Heading into the spring, the Rockies were saying that their rotation was already decided. Ubaldo Jimenez, Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin, Jason Hammel and Aaron Cook had the five spots locked up.
However, fans have to wonder if the club was quietly running a tryout for the fifth spot.
It wouldn't have been a surprise after Cook has struggled since his 2008 All-Star season. 2010 was especially a struggle for the right-hander. He posted a 6-8 record with a 5.08 ERA in 23 starts. Even more unimpressive, the redhead gave up 13 leads in which his offense staked him to.
However, it would have been difficult for the Rockies to start the spring by saying that their winningest pitcher in franchise history, who is making just over $10 million in 2011, would be battling it out for the final spot in the rotation.
Just a few days into spring, the Rockies were able to avoid declaring a battle, when Cook complained of shoulder stiffness after throwing his first bullpen. This injury leaves Cook extremely questionable for the Opening Day roster and seriously jeopardizes his chances of being a factor in the rotation.
The injury has opened the door to a fifth starter battle between Felipe Paulino—acquired from Houston in the Clint Barmes trade—Esmil Rogers, and newcomer John Maine.
Paulino shows extreme promise. The right-hander throws hard and is able to fool hitters, but has never been able to put it all together at the big league level. In 19 games at the big league level in 2010, Paulino posted a 1-9 record with a 5.11 ERA. That lone win? It came against the Rockies. However, in just over 91 innings, Paulino struck out 83 batters. The Rockies are hoping that they can find a way to help Paulino take the next step. The 27-year old is out of options, so if the Rockies don't see him in the rotation, he most likely will start the year in the bullpen.
Rogers is an interesting case. In his 72 innings of big league action in 2010, he showed flashes of brilliance, with the prime example coming in the July 4th game in which he threw four innings of scoreless relief, stranding the bases loaded twice after his teammates failed to help him get outs. But he also showed his weaknesses.
On August 25th against Atlanta, Rogers couldn't get out of the second inning, giving up seven earned runs on eight hits. Some wondered at the end of 2010 if Rogers might be a good candidate for a seventh inning-type of guy out of the bullpen. His stuff is nasty, and for one inning, he would be very difficult to hit. However, the Rockies still view him as a starter.
The third option is Maine. The former Mets ace fell out of favor with now-fired manager Jerry Manuel in 2010. On May 10th, Maine was removed from the game after one batter. Manuel came to the mound with the trainer, but after the game, Maine said that nothing was wrong with him physically. That was the last time he pitched for the Mets.
Maine was looking to bounce back from an injury-plagued 2009 in which he missed most of June and all of July and August. After easing Maine into action, the Rockies saw what he could do on Wednesday, when he threw a scoreless inning after the benefit of a double play. More importantly, the radar guns had Maine at 92 MPH, a sign that his arm still has some life left.
The fact remains for Maine; he is a long-shot. To write him off would be presumptive at this point, but for now, it looks as if the decision is going to be between Paulino and Rogers. Either one shouldn't concern Rockies fans out of the fifth spot in the rotation, but knowing that Maine is around and more than capable of eating up some innings is definitely a good feeling.
It should be interesting to see who puts their foot down and claims the fifth and final spot.