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Rockies reward De La Rosa with Opening Day start

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies left-hander Jorge De La Rosa received a reward Wednesday after a long and triumphant journey.

A Tommy John elbow surgery cost De La Rosa 16 months, from May 2011 to September 2012. Finally healed, De La Rosa posted his best career year in 2013 -- 16-6 with a 3.49 ERA -- and was one of the brightest performers in a last-place season for Colorado.

The performance, his years of accomplishment in a Rockies uniform, and the fact he is healthy led Rockies manager Walt Weiss to name De La Rosa the starting pitcher in the season opener on March 31 at Miami. The Marlins will start righty Jose Fernandez.

"I think it was a hard time, the last three years," De La Rosa said. "Last year, I think of all the sacrifice I did, and rehab and everything. This year, I think it's going to be exciting for me. I'm ready for this, and I hope I can help this team to win a lot of games again."

Weiss is happy to reward De La Rosa.

"He's worked really hard, and he deserves it," Weiss said. "He's a great pitcher for us, a great pitcher at our park."

The decision also puts De La Rosa in position for two starts in April against the Giants, a National League West foe against whom he has had success (8-4, 3.90 ERA in 19 games, 16 starts).

Last season, De La Rosa, who turns 33 on April 5, matched the career-high wins total he established in 2009, but did it with a lower ERA, and went 10-1 with a 2.76 ERA in 14 starts at Coors Field. De La Rosa pitched through a bruised left thumb for much of the second half of last season.

The 2013 performance was enough to convince the Rockies to pick up his $11 million club option. Although he will be a free agent at season's end, De La Rosa has said he would like to stay with the Rockies.

De La Rosa was at his best after a Rockies loss -- 10-0 with a 3.52 ERA in 14 of those starts. Now the Rockies are counting on him to start the season on the right track.

"It's exciting for me," De La Rosa said. "It's an honor for me to be the Opening Day starter. It's going to be my first one. Not too many guys can do this in their career. I'm ready for the challenge."

Going into Spring Training, the Opening Day start was a toss-up between De La Rosa and righty Jhoulys Chacin, who also rebounded from injury in 2013 and went 14-10 with 3.47 ERA in 31 starts last season. But Chacin reported to camp suffering from pain and inflammation in his throwing shoulder and has yet to throw a bullpen session. He is improving but is still expected to miss two or three starts.

Still, De La Rosa expects the rotation, buoyed by the addition of left-hander Brett Anderson -- last season's Opening Day starter for the Athletics -- and with righties Tyler Chatwood and Juan Nicasio entering with another season's experience, to be a team strength. The Rockies have finished last in the National League West the last two seasons, but De La Rosa sees enough talent for dramatic improvement.

"We've got a lot of good pitching right here," De La Rosa said. "I think Anderson can be a No. 1, too. They say I will be the opener, and I said yes. It's an honor for me to be the Opening Day pitcher.

"It's a goal to be in the playoffs and go as far as we can. I think we've got enough talent to be in the playoffs or win the World Series. I believe in this team a lot. I think we can do it. We'll see what happens."

Weiss also revealed that he is considering using lefties De La Rosa and Anderson consecutively in the rotation. They work at different paces -- De La Rosa the most deliberately of any Rockies starter, Anderson at a lightning pace -- and are different enough to not create a problem.

"We can go either way there -- I talked about splitting them up early on, but that's not the priority, really," Weiss said. "We'll see. There's the possibility they could go back-to-back.

"It makes it tough on opposing left-handed hitters. If there's a semi-platoon, with two left-handers back-to-back, they're not going to sit a good left-hander out back-to-back. It kind of puts them in a spot to make a decision."

De La Rosa is thankful to be healthy enough to earn his status.

The elbow injury occurred on May 24, 2011. De La Rosa expected to miss about a calendar year and seemed ahead of schedule, but setbacks kept occurring. He didn't make it back to the mound until Sept. 20, 2012. The team was long out of contention, and De La Rosa spent so much effort rehabbing that he was not in good condition. He went 0-2 with a 9.28 ERA in three starts, and was a question mark heading into last season.

"It's hard when you get setbacks like I had that year when I got the surgery," he said. "It puts a lot of things in your mind, but I never gave up. I kept working the same way, and I'm here now. I've got a good year last year, and I hope I can have good years like I had last year, something similar or better than I had last year."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb.

Colorado Rockies, Jorge De La Rosa