Anchor man: Anderson pivotal to Rox's rotation
Lefty reports feeling healthiest in years at first Spring Training with Colorado
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Brett Anderson is enjoying Spring Training again. He says he is healthy and feeling good for the first time in more than three years.
That is just what the Colorado Rockies want to hear.
Yes, they need to keep shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez healthy if they want to make a move in the National League West this summer.
Anderson, however, more than any other player, will have a bigger impact on the Rockies' success or failure. He has the potential to be exactly what Colorado needs to anchor a rotation that has been the club's real trouble spot the past two years. The starters' 5.81 ERA in 2012 was higher than any season in franchise history since the 6.19 mark from that inaugural 1993 season in Mile High Stadium.
Healthy, Anderson is one of the promising young guys in the game. At age 21, he was an 11-game winner for the Oakland A's in 2009. A year later, Anderson was 7-6 with a 2.80 ERA despite a developing elbow problem that limited him to 19 starts.
Unhealthy the past three years, Anderson has started only 24 big league games, first undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2011. Then, after showing he was healthy enough to earn the A's Opening Day start a year ago, he suffered a stress fracture in his right foot five starts into the season, and then made 11 relief appearances near season's end.
"My arm felt good and my foot felt good at the end of the year," Anderson said. "I was able to get done what needed to get done in the offseason."
That's what the Rockies want to hear. They are ready to wipe away the memories from the rotations of the past two years.
In 2012, it was a team effort. Fourteen pitchers started for Colorado. None had a winning record. They combined for that 5.81 ERA. Jeff Francis, who joined the team in June, led the staff with 113 innings pitched.
There was hope a year ago. A healthy trio of Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin and Tyler Chatwood were a combined 38-21 with a 3.40 ERA. The Rockies won 49 of the trio's 81 starts. Eight other pitchers were given a shot at the final two spots in the rotation. They were a combined 16-39 with a 5.95 ERA, and Colorado went 25-56 in those starts.
That's where the Rockies are looking for the lift from Anderson, acquired from the A's in the offseason for left-hander Drew Pomeranz, the key player whom Colorado acquired from Cleveland in the Ubaldo Jimenez deal.
And Anderson knows it.
"That is all null and void, however, until I go out and make a statement on the field," he said. "Nobody has a higher expectation for me than myself. My own expectations exceed what others expect by tenfold."
While some shoulder soreness could delay Chacin's ability to join the rotation until mid-April, the Rockies feel a healthy Anderson will go a long way in getting the team back toward postseason contention.
Colorado also has reason to be optimistic about the continued development of Juan Nicasio. He was 9-9 in 31 starts last year with a 5.14 ERA. Nicasio was the ultimate hot-cold pitcher. He had a 1.75 ERA in his nine wins and 3.71 in 13 no-decisions. In his nine losses, though, Nicasio averaged less than four innings a start and a 12.75 ERA.
Nicasio, however, has admitted this spring that he tried to pitch though lingering pain in his left knee, which underwent an operation at the end of the 2012 season, and said he now has stability in his plant leg, which will allow for more consistency.
Nicasio would be the leading candidate for that fifth starter spot, but the Rockies also have experienced big league starters Jordan Lyles and Franklin Morales in the mix. The competition also includes the highly regarded Christian Friedrich, who has recovered from a lower-back stress fracture that sidelined him last year, and two of the top pitching prospects in baseball, Eddie Butler and Jon Gray.
As nice an array of options as that is for the final spot in the rotation, none of that matters if Anderson can't turn Colorado's Big Three from a year ago into a Big Four this year.
Anderson is confident that he is ready to assume that role.
"I'm ready to go," he said. "I'm happy to be here."
And the Rockies are happy to have him.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.