – September 6
Jason Hammel’s troubles this year have certainly been painful to watch. I have a lot of appreciation for what he brought to the back end of the Rockies’ rotation in recent seasons, so seeing him lose his game hasn’t been fun. I was glad when he was demoted to the bullpen because I wanted to be put out my misery. So when he returned to the rotation last week and had one of his best starts all season, that was huge. He went 7 innings and allowed 1 earned run on 6 hits. He also walked only 1. He wound up with a no-decision, but he can’t consider the outcome anything other than a win.
9. Jorge De La Rosa – April 26
I’m sad to have only included DLR once in this list, but the reality is he didn’t even finish the second month of the season. Also, what made him such a great part of our rotation was his consistency. The other guys tend to alternate between flashes of brilliance and flashes of ickiness; DLR just put out a good old quality start almost every time. Perhaps the best was his April 26th outing in Chicago, when he went 7 innings and allowed 1 earned run on 6 hits and no walks. He also struck out 9. DLR, how I miss you.
8. Jhoulys Chacin – May 19
Jhoulys Chacin had such a terrific first half, prior to succumbing to the pressures that accompanied his unasked-for ace status after the departure of Ubaldo Jimenez. Chacin had a great number of outings worth mentioning on this list, the first of which was against the Phillies on May 19th. He was helped toward the win by Jason Giambi’s home run trifecta, but Chacin held off the Philadelphia offense all on his own. He went 7 innings and allowed 1 earned run on 4 hits and a walk. He also struck out 9 for the first time in his career.
7. Clayton Mortensen – April 18
I realize Clay Mortensen hasn’t been quite what we hoped he’d be when he first appeared on the scene, but this initial outing was unreal. More importantly, it came at a time when it was desperately needed. Esmil Rogers got the start in this game against the Giants, and he was yanked after allowing 8 runs, including 3 home runs, in 3 innings. Morty jogged in from the bullpen, completely untested in a Rockies uniform at this point, and completed the game, pitching 6 shut-out innings and allowing just 2 hits. He hasn’t quite delivered on the promise he showed here, but it was enough to make me hope we’ll see much more of him in the future.
6. Juan Nicasio – May 28
Morty’s debut wasn’t the only one that turned heads. And Juan Nicasio actually did turn out to be as good as his first appearance teased. Skipping over Triple-A completely, Nicasio took the mound against the Cardinals and proceeded to pitch 7 shut-out innings, allowing 6 hits and 2 walks. That’s a great line all by itself, but it’s brilliant when you consider Nicasio’s lack of experience and the potency of the Cardinals’ lineup, especially at that point in the season.
5. Esmil Rogers – April 7
Esmil Rogers has been uneven at best as a member of the rotation in 2011. I think we have enough options that we will not need to use him much in 2012 – at least, I hope we won’t. But I have to admit that at the beginning of this season, I thought he might be the second coming of Ubaldo. In his first outing of 2011, on the mound in Pittsburgh, he went 7 1/3 innings and gave up 1 earned run on 4 hits and a walk. He struck out 7. It was positively dominant. And the Pirates, easily dominated in the past, have been much harder to tame this year, so pitching this way against them qualifies as a legitimate accomplishment.
4. Juan Nicasio – July 1
Nicasio’s May start against the Cards proved that he was hot property, but it was his July start against the Royals that proved he was the real deal. After stumbling a bit in June, he went 8 innings in this outing, allowing 5 total baserunners and no runs. It was an authoritative performance, in which he showed that he could throw more than just his fastball and he could get outs with any pitch. Nicasio’s confidence belies his experience, and I am desperately hoping that confidence wasn’t too much shaken by the broken neck he sustained in August.
3. Jhoulys Chacin – April 15
You never forget your first complete game. At least, I imagine you don’t, having never thrown one myself. But Chacin recorded his against the Cubs in April, and he looked like an ace doing it. In those 9 innings, he gave up exactly zero runs, and allowed 8 total baserunners. That’s the biggest difference between first-half Chacin and second-half Chacin: he walks a lot more guys now, which makes it harder to keep runs from scoring. But we know how good he can be thanks to starts like this. When he strikes out 7 and only walks 2, well, the Rockies win.
2. Ubaldo Jimenez – June 1
I miss Ubaldo. I really do. Drew Pomeranz was pretty brilliant this past Sunday, but that’s just one start, and Alex White has had a tough beginning to his Rockies career. It may all turn out to pay off in the end, but letting go of Ubaldo was hard and I’m not quite over it. One reason for that is because he took a really unfortunate beginning to the season and started to turn it around. I wouldn’t exactly say he hit his stride, but he had some pretty incredible outings once he came off the disabled list. The best of these was in Los Angeles in June. He pitched a complete game and gave up no runs on 4 hits. He also recorded 7 K’s and walked nobody, a sure sign that he was on his game. Outings like this prove that he really was/is a legit ace.
1. Jhoulys Chacin – June 10
Chacin appears on this list more than any other pitcher because he was the best player on the team the first half of the season. None of the pitchers had a great second half, so by default he had the greatest number of noteworthy starts. And this one against the Dodgers was, I would argue, the best of any pitcher on the team all season. It wasn’t a complete game, but it came close, and in his 8 innings he allowed just 6 men on base. He also struck out 9 for the second time, tying his season and career high. Forget Ubaldo, Nicasio, White, Pomeranz: if Chacin can achieve a bit of consistency, he is the future of this team.
Honorable Mention: I desperately wanted to find a place for Esmil Rogers’s outing on July 30th. That is the day that will live in infamy for Rockies fans as the one when Ubaldo Jimenez was practically force-marched to the mound in San Diego to pitch 1 abysmal inning prior to being traded to the Cleveland Indians. Rogers entered the game after Jimenez gave up 4 runs and pitched 5 innings, allowing just 1 run on 1 hit. He kept the team in the game and allowed the offense to come back and win it. And we all needed that.