Moyer mentors, competes with young starters

Moyer mentors, competes with young starters

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The dominant story of the Rockies camp is its youth. While they've gotten older around the diamond with the addition of position players like Michael Cuddyer, Marco Scutaro, Ramon Hernandez and Casey Blake, the Rockies' starting pitching expects to hinge heavily on the ability of some young arms to step up.

Once Colorado gets past its likely Opening Day starter, 32-year-old Jeremy Guthrie, the rest of the rotation is poised to be populated predominantly by 20-somethings. A good guess at four fairly firm spots would include Guthrie, Jhoulys Chacin (24), Drew Pomeranz (23), and Juan Nicasio (25), with a fifth starter to be named later.

The most prominent candidates to round out the rotation include Tyler Chatwood (22), Esmil Rogers (26), Alex White (23) and Jamie Moyer (49).

Don't touch that dial -- the trouble is not on your set. Yes, one of those pitchers is not like the other. Of the four candidates, only one did not pitch an inning in the Majors last year. Moyer was out of commission while recovering from a torn ulnar collateral ligament.

Moyer is well on his way to a comeback, however, establishing a 1.80 ERA through his first two Cactus League starts, allowing just one run on four hits in five innings with no walks.

"You can't really argue with what he has done during the course of the spring," manager Jim Tracy said. "It basically looks like Jamie Moyer to me. That's what I see." Take your pick of which Jamie Moyer -- he of the top of rotations in the '80s or '90s, he who won 20 and 21 games in 2001 and 2003 respectively, or he who won 62 games from 2006-2010.

Tracy was not thinking of the sidelined 2011 version, but that image flashed back as both Moyer and Pomeranz suffered hiccups this week. Pomeranz experience inflamation in his right glute while pitching a pair of perfect innings Tuesday against the Dodgers and had his next start pushed back five days as a precautionary measure.

"Jamie's got some stiffness and soreness in his drive leg and we want to err on the side of caution because of what he's just dealt with as far as arm surgery was concerned," Tracy said, announcing that Moyer would not make a scheduled Minor League start Friday. "We have to have him feel like there's no issue whatsoever. We have to have that all sorted out or risk him hurting himself in an area where there's just soreness."

Moyer's biggest challengers for the fifth spot may be Chatwood (3.86 ERA) and White (3.60), but if he can maintain his Moyer-esque presence on the mound without losing significant time to the sore leg, he could be a key contributor to a staff that needs both experience and someone to help mold an up-and-coming core of pitchers.

"There's a lot of good young arms in this room," Moyer said Thursday. "How they develop is going to be important. It's going to be an integral part of the direction this team goes. The only knock that I could say you could put on a young staff is inexperience. The only way you get that is by pitching."

An important part of the puzzle that Tracy is trying to put together is to give those young arms the tutelage they need to develop a mound maturity that can put Colorado back in contention sooner rather than later. He is relying on someone like Guthrie to help get across lessons like pitch efficiency, game tempo, and mastering the low strike that fares so well at Coors Field. Add a veteran like Moyer to that mix of youth and experience, and the learning curve rises exponentially.

"I try to help where I can, when I can," Moyer said of his willingness to mentor the very arms he's competing with. "I try to be respectful of the space guys are in and where they are on a given day or where they are in their careers. But I've had a lot of conversations with guys, whether it be here in the clubhouse or out on the field or in the dugout. And I enjoy that. To me, that's what the game is about, and you can learn a lot in those situations if you just sit and listen."

With Rockies pitchers holding opposing teams to exactly two runs in four of the last five games, there has been no shortage of teachable moments, sharpening the focus on everything from pitch selection to holding the runners.

Moyer brings a wealth of experience with him to the mound every five days, and those days between give him a chance to contribute equally importantly to the future of the franchise.

"They know the answers, but sometimes they just don't listen to themselves," Moyer pointed out. "And sometimes it's a confidence thing. And rightly so. I was a young guy at one time, and I didn't have a lot of confidence in my ability at this level. Take me to Triple-A or Double-A or Single-A and I had all the confidence in the world. So the thing I try to tell them is it's no different here as it is there. You're just under a bigger microscope here."

Moyer has done nothing to diminish his chances for making the rotation in toeing the rubber this spring.

"He keeps the ball off the barrel of the bat, that's what he does," Tracy said, scrolling through the bullet points of Moyers' resume. "His cutter is something that he's just now beginning with. He's been very, very effective with his changeup, and how much more effective does the changeup become when he's using the cutter at will? That's a weapon for him that obviously eventually he's going to get to."

So far, Moyer's stuff is still big league, but a question Tracy may have to answer is if it belongs in the rotation or the bullpen come Opening Day. Tracy has indicated a desire to carry one or two pitchers in his 'pen who are capable of stepping in as starters.

"In a perfect world I think a starting pitcher is where Jamie Moyer would fit and suit best," Tracy said. "How that all shakes out, right now I can't really comment on that. Let's keep participating in the course of the spring and see how everything shakes out."

For Moyer, he shows no intention of letting his focus be shaken, and though he's pitched out of the 'pen 58 times over the course of 24 seasons, his 267 career wins come from a mentality forged over 686 starts with relieving barely registering as a blip on his radar.

"I haven't really thought about it, because it hasn't been a situation that I've had to address," Moyer said of his openness to another role. "Why worry or concern myself with things like that until the situation arises?"

A lesson worth the learning.

Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.