Looking inside, De La Rosa sees start get away
Outing against Indians exposes areas to work on in command, communication
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- If Spring Training is for working on methods and ironing out problems, Friday's performance from Rockies left-handed pitcher Jorge De La Rosa illustrated exactly why these games don't count toward a championship.
The Rockies have asked De La Rosa, a two-time 16-game winner for the club (2009 and last season), to be better able to pitch inside with his fastball. They want him holding runners on base as well.
But Friday against the Indians, De La Rosa gave up five runs and nine hits in just three innings. Afterward, he chuckled and said, "All the base hits, I tried to go inside." No one stole a base, but he left many pitches over the plate while trying to keep runners close.
Add that De La Rosa shook off signs from catcher Wilin Rosario -- who is trying to learn to read how the game is going -- more times than anyone was comfortable with, and, well, that's why they call it Spring Training.
"I just didn't have any command today," said De La Rosa, who has one more Cactus League start before his first career Opening Day start, on March 31 at Miami. "I tried to go in, and the ball stayed in the middle. I tried to go away, and the ball stayed in the middle. Everything was middle-up today.
"I want the season to start, but I have to work on my things. I have to pitch good here before the season starts. Today was a bad game. I'll try to forget this and get ready for my next outing. That's all I can do."
De La Rosa's outing brought him to an 8.44 ERA this spring, but his history shows that spring numbers don't necessarily carry. He had a strong spring last year, 2.84 in four appearances. But before his other 16-win season, in 2009, he had a 6.86 in six games.
Holding on runners has been an emphasis for the Rockies for years. The issue to watch is increasing De La Rosa's use of the inside fastball, especially to right-handed hitters.
He has always used the pitch to back hitters away for his fastball and changeup on the outer corner, and he mixes in a slider that looks to be outside but breaks toward the hitter's back foot.
Both Friday and in his first start this spring, when he gave up four runs in 1 2/3 innings against the Brewers, he simply did not get the ball where he wanted. But he is following the instructions.
"I have to pitch my way, but they tell me that I can get better if I throw inside," De La Rosa said. "I have to listen to them, because they know a lot about the game."
De La Rosa said pitching inside had always been part of his strategy. Whatever he does seems to work. He has 8.1 strikeouts per nine innings in six seasons in a Rockies uniform. But right-handed hitters have a .275 career average against him, and they hit .286 last season.
There is a happy medium between doing what he is told in Spring Training and incorporating the strategy during the regular year.
"I pitch inside when I need to," De La Rosa said. "You have to see what the hitter is doing. Not all the time you can come in. The hitters made adjustments, too. They know if you keep throwing them inside, they'll be looking for it. But if you're getting them out away and they're looking away, then you can come in on them.
"It depends what team you're facing and what hitters you're facing. I've been playing a lot of years in this game, and I know how to get hitters out."
Rockies manager Walt Weiss said no one was asking De La Rosa to change his basic strategy.
"I don't think he needs to make any drastic changes," Weiss said. "I think all pitchers strive to be as complete as they can be."
Friday was not a step toward completeness.
"I guess the one bright spot is he got his pitch count up, building up toward the regular season," Weiss said after De La Rosa threw more than 70 pitches in the three innings.
The lack of cohesion with Rosario, who is still developing a feel for his pitchers and the way hitters are reacting to the pitch plan, was an issue Friday. De La Rosa put some of the responsibility on himself.
"Today I think we were on the same page," De La Rosa said. "Today, I shook him off, but it was because I lost concentration and didn't pay attention to the signs."
Whatever the case, Rockies catching coach Rene Lachemann did not like what he saw.
"The pitching-catching combination was not very good at all," Lachemann said. "It will be addressed, and it has been addressed already for me. You can't have the shake-offs and stuff like that and other problems that went on.
"It can't be done that way. If I had the answer, we wouldn't be doing it. But it's been something that we've had here for a while."
De La Rosa challenged himself to exercise better command in his next start and not wait for the adrenaline of the regular season to fill in the gaps, even though it might be exactly what he needs.
"It really wasn't there today," he said. "But I think I can fix all this stuff."