Motivated De La Rosa confident in Rockies
Fresh season a chance for lefty to build on '13 numbers, honor late mother
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Jorge De La Rosa leaned against the doorway to the clubhouse at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick on Monday morning, his black Colorado Rockies hoodie, cup of coffee and bright smile shielded him from the howling wind of the air conditioner. But not to worry.
The temps would hit the low 80s during the Rockies' first pitchers and catchers workout. De La Rosa needed the warmth of a new baseball season, possibly more than anyone else in the clubhouse or even the Rockies themselves, even though the team is trying to thaw out from two straight basement finishes in the National League West.
De La Rosa had a good year on the mound in 2013. He tied a career high for wins by going 16-6 with a 3.49 ERA in 30 starts, including many while dealing with a bruised left thumb. And he conquered Coors Field to the tune of 10-1 with a 2.74 ERA in 14 starts. But the last of his home wins, against the Dodgers on Sept. 1, has become a bittersweet memory.
It was the last time De La Rosa's mother, Juana, saw him pitch. She had cancer, but then had a tumor removed in November and the prognosis seemed good. But her health took a sudden turn, and she passed away a couple of weeks ago. De La Rosa said her death has been difficult for him and his family.
"You never think about bad things like that," De La Rosa said. "She was doing well. But something happened in November. It was so quick. That's why we got more sad. She went to a lot of my games. She lived in Mexico, but every time I got a chance, she was there.
"I couldn't wait. I was telling my wife all offseason, saying, 'I want to pitch.' I was anxious to pitch. Now we're here. And after losing my mom, I'll do everything for her. I will do the best I can to make her feel proud of me. I remember when I was a little kid, she and my dad took me to the field almost every day. She, my wife and my family -- I do everything for them."
Honoring his mother is tops on the list of objectives for De La Rosa, who turns 33 on April 5. There are some other motivations as well.
De La Rosa enters the final year four-year, $42.5 million contract but says he's up for more pitching in purple pinstripes. He revived an inconsistent career after joining the Rockies in 2008, helped the team to the playoffs in '09 and signed the multiyear deal believing the team would keep winning.
De La Rosa has personally experienced some of the injury misfortune that has been a big part of the Rockies' struggles. After winning 16 games in 2009, De la Rosa made just 10 starts in 2010 because of a torn pulley tendon in his left middle finger, then blew out his left elbow after 10 starts the following year before a long recovery limited him to three starts in '12.
De La Rosa was one of the shining lights in a 2013 campaign that saw shortstop Troy Tulowtizki and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez -- two All-Stars -- and closer Rafael Betancourt suffer injuries at a time the Rockies' season could have gone either way.
But De La Rosa believes in where the Rockies can go when healthy. He backs that by pointing to the fact he, Jhoulys Chacin and Tyler Chatwood are coming off solid seasons and the rotation has able-bodied candidates, and the bullpen has been improved.
"We had a hard time last year and the year before with injuries," said De La Rosa, who said reaching into a rice bag and squeezing is one of the exercises he'll use to try to avoid the finger and thumb injuries that have been a nuisance in his career. "If we stay healthy, we can be in a good place. We have to work and guys have to stay healthy for us to be in a good position. I hate to lose. I'm tired of losing. The main thing is to stay healthy and do little things."
De La Rosa's willingness to attack Coors has already impressed new lefty Brett Anderson, acquired from the Athletics to improve the rotation.
"It was kind of funny, but I asked him, 'What's your favorite place to pitch?' He said, 'I like Coors Field,'" said Anderson, a ground-ball pitcher who doesn't fear the park. "I was like, 'You might be one of the only people to say that, ever.'"
Rockies manager Walt Weiss is excited about his fearless front of the rotation.
"I think in Jhoulys' and De La Rosa's case, I think they had two of the better seasons ever for Rockies pitchers," Weiss said. "When you take it all into consideration, it's tough to say that De La Rosa is going to repeat what he did, because it was a phenomenal season, statistically. But I think he took a huge step and Jhoulys did."
Healthy and motivated by what he feels are the right reasons, De La Rosa isn't concerned about his contract status. If all goes well, he knows how it will end.
"I don't really think too much about that," he said. "The only thing I have to do is pitch well. I don't know what's going to happen. I would like to stay here the rest of my career, but we'll see."