DENVER -- Rockies right-handed pitcher Jhoulys Chacin ended his 2012 season with a statement performance -- five scoreless innings on a night he didn't have his best stuff. But his next statement could bode better for 2013. "It's going to be a whole different situation next year," Chacin said.
Chacin was supposed to be a leader of a young pitching rotation. However, a nerve injury in the right side of his chest -- one that took many examinations to pinpoint, much to the frustration of both him and the club -- rendered him ineffective in the season's first month and out of action until August. But Chacin finished the season with nine mostly effective starts, and hopes to fulfill the Rockies' dreams next season. Dogged by poor pitching in the beginning and injuries throughout, the Rockies finished with the worst record in their history, and are looking for a new manager. But if the Rockies can stay healthy and Chacin, who turns 25 on Jan. 7, can extract the most from a pitch mix that has produced some eye-popping results, things could change quickly. "The beginning of the season was really tough," Chacin said. "I didn't know what was going on with my arm. But now I'm happy that I feel good. Everything feels fine, my arm and my body, and I'm excited for next season to start. I want to come back and pitch how I know how to pitch." Chacin finished the year 3-5 with a 4.43 ERA in 14 starts, but it was two seasons encased in one. Trouble started in February when general manager Dan O'Dowd, based on information he received from Chacin's native Venezuela, criticized him for being out of shape and not preparing satisfactorily. Chacin experienced right biceps tendinitis, then began the year 0-3 with a 7.05 ERA in five starts through May 1, with an unexplained drop in velocity. The Rockies were ready to send him to the Minors before Chacin asked them to check what was wrong. The focus at first was on the shoulder, but after not seeing any progress through strengthening exercises Chacin visited noted vascular surgeon Dr. Robert Thompson in St. Louis, who found the problem with the pectoral nerve. When he triumphantly returned on Aug. 21, by holding the Mets to one run in six innings of a 6-2 victory at Citi Field, he pitched the way the Rockies expected in the beginning. He went 3-2 with a 2.84 ERA, and gave up one earned run four times, and no earned runs twice. Chacin's finish occurred under the Rockies' much discussed and criticized tightened, stat trend-based pitching limits, which were designed to keep starters from going through a lineup a third time. Chacin never threw more than 85 pitches, and just twice went past five innings. Chacin said the system took away some of his strategy, but in the end it actually helped him. Since Chacin debuted in the Majors in 2009, then-Rockies manager Jim Tracy praised Chacin's secondary pitches but repeatedly said that efficiency, especially with his fastball, stood between him and stardom. With a tight pitch limit, Chacin knew he had to throw his fastball for a strike and couldn't intentionally work out of the strike zone as often. The Rockies still expect to limit their starters to fewer pitches than other clubs when 2013 begins, but it won't be as restrictive. Chacin believes he can flourish by using what he learned this year with a little more leeway. "It helped you mentally to try to attack the hitter, to try to get out with three or four pitches," Chacin said. "When you have more pitches, when you get to 0-2 you can throw a fastball up, then a slider down, because you have more pitches to throw. But with 75 and you get to two strikes, you want to get the out right away. Sometimes it was good, sometimes not good. But it made me throw strikes. "Next year, if I know a guy is not a good slider hitter, I can throw one in the dirt and one for a strike. Or I can go for a strike right away and make him swing right away. This year did help me throw consistent strikes. That was the real problem for me last year, especially the fastball." After the season, Chacin continued working in instructional ball at the team's complex in Scottsdale, Ariz., where he will experiment with a new grip on his changeup in hopes of improving its consistency. He'll also join Leones de Caracas in the Venezuelan Winter League, and make his first start for them on Oct. 21 against Magallanes. He is scheduled to make 7-9 starts for Leones. Chacin also wants to pitch for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic during next Spring Training, but has yet to be asked and will ask for the Rockies' blessing first. He believes continuing to work will pay off in sharpness next season. "I tried to throw strikes and get quick outs and tried to pitch as many innings as I could," Chacin said. "But I don't feel like I had all my best stuff in any game this year. My last start, that was the best stuff I had. It was the most comfortable I felt with my slider. It had good break and was really moving. "All this is going to make me a better pitcher. I'm going into the offseason healthy, and I'll get ready for next season."
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.