Friday, April 19, 2013

Jhoulys Chacin injury will bring the Colorado Rockies their first test

The Rockies might get a big test if Chacin is out for a while.
Seven wins in a row and the talk isn't about how this Colorado Rockies team is defying the odds.

If the noise the Rockies are making wasn't muffled enough by the Denver Nuggets heading into the NBA Playoffs, it was completely muted when starting pitcher Jhoulys Chacin reached for his back in pain after throwing his 100th pitch.

The Rockies ace, the pitcher who everyone forgot was so good, was in the midst of one of his most dominant outings, when what looks like a strained oblique got in his way, and might set the club back significantly.

Chacin had been phenomenal. He didn't allow a Diamondback base runner until the 4th inning, and was sailing along when the oblique injury occurred. His slider had the same bite that he displayed in the minors and showed briefly in the big leagues. It was more like a curveball with a 12-6 break than a true slider. Whatever the pitch, it had a ton of movement and was fooling Arizona batters.

The Venezuelan right-hander was pulled from the game after the injury, going 6-1/3 innings, giving up just three hits while striking out five and walking one. It was the type of outing that most people outside of the organization didn't think they would see from the Rockies in 2013.

Friday night's game was a demonstration that the Rockies aren't the one dimensional team that everyone is painting them into the corner as being. Make no mistake, this team has a phenomenal lineup. There isn't a pitcher in baseball who would be eager to pitch to the starting eight. However, 16 games into the 2013 season, one thing has been an even bigger surprise than the offense. The starting pitching has been better than decent, it has been very good.

Chacin, now 3-0, has pitched like the guy who everyone was raving about when he was making his way through the minor leagues. He is throwing strikes and getting guys out.

It hasn't just been Chacin, either. Dan O'Dowd may take heat (much of which is deserved), but he may have gotten the last laugh in spring training when he wisely pulled Jon Garland off of the scrap heap. Despite not pitching in 2012 because of a shoulder injury, Garland has done nothing but dominate for the Rockies. His presence in the rotation has been a huge boost for the Rockies.

With two pitchers that have been as good as Chacin and Garland are going out there two out of every fifth day, a baseball team starts to believe that they are going to win. There is a feeling that the starting pitcher is going to give them a chance to score a few runs and get the game won. An offense doesn't have to feel the pressure of having to score six or seven runs just to stay in a game. They can go out and know that even if they have a night like they did on Friday, where the log three hits and three runs, that they have a pretty good chance to win the game. That goes a long way for a baseball team.

Despite the positives, the Rockies now face their biggest challenge of the young season. If Chacin is out for any length of time, the club is going to have to turn to Drew Pomeranz, who has pitched well in Colorado Springs, but still has to prove his worth at the big league level. If Chacin misses a month or more, the Rockies are going to need better than they have received from Pomeranz in the past.

Chacin's injury sets the Rockies back, but who would have thought that they would be 12-4 at this point anyway? If they can surprise nearly everyone in baseball, then why can't they surprise everyone with their starting pitching depth.

It won't be easy, but it will tell whether or not this team is as resilient as they have looked so far.

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