SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies manager Walt Weiss liked what he saw in his first meeting with right-handed pitcher Jhoulys Chacin so much, that he's giving him a chance to make another first impression.
Weiss announced Monday that Chacin will start on Opening Day, April 1 in Milwaukee. He also said veteran lefty Jeff Francis will start the home opener on April 5 against the Padres. The announcement was expected, since the talented Chacin, 25, has the aggressiveness and pitch mix that the Rockies believe is a winning combination, and he matches up well with the Brewers' right-handed firepower.
But Weiss, hired in November, hadn't met Chacin until he was going through personal meetings with each player on the roster. He found a guy ready to be a staff leader, and nothing that has happened since has dissuaded Weiss.
"I could see the maturity right then, and that was the first time I'd had a conversation with him," Weiss said. "Just the way he attacks hitters, there's a maturity to him beyond his years, just from a pitchability aspect. He's got an outstanding changeup and he uses it well in his sequences. He's a pitcher."
This time last year, Chacin was seen as more a question mark than a No. 1 pitcher on a staff.
Chacin showed plenty of talent with his mix of pitches, but expected inexperience in 2011, his first full year in the Majors. He started strong, but declined in the second half and finished 11-14, but with a respectable 3.62 ERA. Then last winter, general manager Dan O'Dowd, acting on information he had heard from Chacin's training in Venezuela, questioned his conditioning, although when camp began then-manager Jim Tracy and then-pitching coach Bob Apodaca each said Chacin was in good shape.
However, there were physical hiccups that delayed his work in Spring Training, then he bottomed out to start the season -- 0-3 with a 7.30 ERA through five starts, with a mysterious dip in velocity. The Rockies had planned to option him to Triple-A Colorado Springs, but began to investigate an injury. It took about a month to determine he had nerve damage in a muscle on the right side of his chest.
Chacin returned in August a different pitcher, and went 3-2 with a 2.84 ERA in his final nine starts.
This spring has been disjointed. Because of last year's injuries, he was not on Venezuela's World Baseball Classic team, but he proved his health and was added later. Chacin returned to Cactus League play against the Giants on Sunday and, while using the game to hone his changeup, gave up four runs and nine hits in 4 2/3 innings. He has a 7.00 spring ERA, but Weiss said he agreed that it was more important for Chacin to sharpen his pitches than put up pretty spring numbers.
Monday, the day after the forgettable performance, Weiss broke the news to Chacin.
"He was very businesslike when I told him," Weiss said. "He knows that being a No. 1 guy on a staff, there's responsibility. I told him the little I'd been around him, he comes across as a very mature kid for his age. He's ready to take on that role."
Francis, 32, ranks in the top five in Rockies history in wins (second with 61), innings pitched (second with 995 2/3), starts (second with 173) and strikeouts (second with 679). He is 61-57 overall and 33-26 at Coors Field.
The Rockies selected Francis in the first round, ninth overall, in the 2002 MLB First-Year Player Draft. In 2007, he developed into an ace, who went 17-9 with a 4.22 ERA, won games in the National League Division and Championship series, and started Game 1 of the World Series, in which the Rockies were swept by the Red Sox.
But 2008 began a frustrating period of shoulder injury that led to Francis missing the 2009 season and departing after 2010. Francis re-established his health and durability by going 6-16 with a 4.82 ERA in 31 starts for the Royals in 2011. He began last year with the Reds in Triple-A, but requested his release and returned to the Rockies in June. He went 6-7 with a 5.58 ERA in 24 starts.
Francis has been scored upon in just one of his 19 innings this spring and is 2-1 with a 1.96 Cactus-League ERA.
"Jeff is a steadying force on our staff," Weiss said. "He's tailor-made for that Opening Day home atmosphere. He's not going to get caught up in distractions that come along with that. He's a pro. He's pitched in a World Series. I told him there's a lot of peace of mind in me seeing him out there, just in general, because of the way he's controlled the at-bats this spring and dictate bat speed. It's very comforting for the manager."
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.