DENVER -- Poor pitching was the father of creativity for the Rockies in 2012.
The Rockies never planned to have 49-year-old Jamie Moyer, back after missing 2011 because of left-elbow surgery, in their season-opening rotation. Although they had 20 seasons of research saying traditional starting pitching plans haven't worked often, it's doubtful they would have ever gone to a four-man rotation with a low-pitch limit in the middle of the season had the starting pitching been effective. Bob Apodaca stepped down as pitching coach before the season ended.
By all accounts, the resignation of manager Jim Tracy in October wasn't part of the plan, either.
But as the calendar year moved toward a close, the Rockies moved their creative juices away from merely trying to put out fires to figuring out ways to improve a team that finished 64-98 -- the worst mark in club history.
The November hiring of Walt Weiss as the sixth manager in club history would qualify as out-of-the-box thinking. After leaving his job as a special front office assistant with the Rockies in 2008, Weiss coached youth sports and in 2011 became head coach at Regis Jesuit High School in the Denver area. But the Rockies have long thought he would be successful in the Major League ranks, and the success last season of Robin Ventura with the White Sox and Mike Matheny with the Cardinals -- two managers who had similarly been away from the game -- reduces the skepticism that fans and media may throw toward such a move.
The Rockies hired Mark Wiley, a longtime Major League pitching coach who has worked for the Rockies two previous times and has an understanding of what works at altitude, as director of pitching operations. He'll not only work with the two-headed pitching coach plan -- Jim Wright, assisted by Bo McLaughlin -- but he'll have a hand in development and scouting. It's a move away from trying to solve the problem with radical pitching plans and toward developing the abilities and mental toughness necessary to pitch at Coors Field.
The other move that required a different plan was hiring former Rockies All-Star Dante Bichette as hitting coach. Since his retirement, Bichette has been coaching his own children at the youth and high school levels, as well as working privately with young prospects in the Orlando, Fla., area. What Bichette has that many hitting coaches who have been circulating the Major Leagues don't is a time-tested understanding of the adjustments needed to try to stabilize the team's hitting performance at home and on the road. The home-road splits have been every bit as vexing as the challenge of finding credible pitching over the life of the franchise.
The 2012 season forced the Rockies into a long period of rethinking, which sometimes gave way to attempting to reinvent the game. However, if they can use the lessons to find the path to winning baseball, all the brainpower will have been used wisely.
Here is a look back at key points in a year that forced the Rockies to think.
1. The old man and the mound:
The Rockies thought they had pitching depth coming into Spring Training, thanks to multiple trades for young pitching, plus a number of pitchers the team had developed that seemed on the cusp of making an impact. Signing Moyer was a fallback plan.
Then the Rockies' pitching fell apart.
Jorge De La Rosa's return from left-elbow surgery went slower than expected. From the earliest Spring Training outings it was clear Jhoulys Chacin wasn't right either, and it took a horrible start and multiple examinations before he was diagnosed with a nerve issue in the right side of his chest. Josh Outman, obtained from the Athletics, had an abbreviated spring because of injuries. Righties Alex White and Tyler Chatwood didn't have the command to begin the year in the rotation. Neither did lefty Drew Pomeranz, but he was in there nonetheless because there weren't other choices.
Moyer pitched well enough in the spring to make the club, and he made history with his two regular-season wins by becoming the oldest starter ever to win a game. However, he also became emblematic of the pitching struggles. The inability to offer much of a change of speeds between his fastball and his changeup left him vulnerable, and making it even as far as five innings was a challenge. Granted, that was a problem for the rest of the rotation, but the Rockies felt there was no way Moyer could make the adjustments, so they released him.
2. Happy stories didn't last long:
Moyer's wasn't the only feel-good story that didn't last long.
On Aug. 5, 2011, fans watched in horror as pitcher Juan Nicasio was hit in the head with a line drive during a game at Coors. If not for fast work by the Rockies' training staff and emergency personnel at the ballpark, Nicasio might not have made it through life-saving and career-saving surgery to repair a broken neck.
Nicasio, however, made a fast recovery and clearly earned a spot in the Rockies' season-opening rotation. But his route to Comeback Player of the Year was interrupted by another injury, this one a right-knee injury he suffered while twisting to field a hard-hit ball past the mound on June 2. Nicasio missed the rest of the season.
3. When Tulo went down, the offense and defense went with him:
During the first series of the year, Rockies two-time Rawlings Gold Glove-winning shortstop Troy Tulowitzki slipped slightly while making a defensive play and felt a twinge in his left groin. Tulowitzki would commit some uncharacteristic errors early and struggle at the plate. His pain intensified during a May 30 doubleheader. It turned out he had scar tissue that had to be removed. Despite a couple of injury rehab stints, Tulowitzki never returned.
Losing his glove was one of the reasons the Rockies led the Majors in errors. Without Tulowitzki's bat, and with subsequent injuries to Todd Helton, Michael Cuddyer and Ramon Hernandez, pitching strategy against the Rockies became easy. Simply avoid slugging left fielder Carlos Gonzalez -- who finished with 22 home runs but just five after the All-Star break.
4. CarGo is capable of big things:
Despite the aforementioned problems that plagued the Rockies throughout the season, the Rockies saw themselves as being able to turn things around quickly if everyone is healthy and on the same page.
On May 30 and 31, Gonzalez homered in four straight plate appearances. He was the 22nd player in history to accomplish the feat, and the first do to so since Albert Pujols in 2006. Gonzalez followed his fourth homer with a double, which left him one shy of the record for extra-base hits in consecutive plate appearances. Larry Walker went for extra bases six straight times for the Rockies during the 1996 season.
With leadoff man Dexter Fowler coming off his best year, possibly Jordan Pacheco in the No. 2 spot after leading National League rookies with a .309 batting average, plus Gonzalez and a healthy Tulowitzki, the Rockies expect to have a potent top and middle of the order.
5. First time is a charm:
Pacheco's consistent hitting, all while playing third base and first base, with some limited catching worked in there, wasn't the only rookie performance that left the Rockies excited.
Catcher Wilin Rosario hit 28 home runs, breaking the club's rookie record previously held by Helton. He also posted a .530 slugging percentage -- the highest such mark by a rookie catcher since the Dodgers' Mike Piazza slugged at a .593 clip in 1993.
The many injuries also gave chances to Josh Rutledge, who hit .274 with eight homers while filling in for Tulowitzki at shortstop; and DJ LeMahieu, who struggled in an early callup, but retooled his swing at Triple-A Colorado Springs and was able to finish the Major League year at .297 while playing mostly second base.
He wasn't a rookie, but Tyler Colvin was a standout performer in his first year in a Rockies uniform. Obtained in a trade with the Cubs, where he was a standout rookie in 2010 but had a rough 2011, Colvin played the outfield and first base, and hit a healthy .290 with 18 home runs and 70 RBIs.