Sunday, June 16, 2013

Chacin the Machine: Colorado Rockies get exactly what they need with performance from ace

Jhoulys Chacin gave the Rockies exactly what they needed on Sunday.
Look around Coors Field at the start of the 9th inning on Sunday and there were certainly long-time Colorado Rockies fans rubbing their eyes, wondering if they were being deceived by what they saw.

Jhoulys Chacin, the Rockies starter on Sunday, walked to the mound looking for the first Rockies complete game in nearly two years.

The righty didn't get his complete-game shutout, missing it by literally two inches as right fielder Michael Cuddyer couldn't reach a flyball off the bat of Jimmy Rollins. The double scored Ben Revere and ended the Rockies hopes for a shutout. After another single, which scored Rollins, Chacin's day was over. Rex Brothers sealed the win, finishing out the 5-2 Rockies victory.

In the midst of the game there was plenty of questioning of Walt Weiss. A complete game for a Rockies starter is as rare as a no-hitter seems to be. However, the Rockies locked down the win with a four-pitch Brothers strikeout that ended the game and gave the Rockies a big series win which moved them within a half-game of the National League West lead.

Amazingly, Chacin left the game after throwing just 86 pitches. Of those 86, 69 were thrown for strikes.

Words cannot describe how needed the start was for the Rockies. After a very good start from the five guys in the starting rotation, slowly the starts have been less and less impressive. Lately, a good start from a Rockies starter involves them making it into the 6th inning and giving up only three runs. As good as the offense has been, the starters have to be better in order to keep the pressure off of the offense to produce every night.

Chacin, as the ace of the staff, was the one who needed to do it. He answered the call on Sunday. A day after the offense scored 10 runs, but had to sweat out the final six outs, and two days after scoring seven runs and building a five run lead, only to see that lead evaporate and turn into a loss, Chacin proved the pitchers could do their part.

The key for Chacin is simple. Pound the strike zone. When the Venezuelan pounds the strike zone, and isn't afraid to throw his change up, he gets outs. When he is consistently in the zone, his pitches have enough movement on them to miss the sweet spot of bats. Throwing strikes also allows the pitcher to not be forced to challenge a batter. When Chacin is ahead in the count, batters have to wave at not-so-great pitches. When he is working behind in the count, he is forced to throw his fastball more often, and he has to throw it over the plate. That doesn't usually end well.

The good news for the Rockies is that Chacin has the talent to be dominant against any team he faces. His slider, highly-touted while he was making his way up the farm system, has proven to be every bit as good as advertised. His change-up, when he throws it for a strike, might be even more dominant. When he throws it inside to right-handers, he is nearly impossible to get good wood on.

After a 5-5 homestand in which most believed the Rockies needed to make a statement and go 8-2 or 7-3, the Rockies still find themselves just a 1/2 game out of first place in the National League West race. They haven't taken advantage of every opportunity, but they have done enough to hang around.

The key moving forward is to get as many starts the resemble Chacin's as possible. A starter doesn't have to go eight-plus innings, but the idea that going five innings being good enough simply doesn't cut it.

The Rockies offense has been as advertised. They can score runs against anybody. However, if they know that their starting pitcher is going to require them to score seven runs to win, and even that might not be good enough, they will suddenly be a team that is pressing at the plate. Hitters suddenly feel like they have to score in every inning and do something special in every at-bat. That never ends up being good for those hitters. Baseball isn't a game that goes well when the player is pressing and trying to do too much, baseball is best played relaxed.

Chacin's start, with the bullpen overworked and out of place with Rafael Betancourt injured, was incredibly well-timed. This team needed to let their extra arms sit around in the bullpen for a day without having to throw, get loose, or do anything that required them to expend any additional energy. Getting that day off should bode well for the future of this pen.

If the Rockies can get starts that keep the bullpen rested, and keep pitchers like Josh Outman and Wilton Lopez off of the mound, they will be in good shape. If they continue to do what they have done through the first third of the season, the bullpen will be so blown out that they will have little to no chance of staying in the race.

Chacin did his part on Sunday. Whether the rest of the rotation can make that a trend will be found out this week.

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1 comment:

  1. With Betancourt set to come off the shelve in the next week or so (assuming everything goes as planned) what do we do with Rex? Leave him as a set up guy? Move him into the closer spot and put Betancourt back to an 8th inning set up man?

    Betancourt has always been an 8th inning man forced into a closer role due to the departure of Street. Why not give Rex the closer spot?