Chad Bettis recently revealed that his testicular cancer has spread and that he’ll undergo chemotherapy for treatment. The most important thing is Bettis’s health. We and the Rockies know this, and everyone wishes that the treatment goes smoothly, that he has the support he needs, and that Bettis recovers. Baseball is secondary to all of it. While knowing this, the Rockies have to think about how they’ll replace Bettis’s spot in the rotation. It’s also the pall under which we have to write about it.
The Rockies entered spring training with four rotation spots locked down and one open. Now that Bettis is out indefinitely, the Rockies have to fill two spots. The Rockies are in a much better position to fill those two spots than they have been in the past. To wit, you’re only going to read Yohan Flande’s name once in this article, and you’ve already read it. The pitchers in the mix for the final two rotation spots are right-handers Jeff Hoffman, Germán Márquez, and Antonio Senzatela, and lefties Chris Rusin and Kyle Freeland.
With only one spot to fill, there’s a great argument to accommodate and adjust to keep Rusin out of the fifth spot. He’s better in relief. In the long-relief role, Rusin could go anywhere from one to four innings of solid pitching. Even the best rotations need someone like this, and not every team has the luxury of having one. But with two spots to fill, it might be a better idea to put Rusin in the rotation, especially if it means keeping a young pitcher the team doesn’t believe is ready in the minors. That applies to just about every other pitcher under consideration. Unfortunately, Rusin has been sidelined with an oblique injury. He should return before the end of spring training, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be ready for the start of the season.
Among the remaining pitchers, Hoffman and Márquez would seem to have the most direct lines to rotation spots, if only because they’re the two pitchers with major-league experience. Spring training stats are no help here, as Hoffman and Márquez have combined to throw 91⁄3 innings. Senzatela and Freeland have both looked good in the spring, but they’ve also thrown just seven innings each. Unless someone implodes, the decision should ultimately come down to who the Rockies feel is most prepared to take on major-league innings for the first time. With two spots open, a rookie will more than likely take one of them.
There’s no help in free agency, even with a low bar. MLB Trade Rumors identifies pitchers like Doug Fister, Tim Lincecum, and C.J. Wilson as available starters, but they seem like poorer options than the Rockies already have. If the Rockies want to protect a young prospect from entering the rotation before he’s ready, it would be better to throw someone like Harrison Musgrave or Shane Carle to the fire than to spend on one of the uninspiring free agents.
Ultimately, the Rockies are better positioned to handle the loss of a starter than they have been in the past—you know, like the time the Rockies employed Jon Garland on purpose and then did the same with Roy Oswalt. Losing somebody as reliable as Bettis for what we should assume will be the whole season is a tough blow for the Rockies. But the young group should be able to handle it.