Colorado Rockies' Pitching Rotation is Rocky Mountain High

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Colorado Rockies' Pitching Rotation is Rocky Mountain High
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
PNC Park in Pittsburgh, PA. The Colorado Rockies beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 7-1 in the Pirates' home opener on April 7, 2011.

What panic button?

The Colorado Rockies spoiled the home opener for the Pittsburgh Pirates 7-1 on Thursday afternoon to increase their lead in the NL West to a full game over the San Diego Padres.

While shortstop Troy Tulowitzki hit another home run, Carlos Gonzalez continued to show his prowess at the plate and on defense, Todd Helton looked 28 instead of 38 again and the rest of the team proved with their 4-1 start that this is not the same team that just missed out on the postseason last year, one major storyline came out of Pittsburgh over all the rest.

This pitching rotation is good.

 

Ubaldo Jimenez is Down, but Not Out

We all have concerns over Ubaldo Jimenez and his cut cuticle, but face the facts. The chances of Jimenez free-falling after his stint on the disabled list are slim to none. He's eligible to return on April 17th against the Cubs, and all signs point to him pitching that day. That's good news for Jimenez.

He has a good track record of pitching on April 17th. Last year on April 17th, he etched his name in the Rockies' record books by throwing the first no-hitter in club history against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field. 

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Rockies pitcher Jorge De La Rosa throws a pitch during the Rockies game against the Arizona Diamondbacks Saturday, April 2, 2011. The Rockies won 3-1.

Look for Jimenez to come back strong after his thumb is completely healed. He will be able to grip the ball completely, and that's bad news for opposing batters as he should be throwing his nasty fastball in the upper-90 MPH range once again. 

Greg Reynolds will pitch for Jimenez until then, and while he has earned his shot this year, once Jimenez returns, look for Reynolds to be sent back down.

 

De La Rosa Dazzles

Jorge De La Rosa continues to establish himself as one of the premier left-handers in the National League West, if not all of baseball. Resigned to a two-year, $20-plus million dollar contract extension, he went out and threw five filthy innings against the Arizona Diamondbacks last Saturday before leaving early due to a blood blister under a fingernail in his throwing hand. He won't miss a start, and should be equally as dominant.

His goal from the beginning of spring training was one shared by Rockies pitching coach Bob Apodaca: To be the best left-hander in the game, bar none. If his showing last Saturday was any indication, that goal could be reachable sooner rather than later.

He faces a Pirates lineup on Friday that couldn't get anything going against Esmil Rogers and the Rockies on Thursday. As of right now, De La Rosa is still a better overall hurler than Rogers, so look for dominance against batters from De La Rosa in 2011.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Rockies pitcher Jhoulys Chacin throws a pitch in the Rockies game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 5, 2011. The Rockies won 3-0.

 

The X-Factor

Jhoulys Chacin has the potential to be the second-coming of Ubaldo Jimenez. 

And Jimenez is still pitching.

The Venezuelan-born sophomore sensation had an unbelievable outing against the Dodgers earlier this week. He went seven strong innings, allowing only five hits and kept the Dodgers off the scoreboard, while striking out four. 

He is the X-factor in this rotation. If he can be as good as he has shown, he could easily win 10 or 15 games. Unbelievable for someone in just their second full big-league year. 

 

Stop. Hammel Time.

It's true, Jason Hammel had a shaky three innings to start the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Once he settled in, the Dodgers had a tough time against Hammel. He allowed four runs on six hits Wednesday, including a scoreless fourth and fifth inning.

If he can return to the dominance we saw last year, when he didn't let a run cross home plate in just over 28 innings, Jason Hammel could be even better than he was in 2010. The only reason he's not higher in this rotation is simply because of the talent in front of him, but he could be second or third in any rotation in the majors.

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Esmil Rogers throws a pitch during the Rockies' game against the Pittsburgh Pirates on April 7, 2011. The Rockies won 7-1.

 

Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood

If Thursday was any indication, Esmil Rogers should just show up to the ballpark on a FedEx truck from now on. No one delivers better than he can. 

Rogers threw 7.1 outstanding innings in Pittsburgh on Thursday. After giving up one run to an Andrew McCutchen RBI sacrifice, he settled in and retired 18 in a row. You read that right—18 in a row before giving up ONE base hit to shortstop Ronny Cedeño the rest of his outing.

Esmil Rogers won the fifth spot in this rotation mainly because of his performance in spring training, but also because Aaron Cook broke his right ring finger. Even when Cook gets healthy, he could find himself the odd man out. 

The back part of a pitching rotation is supposed to be the weaker pitchers of a staff. Not here.

 

The Hired Help

It's true your starting five are the most important pitchers on a baseball team, but even these five phenoms need backup. Colorado's bullpen is the best it has been in a while. Matt Lindstrom and Franklin Morales have looked sharp thus far this season, and except for a 32-pitch ninth inning against the Diamondbacks last week, Huston Street has looked as good as he's ever been in a Rockies uniform.

Rafael Betancourt has been Mr. Reliable ever since being acquired from Cleveland in 2009, and should continue to dominate on the mound this season. Felipe Paulino gave up two hits in his inning of work against Arizona on Opening Day, and worked a clean ninth inning in Pittsburgh to seal the win on Thursday.

Matt Belisle has been consistently improving since he arrived in LoDo in 2009, and Matt Reynolds looks to build upon the success he had in AAA Colorado Springs last summer and in Denver as a September call-up. 

If the pitching staff can stay healthy this year, they could very well be among the absolute best in the National League. Yes, even better than the Phillies' rotation, which is arguably the best in the National League, if not Major League Baseball.

Rockies fans should enjoy this year. It wouldn't be surprising if all five starters tallied win totals in double-digits. If they did, it would be the first time since 2009 and only the second time in franchise history.

If you thought that 2009 rotation was good, fasten your seatbelt for this year. Colorado has always been known as a good hitting team, but this year, that changes. 

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