Scottsdale, Ariz. -- Down the stretch in August and September last summer, as Chad Bettis and Jorge De La Rosa dealt with minor nagging injuries and rookie Jon Gray grappled with the realities of the big leagues, one man stood out in the Colorado Rockies' rotation: Chris Rusin.
Tossing two complete games—both at Coors Field, including a five-hit shutout of the San Diego Padres—in his final nine starts of the year, Rusin capped off a memorable summer. Picked up off the scrap heap in September 2014 from the Chicago Cubs, the lefty finished third on the Rockies in games started and innings pitched despite only joining the big league club at the end of May.
And while a minor finger injury has set Rusin back a bit early this spring, the lefty is eager to follow up his career year and build off his reputation in Denver in the coming months ahead.
"I use it as momentum from last year," Rusin told Purple Row about his offseason and spring outlook amid increased attention as he battles for a job as part of the Rockies' starting rotation ahead of Opening Day.
"I don’t think about anything else that’s going on around me, or other starters," he added. "If I do that, I get side tracked, I don’t think about what I’m supposed to think about, and then that’s when things go bad. I just have those blinders on, and just worry about what I’m doing."
What Rusin's been doing—besides the self-described "minor tweak" of his left middle finger—is put up surprisingly proficient numbers as a fifth starter for a club that too often has recently struggled to field even four capable rotation arms. And though his peripherals last summer (11.6 H/9, and just 5.9 K/9) were by no means dominant, the lefty didn't walk anybody (just 2.8 BB/9) and changed speeds well enough to find fairly consistent and elusive success in Denver.
The key to all that success, especially for a man who had never before thrown more than 66 big league innings in a season? Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was all pretty simple.
"You don’t know what you can do until you believe in your stuff," Rusin said, perhaps the most true indictment of the importance of the psychological side of baseball for a pitcher who rarely lights up radar guns north of 90 mph. "I just attacked, concentrated every game that I threw, and believed in my stuff."
Along the way, that outlook made Rusin more appreciative of what he accomplished during the summer, too.
"You kind of take it as you never know when your last season is going to be, or your last time in the Major Leagues," he admitted. "I took that, used it that way to my advantage, and decided to pitch like every out is my last one, and went from there."
That outlook, though derived at least partially from the gratitude of being wanted by a big league organization and being granted a Major League job, is also directly influenced by Rusin's past. It wasn't long ago that the lefty, a fourth round draft pick of the Cubs back in 2009 out of the University of Kentucky, was placed on waivers by his original organization and sent to the Rockies for nothing.
As you might imagine, that weighed heavily on his mind for some time.
"When you move an organization, you think does anybody want me any more? Why didn’t they want me? You think maybe you’re not good any more, and all these questions go through your head," Rusin admitted. "But that’s where I just concentrated a little more. Not that I didn’t before, but it just made me take a different look on things and I used that to my advantage."
That advantage, borne from a new appreciation for the game, also came from Rusin's own hard work and meticulous conditioning both during and after the season. Now, after having more than doubled his Major League career high in innings pitched, the crafty lefty is physically prepared for the next step (well, one nagging finger injury aside).
"I didn’t really do anything different," Rusin said of this winter's workout regimen after a long summer in Denver. "The only thing was I moved down here to Arizona to be at the complex all winter, so I was able to throw outside all offseason. I think that helped my arm. I felt a lot better going into this spring than I did the last couple springs, arm-wise. Obviously this finger is not the same, but I feel good. I just want to get this finger healthy."
That will come in time. So too will Rusin's fate, whether as part of the Rockies' rotation, as their long man in the bullpen, as an Opening Day candidate for the disabled list in order to give him another couple weeks to get his finger and arm strength on the right track, or wherever else the future may be calling.
Regardless, Rusin is happy about his current situation, and now a year and a half removed from being unceremoniously dumped by the Cubs, he seems content and collected in Colorado's clubhouse.
"It’s been so good," Rusin said of his time thus far with the Rockies. "Everyone is good here, everyone is personable, and you feel comfortable going up to anyone in the clubhouse. It’s a good atmosphere, and it’s a fun team to be on."