After Chacin's strong 2013 (10-7, 3.45 ERA in 31 starts), shoulder problems struck before he could throw his first bullpen session of Spring Training 2014. He went 1-7 with a 5.40 ERA in May and June before being shut down. The only good news came when doctors concluded that surgery was not necessary and would not be as long as Chacin strengthened the small muscles in the shoulder capsule and paid vigorous attention to shoulder maintenance throughout his career.
But the diagnosis and treatment plan serve as more of a road map than an answer. Based on his talent and production when healthy, Chacin should be a bright spot in the Rockies' thin rotation. But because of debilitating injuries in two of the last three years -- a nerve issue in the chest muscle on the right side in 2011 and last year's shoulder problems -- Chacin is yet another question mark in a rotation full of them. Heading into his age-27 season, Chacin has every incentive to establish who he is once and for all, and the team is depending on him to do so.
Chacin is heading into his final year of arbitration eligibility, which means his 2015 results will play heavily in his ability to earn a multiyear contract when he reaches free agency. In 2013, Chacin finished fifth in the National League in WAR (wins above replacement) for pitchers, at 5.8; in 2011 he finished ninth, at 3.7, despite an 11-14 record, according to Baseball-Reference.com. Those WAR numbers were the highest for any Rockies hurler since Ubaldo Jimenez's 7.5 in 2010.
The strong seasons indicate that Chacin is capable of joining veteran lefty Jorge De La Rosa as a staff leader regardless of whom the Rockies acquire via trade or free agency. Pitchers who have proven that they can handle hitter-friendly Coors Field serve as examples to younger pitchers and show potential pickups that success can be obtained in a Rockies uniform.
But to be what the Rockies need, Chacin has to show he has learned how to take care of his body and arm.
In 2013, Chacin did not participate in winter ball in his native Venezuela, but when he went to the Dominican Republic in February 2014 to throw at the complex, he experienced tightness in his shoulder, tightness that worsened when he reported to Spring Training.
Chacin believes the problems stemmed from a workout regimen that didn't strengthen the small muscles in the shoulder.
Difficulty finding the right workout has been a theme in his career. Chacin's chest issue in 2012 stemmed from too much training of the large upper-body muscles. He missed three starts in his strong 2013 season (and still threw a career-high 197 1/3 innings), which led to other training adjustments. But the lack of a sound shoulder program led to the 2014 injuries, which nearly led to surgery and a lengthy rehab.
"They told me if I keep doing the stuff they recommended for the little muscles and keep my arm and shoulder in shape all year, there's a good chance it won't bother me anymore," Chacin said. "I've been working hard, doing they told me to do, and I can feel the difference.
"In the intrasquad game [last week], I threw pretty well. I used my fastball, curveball, slider, change -- everything. I'd say my arm is 85 percent right now. I just need game action to get it to 100 percent."
The Rockies don't want that game action to occur until their season begins. Soon after Chacin sustained the shoulder injury, one theory was that by not pitching in games in Venezuela, he threw his offseason out of kilter, leading to the injury. But with Chacin still on the mend, and given the fact that he lives near Phoenix, the Rockies have prescribed that he spend the winter working at the team's complex in Scottsdale, Ariz.
"We've created a plan for him, and it's a collaborative process," general manager Jeff Bridich said. "The plan is to have him work out and throw bullpens in Arizona with the players that we have there. That makes sense. This is an important time in his career here."
Manager Walt Weiss is excited about Chacin's eagerness to re-establish his place as one of the NL's better pitchers.
"Jhoulys has been working hard, and he wants to get back to where he was after a tough year physically," Weiss said. "One thing that he always brings is a competitive fire -- he did that last year when he was pitching through discomfort. But for any athlete, it helps to have a level of desperation. It's a good place to be."
Chacin wants to turn the disappointment of 2014 into production in 2015.
"I was pretty frustrated last year," he said. "It was a tough time, but all the work I'm putting in is going to help me. I love a challenge."