The Rockies are easy to overlook. But don't get caught napping this season.A franchise that is based in what Curt Gowdy coined "the forgotten time zone," Colorado has not won a division title in its 24 years of existence, and it has had six consecutive losing seasons, but it has
The Rockies are easy to overlook. But don't get caught napping this season.
A franchise that is based in what Curt Gowdy coined "the forgotten time zone," Colorado has not won a division title in its 24 years of existence, and it has had six consecutive losing seasons, but it has been labeled a sleeper this season. And there's reason to think the Rockies will wake up.
The Rox still have one of the most dangerous lineups in the Majors and a defense that is among the elite in the game, and there is every reason to believe they have the pitching that can make a statement, too.
The Rockies know it. Let the rest of the world moan and groan about the challenges of Coors Field. Colorado's pitching staff welcomes the challenges.
"You see the opposing pitchers come in here, see them pitch and talk to them at [batting practice] the next day and they are asking how we pitch here," said right-hander Tyler Chatwood. "Pitching here and having success here, you take pride in that when some of the best guys in the game come in and struggle and tell you, 'I don't know how you do it.'"
It has been a challenge over the years, particularly for the blue-chip pitchers the Rockies have acquired, including Darryl Kile, Bret Saberhagen, Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle, who struggled to adjust to the fact that numbers other than victories can't be a driving force at Coors Field.
"You don't worry about any numbers except wins," said Pedro Astacio, a former Rockies pitcher and currently a special assistant. "You give up four runs, your focus isn't on giving up four runs. It is not giving up a fifth run. You know if you keep it close, you can win."
And the Rox have won at Coors Field. Since it opened in 1995, they are 972-802 at home -- a .548 winning percentage, fifth best in the National League.
Success over time has been built on pitchers battling to hang on or young pitchers who come out of the system.
"When you are coming up in the Minors, the idea of pitching at Coors Field becomes a badge of courage," former Rockies right-hander Aaron Cook said.
Along with a realigned bullpen that features Greg Holland as the closer and Adam Ottavino, Jake McGee and Mike Dunn helping Holland get the final nine outs of the game, Colorado has a young rotation that has shown signs of being able to handle the challenges of Coors Field.
Yes, the Rockies were dealt a setback early in Spring Training when Chad Bettis, who underwent offseason surgery for testicular cancer, has to undergo chemotherapy because the cancer was discovered in his lymph glands. He is out until at least the All-Star break.
The Rox, however, have not been deterred. They have a rotation that will be built around three young arms -- Jon Gray, Tyler Anderson and Chatwood -- who have shown an ability to deal with Coors Field, and two rookies from a foursome of Antonio Senzatela, Kyle Freeland, Harrison Musgrave and German Marquez.
Bettis was stellar at Coors Field last season. He was 8-2 and the Rockies won 12 of his 14 starts at home.
Gray went 7-2 and the Rockies won nine of his 14 home starts last season, and Anderson went 5-2 with Colorado wining seven of his 12 starts. Chatwood was only 4-8, with the Rox winning five of his 14 home starts, but he was coming off Tommy John surgery, which had kept him from pitching in the big leagues since April 2014. In his first two years and one month with Colorado, Chatwood went 10-4 at Coors Field.
There were struggles early last season, which stemmed not only from Chatwood having been limited to two Minor League games in the previous 23 months. Under new pitching coach Steve Foster and bullpen coach Darren Holmes, Chatwood was allowed to throw his curveball and ditch the slider he believed led to his elbow injury. However, it required reacquainting himself with an adjusted release point at Coors Field, where the pitch doesn't break as much as in other parks, even though it is still effective.
"That's always been my best pitch," Chatwood said. "You don't want to throw it for a ball and fall behind. This spring, I've focused on [the curveball] and changeups. I feel good."
The Rockies feel good, too. And for all reasons, it's because they like the way their pitching staff has come together.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com.