De La Rosa trying to rediscover 2013 form
Rockies left-hander carries two subpar efforts into Friday night's start in San Francisco
DENVER -- Not even the cold he was fighting could spoil left-handed pitcher Jorge De La Rosa's mood in the Rockies' clubhouse on Wednesday morning.
In uniform before many of his teammates, De La Rosa broke into the soft smile that's usually present when he isn't on the mound.
"I just have to stop thinking, have fun and win the most games I can for this team," De La Rosa said.
De La Rosa's first two starts have been anything but fun. There was the sudden and concerning loss of location and cool in a setback at Miami on Opening Night, then the disappearance of strike-throwing ability Saturday at home against the D-backs in a game Colorado rallied to win. He hopes to bring back the good times when the Rockies travel to AT&T Park on Friday night to meet the Giants in the opener of a three-game series and a seven-game National League West road trip.
De La Rosa lasted just 4 1/3 innings in each of the two starts and unpacks an 8.31 ERA in The City by the Bay. But this is the same pitcher who went 16-6 with a 3.49 ERA last season -- the one who has twice won 16 games for the team, and the one Colorado spent $11 million for this year to pick up his option.
Now De La Rosa must return to who he was last year, not who he was many years ago.
De La Rosa came to the Rockies from the Royals in 2008 known as a pitcher whose emotional swings sometimes negated a left arm that could throw a fastball in the mid-90s and confound hitters with his changeup. When he went 16-9 with a 4.38 ERA in 2009, it appeared hotheadedness was behind him. Only health -- a torn pulley tendon in his left middle finger in 2010 and a blowout of his left elbow in '11, followed by many setbacks that limited him to three games in 2013 -- slowed De La Rosa.
But this year, one Spring Training game saw him and catcher Wilin Rosario run into problems with the signs, and De La Rosa's outing fell apart in the fifth inning -- after four standout innings. It was a preview of his first outing, when De La Rosa flashed his temper on the mound during a conversation with Rosario. After being removed, he tried to rip a towel apart before kicking a trash can in the runway from the dugout to the clubhouse. The control came and went in the second outing, as well.
De La Rosa said he just has to clear his mind of unnecessary thoughts, but he doesn't say there are any overwhelming issues.
It's a contract year, but De La Rosa noted that he's handled those before, so he doesn't believe it's the root of his pressure. One of Colorado's directives was for him to increase his use of a sinker on the inside part of the plate to right-handed hitters. De La Rosa has made a career of setting up his changeup on the outside corner to those hitters.
De La Rosa is 8-4 with a 3.90 ERA in 19 games, including 16 starts, against San Francisco, which has hit .242 against him. Last year, he was 1-1 against the Giants, but they hit .329 against him and left him with a 6.16 ERA in the four games. So De La Rosa will be facing a team that hasn't beaten him often but shows signs of unlocking the secret.
The balance between necessary change and going away from what works -- his .611 career winning percentage is by far the highest for a pitcher with 50 or more starts for the Rockies -- will ultimately be on De La Rosa's shoulders.
"They're a great challenge for me, but I'm ready for them," De La Rosa said. "I've been playing in this division for seven years. They really know me.
"If I need to change, I'll change. But I have to pitch the way I've always pitched. I'm going to try to be me. I'll find myself."
The Rockies have any number of possible attitudes to help De La Rosa regain his effectiveness. Rather than hammer him on strategy or turn the emotions into the No. 1 issue, pitching coach Jim Wright has spent the days since Saturday reminding De La Rosa that a successful pitcher is somewhere inside trying to break free. Wright's message is to maintain the proper delivery and success will happen.
"I think De La is fine," Wright said. "He had a little bump in the road and started overthrowing. We talked about trusting his stuff. He's one of the best left-handed pitchers in the game of baseball.
"I just reminded him who he is and that I have confidence in what he can do. I'm here for him and the whole team is behind him. Move forward from there."
De La Rosa insists he hasn't forgotten.
"It's only two games," De La Rosa said. "I was in those situations before. I know how to get out.
"It's normal when I don't pitch well -- a lot of people are going to start worrying about me. But I believe in myself. I know what I have to do to get better. That's what I'm going to try to do."