DENVER -- The goodbye felt certain, and it went by slowly for left-hander pitcher Jorge De La Rosa.
The up-and-down final year of his two-year, $25 million contract ended on a downer -- 4 2/3 innings, eight runs (seven earned) in a 10-5 loss to the Cardinals on Sept. 20. The loss dropped De La Rosa to 8-9, which made 2016 the only season since he joined the Rockies in 2008 that he finished with a sub-.500 record (except for '12, when he only made three appearances).
"It's hard," said De La Rosa, who had little to do besides pack his locker the final two weeks. "You've been playing here for nine years, and I think I did a good job all those years."
De La Rosa, 35, joined the Rockies in a trade with the Royals at the start of 2008, after starting his career with the Brewers. Before that, he saw time in the D-backs and Red Sox's organizations and pitched a year in his native Mexico. It was a good move for the Rockies and De La Rosa.
De La Rosa is the club's leader in wins (86), and strikeouts (985), and his .585 winning percentage with all but nine of his 209 appearances as a starter, is tops for a Colorado starter. Even after this rough season, his 53-20 mark at Coors Field will stand as a benchmark. According to Baseball Reference, De La Rosa's 15.2 WAR ranks third among pitchers in club history, behind Ubaldo Jimenez (18.6) and Aaron Cook (16.8).
This year was interrupted when De La Rosa went to the disabled list in late April with a left groin strain but spent extra time to fix his delivery. Still, through May 24, he had an 11.41 ERA and was struggling more than most knew.
"I went through a lot of things this year -- I got sick two times, went to the hospital two times for stomach things, right before Spring Training and at the beginning of the season," De La Rosa said. "Nobody [outside those closest to him] knows about those things. But that's not an excuse. I didn't pitch well."
In addition to regaining his health, De La Rosa and bullpen coach Darren Holmes worked on taking a hesitation out of his delivery. Three eye-opening extended relief appearances (1-0, 1.13 ERA, 10 strikeouts in eight innings) led to a new chance in the rotation. From May 28-July 30, De La Rosa went 6-3 with a 3.23 ERA and was a key reason the Rockies moved into National League Wild Card contention. He and the club faltered at the end.
"I didn't help them this year the way I wanted, but these nine years are the best nine years of my career," De La Rosa said. "I'm never going to forget this team. I just want to try to work in the offseason, especially my body and get it stronger for next year."
It doesn't appear De La Rosa has a clear return route, at least to the rotation.
The Rockies have every reason to turn to a group of 20-somethings -- righties Chad Bettis, Tyler Chatwood and Jon Gray and lefty Tyler Anderson -- who were all selected in the first two rounds of the Draft and all perfomed solidly. Righty prospectsJeff Hoffman and German Marquez finished the year in the Majors, lefties Kyle Freeland and Harrison Musgrave finished the year in Triple-A, and righty Antonio Senzatela is on the radar for next year after pitching sparingly this year because of shoulder soreness
All those signs point toward a De La Rosa departure.
"I don't know if it would make sense to bring me back [to the Rockies], but I will wait to see," he said. "The time I was in the bullpen, I liked it. I know I can still pitch in games like a starter, but we'll see what happens."