HOUSTON -- The bandwagon for Rockies right-hander Jhoulys Chacin hit a speed bump just before last year's All-Star break. The problem, the way Chacin describes it, was he tried to make major repairs when none were necessary. "Last year in the second half, I was trying a lot of different stuff, instead of making my pitch and not worrying about anything else," Chacin said. Chacin's next assignment -- Monday afternoon's home opener against the Giants at a sold-out Coors Field -- is to set the pageantry, hype and expectations aside and pitch with the efficiency he showed for much of the first half of 2011.
Through June 15, Chacin was 8-4 with a 2.81 ERA and a .196 batting average against. Those numbers were good enough that the Rockies thought they had their future ace, since struggling Ubaldo Jimenez was on his way to eventually being traded to the Indians. Chacin won on June 21, but he also walked six against the Indians, which marked the beginning of a handful of uneven performances and some mixed final numbers -- 11-14 with a 3.62 ERA. Chacin's ERA, however, was the third lowest for a starter over a full season in Rockies history, and he held opponents to a .231 batting average. That said, he can't afford a long period of struggle like he went through last year, right around the time he was being whispered as an All-Star Game candidate. Believing Chacin was not yet ready to be at the top of a rotation, the Rockies traded with the Orioles for right-hander Jeremy Guthrie and signed veteran left-hander Jamie Moyer for early-season leadership while the club waits for left-hander Jorge De La Rosa to return from elbow surgery in May or June. Still, the Rockies believe in Chacin enough to give him the nod in the home opener. "It's an honor for me," Chacin said. "But I'm not going to put any pressure on myself or do anything different. I just want to give the team seven, eight or nine innings, just do my job." Chacin enters 2012 with some questions. He began Spring Training by limiting opponents to two earned runs in his first three starts, but finished the Cactus League 1-3 with a 5.81 ERA. Part of it was manager Jim Tracy, knowing Chacin's secondary pitches are special, asked him to emphasize fastball command at the exclusion of all else. A blister on his right index finger, a bout with a slight case of triceps tendinitis and the fact hitters knew what was coming were factors not conducive to good numbers. Still, the Rockies are holding onto the special streaks, and hope Chacin can lengthen them into ace-like pitching. "There was a time there that we got a little too excited about him last year, but he can really be one of those special pitchers if he can put it all together," Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki said. Tracy said Chacin's development is a key component of the team's goal of contending in the National League West. "Consistent fastball command could let him take that quantum leap, similar to the quantum leap I saw Ian Kennedy take for the [NL West champion] Arizona Diamondbacks last year, which made quite a difference to their season," Tracy said. "If Jhoulys Chacin grabs hold of that, he's the next guy in our division -- like [the Dodgers' Clayton] Kershaw, like [the Giants' Tim] Lincecum, like an Ian Kennedy or a [D-backs'] Daniel Hudson." Chacin said he has started on Opening Day at each level of the Minors, beginning with Rookie-level Casper. That may have been in the neighboring state of Wyoming, but Monday at Coors Field will be a long way from there. "Everyone is real excited for me, but I'm not going to try to do anything different," Chacin said. "I'll do what I've been working on all spring, command my fastball, get hitters out and get deeper into games."
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.