SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Standing on the mound under a clear, bright blue sky, right-hander Rubby De La Rosa fired a first-pitch fastball just off the plate.
And with that, the battle was underway.
OK, less a battle and more a competition.
Just who fills out the Arizona Diamondbacks’ 2015 starting rotation is one of, if not the biggest questions this spring. Josh Collmenter and Jeremy Hellickson appear to be penciled into spots one and two, respectively, leaving three-fifths of the rotation up for grabs.
There are no fewer than 14 pitchers vying for those slots, including De La Rosa, who started the Cactus League opener against the Colorado Rockies at Salt River Fields Wednesday.
“If he pitches well there’s a pretty good chance he’s going to be in our rotation because we know that his stuff does play in the big leagues,” first-year manager Chip Hale said prior to Wednesday’s game. “When he’s pitched well, his stuff has dominated hitters.”
Pitching on his 26th birthday, De La Rosa threw two scoreless innings with a pair of strikeouts and no walks. He retired the side in order in the first and then worked around a leadoff hit and a fielding error by third baseman Jake Lamb to begin the second.
“I felt good. I felt healthy,” said De La Rosa, who tossed a first-pitch strike to five of the eight batters faced with a fastball that sat in the low 90s and topped out at 94 mph.
The D-backs acquired De La Rosa in the offseason trade that sent Wade Miley to the Boston Red Sox.
“He’s just been such a pro here,” Hale said. “I’ve seen him in the past with the Dodgers and also with the Red Sox, and he’s got tremendous stuff. Now we need him to take that next step and translate that into the game and into good numbers. If you look at his major league numbers, they’re not great, but his stuff is still there, so that’s our job as coaches to find a way to get that to translate to the game.”
In 19 games, including 18 starts, with the Red Sox last season, De La Rosa went 4-8 with a 4.43 ERA. He walked 35 and struck out 74 in 101.2 innings.
“He locates the ball so well,” said Hale, who has been impressed by De La Rosa’s bullpen and batting practice sessions but now wants to see him replicate that work in games. “He’s got a swing-and-miss changeup and then to develop his breaking ball. His breaking ball, we’ve seen on film, can be really good and he’s kind of shied away from it in the major leagues. I’m looking for him to use that more in certain counts. But if he has those three pitches, I think he can be a real impact guy.”
De La Rosa made a solid first impression in a D-backs uniform.
“I feel they give me a lot of opportunity and (I’m trying) to work hard, don’t (want to) throw away the opportunity (to be a starter),” he said, later adding about his third team in four years. “Super, super good guys; trying to help me to help them. Super cool. I feel good here. I feel like a family.”
There’s still a long ways to go before those three rotation spots are decided, but the manager might have one of them earmarked for De La Rosa.
“Right now, he’s in our thoughts to be one of our guys,” Hale said.