Rockies excited about their pitching future

Rockies excited about their pitching future

DENVER -- The increase in the consistency of Tyler Chatwood and from other Rockies starters throughout the season has the franchise excited about its pitching future. But in the back of the organization's mind, it's aware of the load being placed on young arms -- especially during a difficult schedule stretch.

Wednesday marked the 16th of 27 straight days of action, counting a game abbreviated by rain at Pittsburgh on May 23. Starting last Wednesday in Boston, the Rockies' rotation consists of Chatwood, who is back after missing all of last year and most of 2014 because of Tommy John surgery, and four others who have never gone wire-to-wire in the Majors -- lefty Chris Rusin, the oldest pitcher at 29, and righties Chad Bettis, Eddie Butler and rookie Jon Gray.

Lefty Jorge De La Rosa could be an option for an occasional start, but the fact that he is in the bullpen working through issues that led to struggles in five of his first six starts should make him less of an option during this difficult stretch. The bullpen also is thinned by the fact regular long reliever Christian Bergman is out with a left oblique strain, so any start of fewer than six innings, such as consecutive starts by Butler, Rusin and Bettis during this homestand, places added strain on the bullpen.

For now, the Rockies have not indicated they are planning to make a move to give starters extra rest.

"Concerns, not really -- a heightened sense of awareness, yes," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "We monitor these guys very closely, the training staff, the pitching coaches. We're very in tune to where they're at physically, mentally, all these things. We'll play it by ear, but it's something we definitely think about. We always think about those kinds of things around here."

There are arguments for limiting individuals' innings. Chatwood is already under close watch. He was removed from Friday's start even though he threw just 74 pitches in seven innings in a dominating win over the Giants. Gray's 155 and Butler's 142 2/3 combined innings last year at Triple-A and the Majors were professional highs for both, and Gray's arrival to the Majors included a much-discussed innings limit.

Thus far, the Rockies aren't prepared to talk about intriguing options, such as two 2014 draftees -- righty Jeff Hoffman, obtained from the Blue Jays in the Troy Tulowitzki trade, and lefty Kyle Freeland, selected by the Rockies a spot ahead of Hoffman at No. 8 overall.

Hoffman, who is ranked the club's No. 4 prospect, has a 2.69 ERA and 55 strikeouts and 20 walks in 60 innings at Triple-A Albuquerque. Freeland, the organization's No. 7 prospect has a 3.52 ERA and 46 strikeouts and 20 walks at Double-A Hartford. However, Hoffman is in his first full and healthy year since 2014 Tommy John surgery, and Freeland made just nine Minor League starts last season because of an injury to remove scar tissue near his elbow and shoulder fatigue, although he excelled in the Arizona Fall League.

Rockies director of pitching operations Mark Wiley said in early May that both would be under innings limits this season. But an intriguing question is whether the Rockies would insert them in the rotation at a stressful time, such as this stretch, rather than wait until the end of the year and pitch them under strict limitations.

When approached Wednesday, Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich declined to discuss the philosophy to control innings or if Hoffman or Freeland could be given starts that would introduce them to the Majors and spell the current rotation. He said all discussions are internal for now.

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for since 2002. 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.