SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Left-hander Chris Rusin turned in several stellar starts last year with the Rockies, who could offer him more of a chance than his previous team, the pitching-rich Cubs. This year, Rusin has to capitalize on what in some ways is a last chance.
Rusin enters Spring Training among the legion of players across the game who are out of Minor League options (in most cases, a player can be sent down -- or "optioned" -- in three different seasons), meaning the Rockies would have to expose him to waivers if he doesn't stay on the Major League roster. So it's make the rotation -- or face an uncertain future.
Last year, Rusin accomplished the Rockies' only shutout; the 5-0 victory over the Padres on Aug. 16 was just the 19th at Coors Field for a Rockies pitcher. In an 11-3 victory over the Giants on Sept. 3, Rusin became the first Rockies pitcher since Aaron Cook in 2008 to throw two complete games at home in a season. But overall, Rusin was 6-10 with a 5.33 ERA while starting 22 of his 24 appearances, with seven starts of five or fewer innings.
Rusin, 29, is also competing for a club that expects righties Tyler Chatwood and Jordan Lyles back from injury, and wants Jon Gray -- the No. 3 overall pick in 2013 -- to make an impact. Also in the mix are first-round picks Tyler Matzek and Eddie Butler, as well as righty David Hale. But Rusin is staying away from gauging whether odds are in his favor.
"It's definitely a pressure-packed Spring Training, but I'm trying not to look at it that way and just go about what I've been doing in past Spring Trainings," Rusin said. "I'll try to put that out of my head. It's tough not to think about, but I have to go like any other spring."
The 22 starts last year were two more than he made in three seasons with the Cubs, when he appeared in 24 games total. The Rockies claimed him off waivers at the end of 2014. Rusin started last season at Triple-A Albuquerque and needed two callups to stick, but he held a spot in a rotation that had its injuries and performance issues. At times, he was stellar.
"I learned I can go past the seventh inning, because I'd never done that in a big league game," Rusin said. "I didn't start in the big leagues in 2014, and in 2013, seven innings was my longest.
"Knowing that I can pitch a Major League game, the whole game, taught me that I could do it as long as you are consistent with your delivery. It's easier said than done, but I learned I could pitch through tough situations and minimize damage."
Rather than fill his head with worries about how he compares to his competition, Rusin has concentrated on specific delivery-based improvements. Essentially, he has concentrated on better balance so that his arm and body are in sync. Rusin said his arm can catch up if his timing is off on the fastball, but other pitches are a struggle.
Not to be underrated is the fact some of Rusin's best games were at Coors. He had some clunkers at home, but he also went 5-3 with the two shutouts and another seven-inning performance.
"The ball is not going to move as much, so you lower your sights or throw more to the target, not throwing knowing it's going to move to the target," Rusin said. "Everyone knows the ball is not going to move as much, and it's going to travel more, but the more you hit your spots and keep them hitting it on the ground, the better your chance -- especially with the defense we have."