DENVER -- Last season was a troublesome one for Jhoulys Chacin. One year after leading the Rockies in wins, starts and innings pitched, the right-hander was limited to 14 starts due to a chest injury that confused doctors and Chacin himself.
"Last season was so tough for me. I worried a lot, since my arm was in so much pain, but I didn't know what was going on. I couldn't find anything wrong with it," Chacin said. "We tried to figure out what was happening for over a month or so, until a doctor in St. Louis diagnosed it was a chest-related problem. Thank God. I feel great now."
The difference is dramatic. Chacin is one of the most consistent pitchers in the Rockies' rotation these days, with a 9-4 record and a 3.50 ERA. He has flirted with a complete game on a couple occasions, something remarkable considering the stereotypes surrounding hitter-friendly Coors Field.
"I have felt really great, the stuff from the past is behind me. I just spent way too much time on the disabled list," Chacin said. "This season, I'm better physically and mentally. That's why I've been able to have the outings I've had, so far."
Chacin did two things that helped him in this turnaround. Conditioning work with former former Major League pitcher Wilson Alvarez. He relates to Alvarez since they were both born in the eastern city of Maracaibo, Venezuela. And to top it all off, Chacin returned to winter ball, throwing for Leones del Caracas in Venezuela.
"Wilson was very helpful during the offseason. I spent four weeks with him. he taught me so many things and supported me with my physical preparation," Chacin said. "I'm seeing the results of all that work today. It is only left for me to keep on working in order to carry the good results I've seen in the first half.
"Pitching in Denver requires you to throw in order to get a lot of grounders, you try to avoid that the ball elevates. You've got to keep your opponents to hit grounders instead of fly balls. That's the one thing I've focused on the most, both at home and on the road. Obviously, the most important thing is throwing strikes, and keeping you ahead in counts. You also want to throw the least amount of pitches possible so you can stay in the game for as many innings as you can."
For a Latin Major League pitcher, trying to find permission from an organization in order to play in his native country can be difficult. Chacin finds it important for him to throw in Venezuela.
"I always ask if I can pitch in my country. If the Rockies allow me to do it, I will do it so. If they don't let me pitch there, that's something I cannot control. But I always ask about it in every offseason," Chacin said.
"I'm absolutely positive that throwing in Venezuela helped me. It was important to have that activity so I could recover after my injury. But keeping yourself active always helps, even though it's not at the Major League level. They allowed me to do so because of my inactivity last year. But I hope this doesn't become a one-time-only situation. I hope they realize that if I play in my country, this helps me in keeping myself in top shape. That way I can report to Spring Training in the best way possible," Chacin said.
One of the things Chacin counts on these days is the support of his teammate, seasoned catcher Yorvit Torrealba.
"Yorvit knows a lot about conducting pitchers, and he is a great asset, because he helps not just Latin pitchers, but every single hurler in the staff, be starters or relievers," Chacin said. "When it comes to me, he says a low sinker will always get a lot of opponents out, and that it will cause a lot of ground balls. He also tells me not to do too much, that I should just keep the ball low, and the results will follow automatically."
Rafael Rojas Cremonesi is a contributor to MLB.com.