DENVER -- One of the Rockies' better pitchers of the last four years has yet to throw in a regular-season game this season, but Jorge De La Rosa is on the cusp of starting a Minor League rehab assignment and could be back in the big leagues by June. He was scheduled to pitch in an extended Spring Training game against the A's in Arizona on Friday, with a target of 65-70 pitches.
"We're getting closer with him," manager Jim Tracy said Friday. "We'll be anxious to see after the outing today where he's at when he comes in, how he's feeling. We'll go from there. He's definitely moving in the right direction, no question about it."
De La Rosa is 39-26 in four seasons with the Rockies, including a 5-2 start to the 2011 season with a 3.51 ERA through his first 10 outings before season-ending surgery to repair a ulnar collateral ligament tear in his left elbow. Tracy was prepared to have a conversation with head athletic trainer Keith Dugger "in the next couple days" to start looking at a timetable for a rehab assignment.
"It'll be a progressional thing, I'm sure," Tracy said of the Minor League rehab. "We won't just throw caution to the wind and throw him out there to the wolves. We're not trying to go too fast, not trying to push the envelope too quickly, not trying to get somewhere a few days earlier than you would have if you had just stayed the course."
Early estimates had pointed to a July return for De La Rosa, who went on the disabled list last May 25, but he has made steady progress and may return sooner without having to rush his recovery.
"Once he gets out and he officially gets started in some of these different leagues and starts moving his way up the ladder that way ... those competitive fibers get going," Tracy said. "When you're competing in leagues where there's something at stake for those players that are competing there, that's part of the process, too, because it's been a long time since he's done that last."
Fellow left-handed pitcher Josh Outman is also on the comeback trail, as he will start a Minor League rehab assignment with Class A Modesto on Saturday. He's scheduled to pitch the first inning, then continue in his progression as a reliever.
Outman was acquired from the A's in a January trade for Seth Smith. He is 8-8 with a 3.75 ERA in 33 appearances (25 starts) in the Majors, all with Oakland.
Rockies make lineup adjustments against Mets
DENVER -- As the Rockies started their second homestand of the season on Friday, they found themselves in the middle of the pack in the National League West. While manager Jim Tracy acknowledged the team has picked itself up to win its "fair share of games," he has his sights set on the Rockies winning more than their share, which prompted a tweak to the lineup for Friday's series opener with the Mets, as he dropped Dexter Fowler from second to eighth and moved hot-hitting Jonathan Herrera from the bench to the No. 2 spot.
"We're 18 games into a season that each and every day there seems to be something that isn't quite where you'd like it to be," Tracy said. "Our starting pitching was a little suspect early on. Our bullpen picked us up and was phenomenal. As of late, we've gotten much more consistent starting pitching, but we've had a couple of hiccups in the bullpen."
The juggle to the lineup comes on the heels of the Rockies' 40th franchise doubleheader on Wednesday, which was the first where the club combined for fewer than 10 hits in the two games. The Rockies scored three runs while splitting the doubleheader, and Tracy is looking to enhance the club's performance in "setting stages" for the middle of the lineup.
The Rockies' lineup has, entering Friday, been most vulnerable at the top, with Marco Scutaro hitting .227 (15-for-66) and Folwer at .222 (12-for-54). With third baseman Chris Nelson still sore after a diving play in the first game on Wednesday, Friday was a perfect day to get Herrera and his .389 (7-for-18) average in the lineup.
"[Herrera's] back in there today at third base, and in order to try and create something at the top and get these guys in the middle the opportunity to get something going there seeing some Rockies on base, we're going to try this," Tracy said. "But I also think it serves this purpose: it gives Dexter Fowler an opportunity to not have to stand there not feeling good about the fact that he's in that position hitting in the order and he's not getting on base and heap that on top of him, in addition to the fact that there's some things in relation to his swing that he's looking for."
Tracy indicated it could be a one-day move or a multiple-game switch, but there are advantages to Fowler hitting in front of the pitcher at the bottom of the order. If Fowler can exercise patience, he should draw more walks, bringing his speed into play.
"With him eighth, if we get him on as a leadoff guy, we have options other than just bunting the guy to second base and giving up an out," Tracy said. "We can do it that way, but there's other things we can think about doing with the type of speed that he has."
Pacheco making progress at third in Minors
DENVER -- Rockies prospect Jordan Pacheco was optioned to Triple-A Colorado Springs 12 days ago to give him more consistent playing time at third base as he makes the transition from catcher to infielder. He's spent the last 11 days making a powerful case for his return.
Pacheco figures prominently in the Rockies' long-range plans, but while sharing time at third with Chris Nelson and Jonathan Herrera, the club worried that he wasn't getting enough experience to develop into an effective third baseman. Since going to Colorado Springs, he has exploded at the plate and made great strides in his comfort level at third.
"It's not been a matter of catching the ball," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said. "It's a matter of standing in a position that he had not played a whole lot of over the course of the last few years and thinking about, 'What am I going to do with this ball if it's hit to me in this situation,' and then reacting to how did the ball come off the bat, where is the traffic out on the bases. That's where he struggled."
In 10 games with Colorado Springs, Pacheco is hitting .450 (18-for-40) with a double, two homers, and 4 RBIs.
"He is hitting the [heck] out of it," Tracy said. "If he continues to push the envelope like he's doing, we'll get into a position where he's forcing the ball over into our court and forcing us to make a decision."
Pacheco's bat has opened the Rockies' eyes over the past two years, and he made the Opening Day roster on the strength of his .339 (20-for-59) Cactus League performance. He came to Spring Training competing for the backup catcher's job, but with the ahead-of-schedule emergence of Wilin Rosario and the disappointing spring of third baseman Casey Blake, the Rockies began focusing on his skills in the infield.
"He's starting to feel much more comfortable playing the position," Tracy said. "I get it. That's the message I wanted to hear. When you've been catching the last three years, now you have to brush the cobwebs off this other stuff after having been drafted as an infielder and expose it to him more often."
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.