Rox's rotation should follow De La Rosa's lead

September 20th, 2016

DENVER -- was a 10-year baseball journeyman, who spent the bulk of his time bouncing around in the Minor Leagues with the D-backs, Red Sox, Brewers and Royals, when the Rockies decided to give him a shot. In spring 2008, Colorado acquired him from Kansas City to complete a trade for Ramon Ramirez.

"None of the metrics look good, but [scout] Terry Wetzel saw something in him and really believed in him," former Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd remembered. "The Royals were down on him, so we decided to see what might happen."

The answer to the question: plenty.

De La Rosa, who will turn 36 two days after the Rockies' scheduled April 3 opener next season, made what manager Walt Weiss said will be his final start of the season on Tuesday night against the Cardinals. It most likely is the final start of his Colorado career.

A free agent this offseason, De La Rosa would not seem to fit in a Rockies rotation that is built on promising youth. He, however, leaves with a legacy of success.

"He has shown that you can pitch at Coors Field and win games there," O'Dowd said. "He has been a great contributor and has shown you can survive just fine."

Coors Field has been De La Rosa's salvation despite a final start in which he allowed eight runs (seven earned) in 4 2/3 innings against a postseason-hopeful Cardinals team that won, 10-4.

In parts of five big league seasons with the Brewers and Royals, De La Rosa was a combined 15-23 with a 5.85 ERA in 97 games (41 starts).

Things changed in Colorado. De La Rosa has the most victories (86-61) and best winning percentage (.585) in franchise history. He is the Rockies' all-time strikeout leader with 985, and he ranked second to Aaron Cook in games started (200) and quality starts (102).

More than that, De La Rosa was 53-20 all-time at Coors Field, a .736 home-field winning percentage that ranks second to only since the start of the 2008 season among pitchers with more than 30 decisions.

"My breaking ball does not move as much at Coors Field," De La Rosa explained, a twist on most pitching complaining about a lack of movement. "I can control it better."

Weiss said he felt the key is "the changeup. He keeps hitters off stride. It's a key in this ballpark."

In addition to the confidence of Wetzel, which was validated over the past nine seasons, there was the impact of former Colorado pitching coach Bob Apodaca and former mental skills coach Ron Svetich.

"Dac did a wonderful job with him, helping him smooth out his delivery, and Ron was able to get through to him on the mental part," said O'Dowd.

And while De La Rosa can get very technical in explaining how Apodaca helped him, he has a simple explanation for Svetich's impact.

"When I would get frustrated, he told me to just take a deep breath," said De La Rosa.

The Rockies, however, are undergoing a changing of the guard. The legwork of amateur scouting director Bill Schmidt and his staff is paying dividends. Colorado anticipated a youthful rotation with dominant arms come next April.

It will be anchored by , a first-round Draft choice and the third pick overall in 2013, who is coming off a club-record 16-strikeout performance against the Padres on Saturday night; lefty , a first-round pick of Schmidt in 2011; and right-hander , the Rockies' second-round selection in 2010. The three of them are a combined 19-6 at Coors Field this season.

, coming off Tommy John surgery, is a solid No. 4 starter, and Colorado is now looking at to step into the fifth spot. He will make his Major League debut on Wednesday, and by dropping De La Rosa to go with a five-man rotation the rest of the season, Marquez will receive three planned starts, the last one on the final day of the season.

Marquez was the key player for the Rockies in trading to the Rays last offseason, and he was the Pitcher of the Year in the Double-A Eastern League this season, pitching for a Hartford team that played its entire season on the road because of stadium construction delays.

And waiting for a chance to step in are , the right-hander who came from the Blue Jays as part of the package for , and lefty Kyle Freeland, Colorado's first-round Draft pick in 2014 out of the University of Evansville. Freeland happens to be a Denver native and grew up pitching at altitude.

It's a depth the Rockies haven't enjoyed before. Now, to see if the new faces can follow the path that De La Rosa created.