SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Rockies didn't see nearly enough of right-handed pitcher Jhoulys Chacin last season -- just 11 starts (1-7, 5.40 ERA) because of rotator cuff and labrum damage. So they rarely let him out of their sight this winter.
Chacin scrapped plans to pitch winter ball in Venezuela and lived in Scottsdale so that he could properly rehab damaged muscles and tissue at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. Multiple motion and resistance exercises with light weights were introduced to his routine. He admits it was painful, but now he understands.
"I told Eddie Butler [a top prospect who battled shoulder woes last year] and a couple other guys, I used to be like you guys -- grab a ball and throw it," Chacin said. "But I said if they can do what I'm doing now, they can stay away from injuries like mine. It was really bad and scary for me.
"Now I can be myself."
Chacin will have to faithfully continue the routine, since the Rockies' rotation could depend on it.
Chacin went 14-10 with a 3.47 ERA in 2013 and seemed poised to be part of a 1-2 punch with lefty Jorge De La Rosa last season. De La Rosa had a solid 2014 (14-11, 4.10) but the injuries to Chacin and righty Tyler Chatwood (who hopes to pitch late this year after undergoing Tommy John surgery last July) were part of the reason the rotation struggled and the Rockies went 66-96.
Chacin has gone from doing a small set of arm exercises after each start to a specific program whether he is pitching in a game, throwing a bullpen or playing catch, all to avoid a potentially extensive surgery. He'll need good fortune, since arms are unpredictable. Rockies head athletic trainer Keith Dugger said Chacin gives himself the best chance to avoid surgery if he is "consistent year 'round, because once you slack off, it takes a lot longer to catch up."
Chacin is aware of worst-case scenarios but says, "If something happens, it's because God says that's going to happen. I'm not worried about that right now."
De La Rosa sees a bright future if Chacin sticks with the routine.
"He's young, only 27, so he's got a lot more years, if he works like he did this offseason," De La Rosa said.
Chacin is earning $5.5 million in his final year of arbitration and is a free agent at year's end. But he's not thinking that far ahead.
"Every season, even if you're not going to be a free agent, is big for you," Chacin said. "I just want to prove that my arm is fine and I can pitch like I did two years ago. I always want to be here, pitch for the Rockies and go to the playoffs for the Rockies. People in Denver will get crazy if we go to the playoffs."