OD start a chance for De La Rosa to set tone

Rockies left-hander hopes to avoid April struggles of recent years

OD start a chance for De La Rosa to set tone

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It usually takes Rockies left-hander Jorge De La Rosa a month to reach full effectiveness. He said he has needed the time to find his rhythm.

But the Rockies want the best out of De La Rosa, one of the top pitchers in franchise history, from the start. He'll take the mound for Opening Day on Monday against the D-backs at Chase Field (game time is 7:40 p.m. MT).

He'll have some comforts of home. De La Rosa lives in Scottsdale, so his wife and 5-year-old twin sons can attend. And he's not far from where he grew up in Monterrey, Mexico.

"I'm excited, especially because it's here, where I live," De La Rosa said. "I don't know. I think some people are coming. We're close to Mexico. The twins and my wife, of course, will be there. It's going to be a fun day."

Maybe feeling at home will help him pitch well in the opener and start the season better than he has in recent years.

"It always happens that I start slow, then I start pitching much better after three or four games," De La Rosa said. "I'm going to work hard to start the season strong and finish the season strong, too."

De La Rosa, who joined the Rockies in a 2008 trade with the Royals and is in the final year of a two-year, $25 million contract, has generally been strong. He leads the franchise in wins (78) and strikeouts (877), and his 48-16 home record (.750 winning percentage) is the best evidence the Rockies can present when they say pitching in such a hitter-friendly atmosphere really isn't bad. But imagine the numbers if De La Rosa was better before May 1.

In the past three years, since returning from a Tommy John surgery that severely shortened his 2011 and '12 seasons, De La Rosa has gone 39-24 and been a bright spot on a starting staff that has often struggled.

However, the past three Aprils have been cruel:

• In 2013, he went 2-3 with a 4.18 ERA in six April starts. He followed that by posting ERAs of 2.08, 2.97 and 3.62 the next three months, with a combined record of 8-2.

• In 2014, he was 2-3 with a 5.23 ERA in March and April. The year started with a rough Opening Day start, when he gave up five runs in 4 1/3 innings in a road loss to the Marlins. He followed with a 4-0 record and a 1.93 ERA in May. He slumped in June, when he was 2-3 with a 7.11 ERA. But he went 3-0 with a 2.30 ERA in July.

• De La Rosa's start to last season was delayed by a groin issue, and he posted an 11.57 ERA in two April starts. But he went 1-1 with a 4.79 ERA in May and 4-1 with a 3.16 ERA in June.

"I don't know," De La Rosa said. "It's probably I don't get my rhythm yet. I'm probably finding myself. It takes a little bit to make good pitches. I hope I can start strong and finish the same way, or better."

In 2013 and '14, De La Rosa was decidedly better after injuries such as a sore back and a bruised left thumb cropped up. Last year, Achilles tendon soreness that had been lingering for six years was his constant companion, yet he went 9-7 with a 4.17 ERA in 26 starts before the Rockies shut him down in the second half of September.

Offseason rehab on the Achilles left De La Rosa feeling healthier than in years, and he was a leader by example in offseason throwing at the Rockies' complex. Partly in hopes of avoiding the groin injuries that have often cropped up for De La Rosa during past springs, the Rockies held him out of Cactus League games during the early part of the schedule. He went 2-0 with a 6.10 ERA in five starts, covering 20 2/3 innings.

"Spring Training is to work on things," De La Rosa said. "I just have to be myself and get ready for the entire year."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, listen to podcasts and like his Facebook page. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.