Hammel gives Rockies rare depth in solid rotation | VailDaily.com

Hammel gives Rockies rare depth in solid rotation

Colorado Rockies pitcher Jason Hammel works from the mound during baseball spring training in Tucson, Ariz., on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2010. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

TUCSON, Ariz. – The fifth starter in many major league rotations fills that role by default. Not on the Colorado Rockies.

Jason Hammel is an asset rather than an afterthought, an indication of the depth of Colorado’s rotation.

“There’s not that drop-off,” pitching coach Bob Apodaca said. “It could be extremely consistent as far as the one through five guys in the rotation.”

In addition to Hammel, the group includes right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez, who is expected to start on opening day. After that, in an order to be determined, are left-hander Jeff Francis, right-hander Aaron Cook and lefty Jorge De La Rosa.

Then comes Hammel, acquired by the Rockies from Tampa Bay one day before the start of last season for minor league pitcher Aneury Rodriguez.

Hammel went 10-8 with a 4.33 ERA, making three April relief appearances before joining the rotation for the first of 30 starts on April 27. He set career highs in wins, starts and innings pitched (176 2-3).

Pitching 200 innings this season is a goal for the 27-year-old Hammel.

“I think he’s scratched the surface of what he’s capable of,” Apodaca said. “Now it’s the aptitude, the ability to absorb information, to apply the information to go with his natural ability, which is not what you’d normally see from a fifth starter. Because he has immense ability.”

A year ago, Hammel was in spring training with the Rays, who drafted him in the 10th round in 2002. He and Jeff Niemann, both out of minor league options, competed for the fifth starter’s job. Niemann won, and Hammel was traded to the Rockies.

He had started throughout the minor leagues and when he first came to the majors during the 2007 season. The Rays started Hammel in 2008 before moving him to relief and primarily used him out of the bullpen in 2008.

“I didn’t really seize the opportunity to start the first time, so to get a second chance is a huge opportunity,” Hammel said. “Something everybody strives for is comfort. You want to know exactly what your job is going to be. Floating is not an easy thing to do. I did it for three years before last year. I really believe the best is yet to come.”

Colorado went 18-12 in Hammel’s starts last year and he averaged 5.6 innings in those outings. His 15.6 pitches per inning ranked second among the team’s starters behind Jason Marquis, who left as a free agent. The Rockies expect to replace Marquis with a healthy Francis, who missed last season following shoulder surgery.

Colorado starters went 69-50 last season, tying St. Louis for the National League lead in wins, and set a club record with a 4.10 ERA, which ranked sixth in the league. The five primary members of the rotation made 155 starts. Hammel certainly did his part, and the Rockies are hoping for improvement this year.

“It’s going to come down to his ability to improve command of his fastball,” Apodaca said. “He has tremendous secondary pitches: a curveball and a slider and a very, very good changeup. They play well in Denver.

“Now it’s being comfortable with himself and what he is. He throws hard enough that (there is) the temptation to want to throw harder. That’s the line that he cannot cross. That’s where he tends to go when he has those games that aren’t as successful as he wants them to be.”

NOTES: Outfielders Brad Hawpe and Seth Smith and infielder Omar Quintanilla reported to camp and worked out. Position players must report by Thursday. The only ones with major league experience not in camp are infielders Jason Giambi and Melvin Mora. … After their first full-squad workout Friday, the Rockies will meet with officials of the players’ union, including new executive director Michael Weiner.

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