2/18/2013 10:07 P.M. ET
Pomeranz won't let tough season bring him down
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The pitches came with downward action. A few bats snapped trying to hit them. It was just the first day that Rockies pitchers faced hitters, but left-hander Drew Pomeranz began to erase the impression his work left last season.
That's fine with Pomeranz, who erased the worst of last year's 2-9, 4.93 ERA performance from his own mind.
"I didn't feel comfortable, didn't think that was me, so I didn't want to think too much about it or focus on it," Pomeranz said. "I just took a step back and remembered what makes me good and what's comfortable for me."
Maybe now the Rockies will see the real Pomeranz.
The Indians drafted Pomeranz fifth overall out of Ole Miss in 2010. His first pro outings came during Indians Spring Training 2011, and they were electric. After pitching well in the Minors, Pomeranz was the key to the trade that sent pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez to Cleveland.
But the Pomeranz that was so impressive in Indians camp and his first Minor League appearances ended up getting lost.
Some of it couldn't be helped. A rules technicality -- MLB does not allow anyone to be traded less than a calendar year after signing with his club as an amateur player -- forced him to sit for 17 days before he could join the Rockies organization. Then he missed time at Double-A Tulsa because of an appendectomy, but still finished the year in the Majors.
Last season, the Rockies were forced into moves that were unusual for any developing pitcher. Pomeranz had lost his pitching motion during the disjointed end of 2011, and he hadn't regained it before being thrust into the Majors in '12.
The Rockies' rotation was a mess by the end of Spring Training. Even with Jamie Moyer, the 49-year-old warrior lefty, the Rockies had a slot open that no experienced pitcher had come close to earning. It went to Pomeranz, who was effective during the spring but had consistency issues. That wasn't going to improve in the pressure and length of a Major League season.
The year included a demotion to Triple-A Colorado Springs for 10 starts. Results weren't immediate, but it could turn out that those games were the most important of his career.
The Rockies showed Pomeranz split-screen video of his motion with the Indians and with the Rockies. Bo McLaughlin, then the Colorado Springs pitching coach, also met with Pomeranz. Figuring Pomeranz knew himself better than any pitching coach barely meeting him, McLaughlin was more concerned with teaching Pomeranz how to self-correct than any specific point about his throwing motion.
"I said, 'What did you do in college or high school when you were feeling your best?'" said McLaughlin, a former Major League left-hander who now serves as the Rockies' assistant pitching coach. "We talked about those drills and I said, 'Great. Those are the same things that I do with pitchers to get into a regular rhythm.'
"Now he still went in and out of it periodically. There are a lot of things as far as balance, his delivery, that can cause those things."
He will need to be at his best this spring. The Rockies feel good about four starters -- lefties Jeff Francis and Jorge De La Rosa, and righties Jhoulys Chacin and Juan Nicasio. That means Pomeranz is competing for the final spot with lefties Christian Friedrich and Josh Outman, and righties Tyler Chatwood and Chris Volstad.
Pomeranz's best game was his first win, when he held the Nationals to one hit and struck out six in 6 1/3 innings of a 5-1 victory in Washington on July 6. But such starts were few, and the reason was clear: Pomeranz was not ready for the length and intensity of a Major League season.
Rarely is a pitcher who hasn't thrown a full, healthy Minor League season asked to go through a 162-game season in the Majors. Throwing once a week against even the best collegiate lineups isn't proper preparation for the Majors. Also, there is a jump in intensity between college games and those in the Minors, and an even bigger jump from the Minors to the Majors.
For example, the Rockies let Francis -- their gold standard as far as development of a collegiate pitcher -- pitch at the end of his Draft year, 2002, and he spent all of '03 and most of '04 in the Minors before even debuting. The Nationals' Stephen Strasburg just may fill his billing as a transformational pitcher. But last year, which was his third season after his Draft year and his first year after elbow surgery, the Nationals shut Strasburg down in September even though the team was in a race for a playoff berth.
Granted, there was no injury in Pomeranz's case. But during an experiment with a four-man rotation, the Rockies never allowed Pomeranz to pitch on three days' rest and occasionally pushed back a start to let inflammation in his shoulder heal. The Rockies managed Pomeranz the way a club would be expected to manage a prospect who it didn't particularly want to have in the big leagues as early or as long as it had to have him.
Pomeranz survived and learned.
By spending the offseason in Los Angeles at Athletes' Performance Institute, and throwing a couple of bullpens at API's Phoenix branch, Pomeranz was able to condition around numerous Major Leaguers and work on correcting areas where his body broke down. He deemphasized bulk and arrived 10 pounds lighter than last season. The Rockies like what they see, but they are paying special attention to his flexibility.
For Pomeranz, moving to Los Angeles instead of going home to the Memphis area was a statement that went beyond his workout plan.
"I figured if I was going to do this and be serious about it, I have no reason not to be somewhere where I can get the most out of it," Pomeranz said.
Pomeranz also is the poster child for a philosophy being championed by pitching coach Jim Wright and McLaughlin. Build on what you do well.
Last year offers all kinds of statistical and video evidence of what went wrong. If Pomeranz were so inclined, he could have spent the winter watching himself star in horror shows on the mound. Looking back is not Pomeranz's idea of entertainment.
"I just need to be more consistent, honestly," he said. "I know what to do. I've just got to do it.
"That comes along with being confident in my delivery. I know I'm in a good spot. I just have to let it happen."
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.