Beek’s Blog: Forget the numbers, Rockies need to be patient with Chacin’s fastball

04/22/2014 4:25 PM

04/22/2014 9:09 PM

The Colorado Rockies got really good news this week when the hapless offense of the San Francisco Giants stumbled into Coors Field, and now the team is looking to Jhoulys Chacin to provide more good news.

The Rockies’ sometimes ace, who came up with a sore shoulder at the end of spring training, just completed his first live action of the season, getting two rehab starts with the Modesto Nuts. Next stop for Chacin is Triple-A Colorado Springs, where he is expected to start Friday night. And if all goes well there, writes Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post, Chacin could return to the Rockies’ rotation as early as next Wednesday.

"I'm supposed to pitch 75 to 80 pitches this next start," Chacin told Saunders. "I'm feeling good, no soreness other than the usual soreness from pitching. The way I felt last (time), I think I could pitch just one more (rehab) and I'd be fine. But maybe they want to make sure I'm ready."

That would be a really, really good idea. It’s great that Chacin is experiencing no pain, and we all wish him full health and a return to form. But his two starts with Modesto indicated he has a long way to reach that level.

Chacin and the Rockies both reported that he hit 92 mph in his second start with the Nuts on Saturday in Lake Elsinore, and he did the same in his first start. But that’s a misnomer, since he threw only one pitch in each outing that reached 92 MPH. In his first start, his fastball sat between 87 mph and 89 mph at John Thurman Field. Since his average fastball in 2013 (according to FanGraphs.com) was 89.8 mph, that’s well within expected range, and even a bit better for his first 50-pitch outing.

But in Lake Elsinore, his fastball sat at 86 mph to 88 mph and, according to several sources, didn’t have great movement or location. His greatest success getting hitters out in both outings was with his curveball and changeup, which he threw for strikes while both pitches displayed a knee-buckling quality California League batters just don’t see very often.

Yes, he went 0-2 with an 8.59 ERA in his two Modesto rehab starts. While it would have been great to see him blow through Visalia on Tax Day and harness the Storm on April 19, it’s hardly significant that he was hit around. We’ve often heard from rehabbing pitchers that it’s tough to get A-Ball hitters out because they swing at pitches that major league hitters recognize early and lay off. There’s far less setting-up of pitches in the low minors than there is at the MLB level.

The major concern has to be that Chacin’s fastball, which (again, according to FanGraphs) he throws 62.9 percent of the time, is lacking both movement and 2 to 3 MPH velocity. At the minor-league level, he can get hitters out with his offspeed stuff alone. In the majors, he’ll need every bit of his fastball’s usual velocity and movement to set-up his offspeed pitches.

Once the Giants leave Denver, Colorado will be looking for the next batch of good news, especially with Carlos Gonzalez having achy knees and 2013 National League batting champion Michael Cuddyer on the disabled list with his balky 35-year-old hamstrings.

And if Chacin throws without pain on Friday, there’s no reason to keep him rehabbing. Except, of course, if he’s not ready to get outs against major league hitters.

Good luck to Jhoulys and let’s all hope the Rockies are careful not to rush their 26-year-old talent.

NUTS NOTES: Jayson Aquino has some soreness and may miss Wednesday’s scheduled start. If he can’t go, the likely starter will be Alving Mejias, who was Chacin’s designated reliever in both his starts.

Edit: 9:03 p.m. - Mejias has entered tonight’s game in relief, so there’s no way he’s pitching Wednesday. Since the Nuts had Sunday off, it would be an easy option to move all the starters up one spot, which would mean Matt Flemer would go for Modesto on his regular four days of rest.

Thursday’s game is a 1:05 p.m. start, and rally towels will be given to the first 500 fans through the gates. Next Wednesday’s game against San Jose also has an early start time, with a 3:30 first pitch as part of an after-school program.

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