In 2013, the Colorado Rockies had major problems in the back-end of their rotation. Despite receiving breakout seasons from Jhoulys Chacin, Jorge De La Rosa, and Tyler Chatwood and a solid campaign from Juan Nicasio, they never found a good option for the fifth spot. They filled the role with washed-up veterans such as Jon Garland, Jeff Francis, Roy Oswalt, Jeff Manship, and Colin McHugh. In the off-season, however, the Colorado Rockies were able to find pieces like Jordan Lyles and Franklin Morales to help their rotation, and a battle has ensued from then on.
The Rockies acquired Brett Anderson over the winter, giving them a solid group of five proven starters.They still needed depth, though, as the injury bug will inevitably hit sometime during the season. They traded Dexter Fowler to the Astros for Jordan Lyles, a young starting pitcher, and reserve outfielder Brandon Barnes. Soon thereafter, they traded longtime utility infielder Jonathan Herrera to the Boston Red Sox for Franklin Morales, whose tenure in Boston included starting and relieving. Neither of these players was supposed to make the rotation out of spring training, but Chacin, the Rockies ace, went down early in the spring with a shoulder injury. Both Morales and Lyles were given an opportunity to fight for the fifth spot in the Colorado Rockies rotation, but Morales won it with a stellar spring training, going 3-1 with a 2.10 ERA.
All was not lost for Jordan Lyles. In his last spring start, Tyler Chatwood injured his hamstring and would begin the season on the disabled list, meaning Lyles and Morales would both make the rotation for at least a few starts. Lyles assumed Chatwood’s third spot in the rotation, and won his first start in Miami despite allowing four runs in just five innings. Morales pitched the next day and pitched similarly, allowing three runs in 5.1 innings. Lyles’ next start was a true test, as it marked his Coors Field debut, a ballpark notorious for its offensive tendencies. He pitched masterfully against the Chicago White Sox, allowing just one run on five hits in 6.2 innings, and he earned his second win in as many starts. Morales’ start the next day was rather poor, allowing six runs in 6.2 innings in a 15-3 Rockies loss. At this point, Chatwood was set to come off the disabled list, and Lyles seemed to be the obvious choice to remain in the rotation. Morales went to the bullpen, but that did not last long. On the day before Chatwood made his 2014 debut, injury-prone Brett Anderson suffered a broken finger, signifying that Morales would have one last shot to battle for a spot in the rotation.
After Lyles made a mediocre start in San Diego, Franklin Morales threw an impressive one. He went six innings and allowed one run on four hits along with five strikeouts. With Jhoulys Chacin beginning his rehab assignment, Jordan Lyles knew that he would have to shine to remain in the rotation. He did just that at Coors Field against the Phillies on April 19, as he pitched a full seven innings and allowed just one unearned run, winning his third game of the young season. However, three days later, Morales followed with an even better performance at Coors Field against the Giants, pitching seven innings, allowing just one run on a Hunter Pence solo-shot, and striking out seven. He out-dueled Giants ace Madison Bumgarner, who pitched a complete game but still lost the game to the Rockies, 2-1.
Chacin is set to make his 2014 debut as soon as next week, so manager Walt Weiss has a difficult decision to make. Lyles had another incredible start on April 25 against the Los Angeles Dodgers, going seven innings and allowing two runs on six hits. Even though he was not able to pick up his fourth win, it was the third time he had pitched into the seventh inning in just five starts. Morales has been absurd in his last two starts, but due to his experience as a reliever, it is more likely that Lyles keeps the spot once Chacin comes back. However, Morales has been announced as the starter on April 28 against the Diamondbacks, so he will have at least one more chance to prove himself.
Brett Anderson was recently placed on the 60-day disabled list, so Lyles will most likely get significant time in the rotation once Chacin comes back. Still, the battle continues, as Franklin Morales and Jordan Lyles have been remarkable through the first few weeks of the season, especially given the fact that they were not even projected to make the rotation out of spring training. For a team that has had terrible pitching in the first 20 years of their existence, it is great to see some actual pitching depth at Coors Field.
Commentary by: Jough Brasch