04/02/11 10:00 PM ET
Rockies trust Chacin to avoid sophomore slump
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
"My mom doesn't like the cold weather, so they're going to be here in May," Chacin said, smiling. "Besides, she told me there will be a lot of first starts of the season that she can come to."
Not mom, or anyone else, has to hold the hand of Chacin, who is just 23 but is coming off a noteworthy rookie year and looks to be a right-hander on the rise. Chacin began last year in Triple-A and made a brief return trip in July and August, but finished the year 9-11 on the Major League level, garnering the club's rookie record for strikeouts, 138, and the club rookie starter record for ERA, 3.28.
And like his parents, the Rockies decided to trust Chacin out on his own.
Often a player coming off a successful rookie campaign will take a step back the following year -- the dreaded sophomore slump. No doubt part of the problem is that opponents have seen enough of the player's strengths and weaknesses to develop strategy, and the player has not learned to counterpunch.
But too often a player will simply relax, thinking success comes easily. A team can react one of two ways: it can keep the youngster under its watchful eye, requiring him to work out at the stadium, or it can simply let the player prepare.
The Rockies chose the latter.
There were risks involved. Chacin is 6-3 with a large frame that can naturally pack on pounds. At times during his successful Minor League career, which included an 18-win season in 2008, the Rockies felt Chacin could have had better balance and body control at a lighter weight. They also saw that power lifting and his body type produced a football build.
But by this winter, the proper program of running and agility work was in place. Also, advice from No. 1 starter Ubaldo Jimenez helped Chacin make better nutritional choices. So, other than the normal checkups, the Rockies left Chacin to prepare for 2011 on his own.
The confidence from last season -- which included a four-game win streak Aug. 4-Sept. 18, while the Rockies were making a late but ultimately unsuccessful playoff push -- helped inspire him for 2011. The trust the Rockies showed in him was just as important.
"They always challenged me, to see if I can do something by myself, if nobody is watching me," Chacin said. "They said, 'Let's see how you can do that.' I really took care of myself, trying to get in the best shape for the season. I feel very, very good and very strong, healthy and everything.
"In past years, you came here [to Coors Field for offseason conditioning]. But now they want to see responsibility. They want to see if you really want to be here. That's what I want to do. I really want to be here for a long time, all my career if I can."
The offseason also tested Chacin's balance.
Chacin spent the winter in Tucson, Ariz., with his girlfriend, Alba Iratorza. The couple welcomed their first child, Niccole, on Dec. 1. Of course, parents must balance work concerns with feedings and the like. Chacin just happens to do his job in front of thousands of folks, and if he realizes his potential, could be in line for millions of dollars.
"Pitching in the big leagues, that was my dream," Chacin said. "Now I know it's more. It's not just me and my teammates. I want to do it for my family. That feels really good."
Jimenez said Chacin and fifth starter Esmil Rogers, a right-hander who was a rookie last year, are ready to help a rotation of a team with championship aspirations.
"I'm really happy for them," Jimenez said. "It's part of being with the Rockies. I've done a lot of things to help those young guys, and I think we're growing every year. They have a lot of talent and they're learning how to pitch. You have to respect the way they're working."
Chacin finished Spring Training 1-2 with a 3.52 ERA in six starts, covering 23 innings. The concerning number was 11 walks, against 16 strikeouts. For the 2010 season, he had 138 strikeouts against 61 walks.
But for the most part, Chacin earned high marks by escaping traffic on the bases. Only against the Mariners, in his last Spring Training start, was he not able to escape. At times he can rush his mechanics from the stretch and miss to his arm side, but usually he figured out how to right himself before damage increased.
Still, the Rockies are confident that Chacin can handle difficult situations. Going into the spring, they wanted Chacin at No. 4 in the rotation, but veteran Aaron Cook's fractured right ring finger pushed everyone up a spot. Chacin's spring suggested that he is ready for increased responsibility.
"I don't want to get too much in trouble with too many men on base, but that's what happened in the spring," Chacin said. "I just tried to calm down myself and make a good pitch to get out of the innings. For me that was the good part of Spring Training. I tried to not get too fast or get too excited or do too much when I had runners on base."
Now it's time for Chacin to reward the Rockies for their faith.
"I really appreciate the coaches and everybody, they take care of me and show confidence," Chacin said. "I just want to do the job. Last year was pretty good and I helped the team, but I want to help the team win more games, win the playoffs and win the World Series."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter@harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.