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De La Rosa aims to constructively channel emotions

Rockies Opening Day starter looks use fiery demeanor to his advantage this season

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- As successful as Rockies left-handed pitcher Jorge De La Rosa is in his confrontations with opponents -- two 16-win seasons stand as proof -- the more evenly matched battle is with his red-hot emotions.

During the early, well-traveled and underachieving portion of his career, before he arrived in Colorado in 2008, he lost way too often and those defeats were career-threatening. Now, although De La Rosa can still lose focus, he has gained acceptance that if he snaps the ball on the return throw or has to rock back and forth to keep from, say, punching a water cooler in the dugout after a rough inning, his start isn't unraveling.

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"I don't know if it makes me a better pitcher," De La Rosa said. "But I try to grab the ball and make better pitches."

De La Rosa is 55-34 with a 4.23 ERA in 124 appearances in black and purple, after going 15-23, 5.85 previously. In his last two seasons without a disabled list trip, he was 16-9, 4.22 in 2009 and 16-6, 3.49 ERA last season despite pitching much of the second half with a recurring left thumb bruise.

His only sub-.500 season with the club was 2012, when he made just three starts after missing 16 months because of left elbow surgery. He has channeled his fire to the point that he's seen as the Rockies' staff leader -- symbolized by the fact he is starting Monday night's season opener against Miami at Marlins Stadium.

Nonetheless, De La Rosa, flashing the easy smile and the soft voice that make those who know him away from the mound wonder what happens when the game starts, would like to leave behind the body language and occasional outbursts, all directed at himself.

"When I was a little kid, my parents told me every time to work on that, and that's what I try to do," said De La Rosa, a Monterrey, Mexico, native who turns 33 next Friday. "I did the same things I do now, but I lost myself on the mound. But I get mad at myself, never my teammates.

"Now I've got kids [4-year-old twin boys Bernabe and Matias] and they're watching me. I don't want them to do the same thing."

But there's so much about De La Rosa that should be emulated.

Last season, De La Rosa went 10-0 with a 3.52 ERA in 14 starts after a Rockies loss. He went 10-1 with a 2.76 ERA at Coors Field -- the lowest starter ERA at Coors over a full season in club history. The fact De La Rosa can do it angry fascinates right-handed pitcher Jhoulys Chacin.

"I used to be like that, but I got mad and threw harder and didn't make my pitch," Chacin said. "What I learned from him is try to find out how I can make a better pitch and get my focus back.

"He says, 'If I make my pitch and the hitter hits it, I don't care. I get mad if I don't make my pitches.'"

The temperament was a shock at first for manager Walt Weiss, who took over last year.

Frustrated by poor pitch location in his first spring outing of 2013, De La Rosa lost his temper in the dugout. Weiss and pitching coach Jim Wright were not happy.

Instead of stifling De La Rosa, Wright reminded him that anger can be used for good. Weiss also accepts that De La Rosa -- who began to learn to control himself when former Rockies mental skills coach Ronn Svetich gave him materials and his wife, Martha, translated them to English to make them easier to digest -- won't always be cool.

"I wasn't around Jorge a lot in the past, but innings would get away from him because of his emotions," Weiss said. "He's never going to be the guy that's out there and never shows emotions. That's not going to happen. Now he has the ability step off the back of the mound, pull himself together and pitch his way out of the inning. That's just part of who he is."

No matter his emotions, De La Rosa ruin batters' moods by challenging them with a 94 mph fastball and a hard slider before sending them back to the dugout with a changeup batters have difficulty detecting.

The Rockies challenged him this spring to throw his sinking fastball inside to right-handed hitters. He has a four-seam fastball he can use inside or out, a slider, a sinker to his arm side and the changeup. If hitters have to respect the sinker to the glove side, it makes it that much tougher for them to cover the opposite side of the plate.

At times this spring, De La Rosa looked to be following instruction rather than pitching. But Wednesday in his last Spring Training start, with Michael McKenry behind the plate, he incorporated that pitch to set up a changeup that was the key to seven strikeouts in six scoreless innings against the Giants.

"It depends what team you're facing and what hitters you're facing," De La Rosa said. "But I've been playing a lot of years in this game and I know what I need to get the success I want."

The next step for De La Rosa is meshing with catcher Wilin Rosario. At the start of last year, Weiss paired him with an equally firebrand catcher, veteran Yorvit Torrealba, for the first part of the season. By season's end he was working with Rosario just as much.

But against the Indians on March 21, De La rosa gave up nine hits and five runs in three innings, and they struggled to communicate. It led to several mound visits that destroyed the game's pace. De La Rosa said he lost concentration, but communication in an area in which the staff has challenged Rosario.

Rosario, who missed Wednesday's game with a left calf bruise, said he enjoys De La Rosa.

"This is a good person," Rosario said. "He's unbelievable, nice to talk with and everything. At gametime, everybody changes with the intensity."

De La Rosa would like for his temperament to be different.

"Sometimes I'm too hard on myself," he said. "But maybe that's the thing that makes me better."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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{"event":["opening_day" ] }
{"event":["opening_day" ] }