New dad De La Rosa maturing on, off field
Rox lefty 'very ready' to take next step in development
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Rockies left-hander Jorge De La Rosa had a breakthrough season in 2009, but he didn't reach his most cherished goal until Jan. 7 of this year. That was when he and his wife, Martha, welcomed twin boys, Matias and Bernabe.
"I always wanted to have kids," De La Rosa said. "I've been waiting for that moment when you come to the stadium and play with them in the stadium. I've seen some of my teammates bring their kids. I've played with Clint Barmes' son, Wyatt, sometimes."
Fatherhood is often credited as a settling influence for players. But the Rockies are happy that De La Rosa attained calm, and had a breakout pitching performance, in 2009.
Going into last season, De La Rosa's maturity was under question. Then-manager Clint Hurdle decided in January that De La Rosa would be a member of the rotation. De La Rosa didn't exactly reward the faith with his iffy Spring Training and 0-6 record and 5.43 ERA through May.
But De La Rosa's turnaround was one of the brightest stories of the Rockies' reversal of fortune. De La Rosa went 16-3 -- and the Rockies went 19-4 -- with a 3.94 ERA the rest of the season.
Controlling emotions and not letting bad innings snowball dominated the conversation when it came to De La Rosa until the latter part of last season. The only downer in De La Rosa's season was how it finished. A groin injury cost him a chance to start in the National League Division Series, which the Rockies lost to the Phillies in four games.
"I think with the season I had last year, they're going to put more trust in me," said De La Rosa, who signed a one-year, $5.6 million contract for this season and could be an attractive free agent at season's end. "I've got to keep working, do all the stuff they're telling me in the game and be focused more. I'm very ready."
Instead of hoping for the next step for De La Rosa, who turns 29 when the regular season opens in Milwaukee on April 5, the Rockies are expecting it of him.
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"[Last year] it was more delivery, pitch sequence, learning how to get people out," Rockies pitching coach Bob Apodaca said. "The thing that was sacrificed was the ability to hold runners, the ability to field his position, to get lead runners on balls that are hit back at him, on bunts. Now I think it's a concerted effort that he has to jump on the bandwagon with everybody."
The parts of pitching that don't involve throwing the ball to the plate were an issue, although he made up for them once he gained control of his upper 90s fastball.
De La Rosa committed five errors. One in an early-season game led to a potentially strong start unraveling.
On May 4, the Rockies took a 4-0 lead on the Padres going into the bottom of the third. With two on and no outs, De La Rosa grabbed a bunt by Padres picher Kevin Correia and threw wildly down the right-field line. By inning's end, the lead had been reduced to 4-3. The Rockies lost.
De La Rosa showed modest improvement in such areas as the season progressed, but it was a priority.
Toward that end, De La Rosa reported this year noticeably trimmer in hopes that his movements with the ball in play become more athletic.
"He looks right now today like he did at about the midway point of the season," manager Jim Tracy said.
The Rockies are helping by emphasizing fielding, throwing to bases and controlling runners. They're simulating game situations.
In one drill, they instruct the pitcher to bobble a ball hit hard back to him, so he can practice picking it up, rearranging his feet and making a strong throw. This is an especially important drill for De La Rosa, who said lazy footwork on fielding plays is a habit he must eradicate.
"It gets in your head," De La Rosa said. "Maybe I throw the ball too easy, or I'm not being aggressive throwing the ball. I worked on it all offseason."
De La Rosa's work in all areas is showing. Tracy noted that at this time last year, the catchers were lunging all over the place. Now he is showing some of the downward movement that makes him so tough to hit.
"I think I have more confidence," De La Rosa said. "I know what I can do."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.