De La Rosa working through emotions
Hurler using sports psychologist to help capitalize on his talent
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Jorge De La Rosa left four clubs perplexed. Each of them salivated over a left-handed pitcher with a mid-90s fastball, but eventually threw up their hands when he couldn't figure out how to perform with consistency.
De La Rosa himself wondered. It wasn't that he wouldn't or couldn't learn.
De La Rosa pitched in the systems of the D-Backs and Red Sox before pitching in the Majors with the Brewers (2004-06) and Royals (2006-07).
"I think now I can control my emotions," De La Rosa said. "Before that, I'd get ticked too quick and lost all my concentration. After the first half, I learned from that. I'm more calm on the mound. I don't fight myself. That helps so much."
De La Rosa, who turns 28 on April 5, began the year with the Royals at Triple-A Omaha in the Royals organization before being traded to the Rockies on April 30 for cash considerations.
Craziness ensued in the first half. He struck out a career high 10 in six innings while beating the Indians on June 19 and had a healthy 60 strikeouts in 57 innings by the All-Star break. But at that point, he also had yielded a .300 batting average and a 7.26 ERA. Any setback would send De La Rosa, a quiet fellow, seething. Competitiveness is a plus when channeled properly, but it worked against De La Rosa.
The Rockies decided not to pass De La Rosa off as a guy with a golden arm but hard head.
"You can get all the right information from somebody else, but you have to develop the relationship," Rockies pitching coach Bob Apodaca said. "It's just being there for him, not him being there for you."
Manager Clint Hurdle also saw De La Rosa had a tendency to isolate himself and live inside the problem. Hurdle figured that coaching him would take more than some work on mechanics during a throwing session.
"One of the points we stressed with him and stressed with a lot of them was when you have a weakness, whether it be your mound poise or whether that be your slider, or whether that be your batting average with runners in scoring position, we need you to make every effort to get that better so it doesn't compromise everybody else that's on the ballclub," Hurdle said.
Enter Ronn Svetich, the Rockies' "performance enhancement" coach. A sports psychologist, Svetich tested De La Rosa as he does all Rockies to determine whether he was an auditory, kinesthetic or visual. Svetich said most athletes learn kinesthetically, which means while carrying out a physical activity. But he found that De La Rosa also was a visual learner.
So Svetich brought De La Rosa into the video room to watch his performance -- not during pitches, but between them. When the tape showed De La Rosa giving up a hit or walk, or it showed a close call go against him, Svetich would hit pause when De La Rosa was shown reacting.
"So I could say, 'Wait a minute,'" Svetich said. "'This is all part of the game of baseball. So why would you depower yourself because of a situation in baseball that has no power over you? It's your perception of the situation that causes you to be empowered or depowered.'"
Svetich works with players throughout the Rockies' Minor League system, so he has plenty of time to make sure players who didn't grow up speaking English could absorb his teachings and materials. But De La Rosa, from Mexico, had only the days between starts.
That's where Martha De La Rosa made her impact.
"My wife translated all of them to Spanish," De La Rosa said. "She's from Mexico, but she went to school in San Francisco, after her family moved there when she was little. That helped me a lot. I kept reading, and I learned so much."
Svetich settled on breathing exercises such as stopping and breathing from the diaphragm, a muscle deep in the midsection, rather than from the thorax, which produces shallow and quick breaths. Martha De La Rosa and Svetich would have phone conversations to follow up on the one-on-one sessions and reading materials. Husband and wife would practice at home, and De La Rosa took his new tool to the mound.
"When I start feeling mad, I'll stop, count, breathe," De La Rosa said. "That helped."
It took time. Coming out of the break, De La Rosa won three of his first five starts. But in the other two, he pitched a total of 5 1/3 innings and gave up 14 hits and 14 earned runs. It was no wonder that in early August, when the Rockies had designs on climbing into the playoff race, he was moved to the bullpen briefly.
However, Aaron Cook skipped a start because of a back strain, and De La Rosa responded by striking out seven in six innings of a victory at Washington on Aug. 15. Over his final eight starts he went 5-2 with a 2.61 ERA.
As a result, the Rockies signed him to a one-year, $2 million contract to avoid arbitration, and showed faith in him by penciling him into a starting rotation spot, with Jeff Francis facing shoulder surgery and likely gone for the season.
De La Rosa must stay cool and pitch well over a full season to help make up for Francis' absence and justify the Rockies' faith. But at the beginning of last season, the question was whether De La Rosa could maintain himself from start to start.
"I think I threw very well the second half," De La Rosa said. "I started to learn more about the hitters. I think I knew how I got them out. I just have to keep doing the same thing I was doing the second half of last season."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.