CBSSports.com Senior Baseball Columnist

Pitching has been rocky in Colorado, but help might be on the way

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Jeremy Guthrie was hurt not while on the mound, but while going to the ball park on his bicycle. (US Presswire)  
Jeremy Guthrie was hurt not while on the mound, but while going to the ball park on his bicycle. (US Presswire)  

How badly are things going for Colorado's rotation?

The Rockies can't even pitch and ride a bicycle at the same time.

"We've had some bizarre things happen," Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado's All-Star shortstop, says.

They can't even option a struggling starter out on a minor-league injury rehabilitation assignment without having to rescind the move because, suddenly, he comes up with an inflamed shoulder.

What's inflamed is the Colorado ERA: The rotation checks in at 5.75, worst in the National League.

"Any afternoon I walk in here, I know there will be a couple of names that will be on that lineup card, but I can't use them," manager Jim Tracy says of his overtaxed relievers. "I won't do it. You have to back off."

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They've been hit hard with injuries, and they've been rocked by poor performances. That combination, though Tuesday, had resulted in the lightest workload of any rotation in the National League: Rockies starters had worked only 148 2/3 innings, lower, even, than the Pittsburgh Pirates (155).

Consequently, Rockies relievers had worked 101 1/3 innings, by far the most in the NL (the Padres were next at 92 1/3).

Underachiever Jhoulys Chacin was demoted to Triple-A Colorado Springs on Sunday. But after maintaining all along that his 0-3, 7.30 start had nothing to do with health ... well, suddenly, his shoulder got sore about the time he got word of his demotion. So the Rockies rescinded the demotion and moved him to the disabled list instead.

Unusual, yes. But not nearly as odd as Jeremy Guthrie landing on the disabled list with a sprained shoulder when he crashed his bike. An avid cyclist, Guthrie was pedaling to work at Coors Field last month -- a routine he maintained for years in Baltimore -- when his chain broke. Next thing the right-hander knew, he was on the ground. In pain.

"That one was the freakiest," Tulowitzki says.

Guthrie is close to leaving for a minor-league injury rehab assignment (don't ask, different program than Chacin's). Meantime, Jorge De La Rosa (Tommy John ligament transfer surgery) is rehabbing and is not expected back until late May or early June.

That the line drive crashing into Drew Pomeranz's right quad Monday didn't knock him from here to August is a minor miracle (the Rockies think he'll be OK to make his next start).

That Colorado was 12-16 was another level beyond that.

"We could be 7-21, or 6-22," Tracy says. "We're four under .500. Somebody's doing a pretty damn good job somewhere along the line."

An offense that ranks behind only the Braves and Cardinals in NL runs scored mostly has kept Colorado from a Rocky Mountain low, though there have been moments. The Rockies squeezed five first-inning runs out of Atlanta's Tim Hudson last Friday ... and lost 9-8 in 11 innings. They led 6-0 after two innings and 8-3 after five the next day against the Braves ... and were outslugged 13-9.

"Offensively, I like this team," Tulowitzki says. "We've needed some young pitchers to step up, and that hasn't been the case. The young pitchers have stepped back. We haven't performed offensively at times. We've had some bad luck.

"Shoot, it's a long season."

They've been traveling on Rocky ground. But they're not out of young pitching options yet.

Repercussions from last summer's Ubaldo Jimenez trade carried into this week when Alex White, the 23-year-old right-hander acquired from the Indians last July, started Tuesday in San Diego.

And Christian Friedrich has been summoned from Triple-A Colorado Springs to start Wednesday, giving the Rockies three consecutive first-round picks starting in three days: Pomeranz (Indians, 2011), White (Indians, 2009) and Friedrich (Rockies, 2008).

"It would be incredible if one or the other, or both, make a strong statement for himself," Tracy says of White and Friedrich (Pomeranz won a rotation spot coming out of spring training). "What an incredible shot in the arm it would be for us.

"We could be in one hell of a hole right now. But we're not."

We heard so much this spring about Jamie Moyer and his inspirational bid to win a rotation job at 49.

Who knew he would be the rock of the staff? His 4.01 ERA is the best of any starter, and despite his age, turns out, he's low risk. He doesn't even, ahem, ride a bike to work.

"I'm just trying to hang onto the bike," Moyer jokes.

It's early, and they can laugh. The pitching is bound to improve, they figure. And as the skipper says, rocky as it has been, they can still almost reach out and touch .500.

"Guthrie is the piece we need to get back," Tracy says. "That will stabilize the rotation, lessening the burden on the bullpen.

"It's just getting some type of symmetry back in our rotation so the ebb and flow of the bullpen can evolve."

Yes, the Rockies teased their resident cyclist starter even before the bike crash.

"He's just one of those Stanford guys. You can't get a read on him," Tulowitzki says. "You never know what he's going to do next -- play chess, ride a bike.

"Today, he was talking about hitting one off of the [Western Metal Supply Co.] building -- and it was the worst batting practice I've ever seen a pitcher take. He didn't even get one out of the infield."

With that, Tulowitzki turns serious for a moment, contemplating the upcoming starts of White and Friedrich.

"I think it's a big moment for the organization right now," he says. "We have some young pitchers who have a chance to be part of this organization for a long time.

"Some guys who have a chance to make a name for themselves."

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