DENVER -- Rockies left-handed pitcher Jorge De La Rosa endured a long comeback from elbow surgery that included a couple of major setbacks, but at least made it to the field for three season-ending starts.
The 0-2 record and 9.28 ERA didn't exactly represent a happy ending, but the 64-98 Rockies didn't need that. So call his work at the end of the year a modest beginning to 2013.
This week De La Rosa, 31, assured that he'd work his way back to prominence in a Rockies uniform. As expected, he exercised his $11 million player option for 2013 -- not a surprise, since a pitcher with only three starts since undergoing Tommy John surgery in June 2011 would have no reason to enter free agency. De La Rosa expects to show up for Spring Training healthy and resume the veteran role that the Rockies envisioned for him when they signed him to a multi-year deal after the 2010 season that, by the time the 2013 season is done, will have paid him $33 million.
"I hope to come in a lot stronger and win a lot of games for this team," De La Rosa said after his final start, a 7-1 loss to the Dodgers on Sept. 30.
From joining the Rockies in 2008 until suffering a complete tear of an elbow ligament on May 24, 2011, in a game against the D-backs, De La Rosa was a healthy 39-26 with a 4.38 ERA in 91 games, including 85 starts.
Acquired from the Royals at the start of the 2008 season, De La Rosa arrived with a reputation for being unable to gain control of games once things went wrong, but he improved to the point that he was one of the National League's best left-handed strikeout threats. He fanned 486, against 222 walks, in 495 2/3 innings in a Rockies uniform before the injury.
After the injury, De La Rosa hoped to return sometime around midseason 2012, but a bout with forearm tightness and later some swelling near the elbow turned the season into one full of rehab. He put so much into strengthening his arm, his overall conditioning took a hit. Work with a dietitian and a strong conditioning program helped him trim unwanted weight, and he plans to work his body back into that kind of shape before next season.
"To be honest, my legs feel a little tired, feeling a little heavy," De La Rosa said. "I will try to do the same thing I did before. I want to do a lot of things about pitching. I didn't work on them [last] offseason because my goal was to not feel pain in my arm."
De La Rosa completed his season with a few outings at instructional ball in Arizona. His agent, Paul Cohen, told the Denver Post that De La Rosa might pitch toward the end of the Mexican Winter League season, but between now and then his focus will be conditioning.
A healthy and effective De La Rosa would be a boon to a Rockies staff that languished in 2012, mostly because injuries to De La Rosa and right-handers Jhoulys Chacin and Juan Nicaisio, and the ineffectiveness of 49-year-old Jamie Moyer early in the season, left many of the starts to inexperienced pitchers who proved unready for such important roles. The Rockies hope to have the injured pitchers back, and are looking to re-sign veteran lefty Jeff Francis and possibly some other experienced hurlers at a low cost.
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.