Ubaldo for opener as Tracy sets early rotation

Ubaldo for opener as Tracy sets early rotation

Ubaldo for opener as Tracy sets early rotation
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies manager Jim Tracy announced Friday that ace right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez will start the opener on April 1 against the D-backs at Coors Field. Tracy set the first for spots in his rotation.

Left-hander Jorge De La Rosa will start against the D-backs on April 2, and right-hander Jhoulys Chacin will open the series finale on April 3. The Rockies are off April 4, then Jason Hammel will start at home on April 5 against the Dodgers. The fifth spot has not been determined, although righty Esmil Rogers appears to be the favorite.

Jimenez, 27, who went 19-8 with a 2.88 ERA last season and finished third in National League Cy Young Award voting, was expected to start on Opening Day. De La Rosa turns 30 on April 5 and is 34-24 since joining the Rockies in 2008. De La Rosa entered camp expected to be No. 2.

Some shuffling has occurred for two reasons. Veteran right-hander Aaron Cook suffered right shoulder tightness and a fractured right ring finger and will begin the season on the disabled list. The 23-year-old Chacin set several Rockies rookie records last season, and Hammel, 28, has won 10 games in each of the last two seasons. Both pitchers have shown signs of moving forward this spring.

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Even with the Cook injury and the unsettled fifth spot, Tracy is confident in the rotation for the Rockies, who finished third in the NL West last year but left the season believing they were good enough to win it.

"We're very proud," Tracy said. "We have made a lot of strides with all four of them."

The original plan was to slot Cook, a former Rockies No. 1, in the third spot, and follow him with Chacin and Hammel. But Cook could miss 8-11 starts.

This spring, Chacin is 1-1 with a 3.21 ERA in four starts. What has impressed Tracy is how Chacin handled a couple of starts in which he wasn't at his optimal sharpness. That, in addition to his performance in 2010 -- in which he topped all rookies in club history with 138 strikeouts and posted a 3.28 ERA while going 9-11 in 28 games (including 21 starts) -- has Tracy confident in the young righty.

"Look at some of the huge games that he pitched for us last year, and the job that he did for us," Tracy said. "From where the kid started and where we were at a couple years ago, trying to establish fastball command, to be in the position he's in, I'd say the growth and development is noteworthy.

"This guy has the capability of being one of the elite pitchers in the game. We've got a ways to go, but how far he runs with that, that's what we're all anxious to get started for."

Hammel, who bounced between the bullpen and the rotation with the Rays from 2006-08 before joining the Rockies in early 2009, has had lengthy runs of strong work each of the last two seasons. After finishing 10-8 with a 4.33 ERA in 2009 and 10-9, 4.81 last year, Tracy is looking for Hammel to take a step forward in the consistency department.

"If Jason Hammel, with where we have him in the rotation, takes that next step, you definitely see a pitcher out there that's capable of 15-plus [wins]," Tracy said. "If your No. 4 guy can do something like that for you, you're setting yourself up pretty well."

It will be the second straight Opening Day start for Jimenez, who held the Brewers to eight hits and one run in six innings as the Rockies took the 2010 opener, 5-3, at Miller Park. Jimenez also threw the first no-hitter in Rockies history last April 17 at Atlanta, and became the first Rockies pitcher to start the All-Star Game.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.