DENVER -- The memory lingers for Rockies right-hander Tyler Chatwood.It was late last August. He was with the Rockies' Class A Advanced affiliate in Modesto, Calif., getting ready to make his first appearance in a professional game since he had undergone Tommy John surgery for the second time in April
DENVER -- The memory lingers for Rockies right-hander Tyler Chatwood.
It was late last August. He was with the Rockies' Class A Advanced affiliate in Modesto, Calif., getting ready to make his first appearance in a professional game since he had undergone Tommy John surgery for the second time in April 2014. And there was an anxiety of the uncertainty he was going to face -- until he threw that first pitch in that game against San Jose.
"My wife was with me in the hotel room and we were talking the night before, wondering if I was ready for this," Chatwood said. "After the first pitch all that went away. I knew I was."
Oh, was he ever ready. He started once more for Modesto before the Minor League season ended, worked with the Rockies' instructional league team and then resumed his preparations for a return to the big leagues at the Scottsdale, Ariz., clinic where he had been a regular since his rehab began.
And when he walked into the Rockies' Spring Training clubhouse for that first time in February, there wasn't a doubt in his mind. He had not only rehabbed the elbow, but he had reconditioned his mind. He had talked at length with Zack Greinke about the mental side of pitching when the two worked out in the offseason, and he spent countless hours watching videos of Greinke and Tim Hudson, looking for ways to improve his approach.
"I watched how they would go about their business," Chatwood said. "They were always on the attack. They never back down. If there was a guy on second, they were still attacking that hitter. Before I would try and miss the barrel. I'd try to stay away from the bat. But watching them, talking to Greinke, I realized if I wanted to work deep into games I had to be more efficient. I had to be more aggressive."
So far, so good.
After convincing the Rockies during the spring that he was ready to step into the rotation, he has only reinforced their confidence in him with the way he has pitched with efforts like his seven-inning, one run (zero earned), walk-free start in the Rockies' 5-2 victory against the Giants on Friday night at Coors Field.
He threw only 84 pitches, the fewest he has ever thrown in an appearance of four innings or more. It was the seventh time in Rockies history a starting pitcher worked at least seven innings in a start without giving up a walk or allowing an earned run.
He raised his record to 6-3 and lowered his ERA to 2.83 with his seventh quality start among the 10 starts he has made.
"This is big not only for me, but my whole support system," said Chatwood. "My wife, my parents. The Rockies organization. They never gave up on me."
It's a good thing because Chatwood is better than ever.
During the conversations with Greinke, and having viewed the mechanics of Greinke and Hudson, Chatwood became a better student of the game.
He became living proof of the Dan Quisenberry mantra, "Try easier."
From watching the videos, and the talks with Greinke, Chatwood had a whole new approach to his job. Patience.
"I used to try and throw 95 every pitch," he said. Not now.
He has backed it down a few miles per hour, and confounded the radar gun experts by losing four miles off his fastball and getting better.
"It has a little life," said Chatwood. "I have low force on the ball and it sinks. It's about hitting your spots. If you miss your spots at 95 [mph], players are going to get their hits. You aren't going to throw it by them."
And the residual is throwing in the low 90s puts less strain on his arm. He feels it lessens the risk of another Tommy John surgery and will allow him to eventually work deeper into games. His seven innings Friday equaled the fifth longest of his career, the second longest since 2011.
Chatwood felt strong enough to go deeper in the game, but manager Walt Weiss is more concerned about Chatwood's long-term durability than risking an extra inning today for a possible injury tomorrow.
"I talked with [Chatwood] in Spring Training about [keeping] your expectation realistic," said Weiss. "He is a great competitor and [perfectionist]. But you have to maintain your perspective. He hadn't pitched in two years. You can't make up for lost time in a start or two."
Chatwood, however, has come close. He is 10 starts into the season and light years ahead of any expectations the Rockies had.
"He hadn't pitched in two years," said Weiss.
Chatwood, however, showed a determination in his Minor League rehab to get back to where he was before the latest series of incidents sidelined him for 16 months.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com.