Jorge De La Rosa’s key to success in Colorado: having no fear

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Colorado Rockies pitcher Jorge De La Rosa on the mound against the New York Yankees at Coors Field, June 14, 2016. Colorado Rockies; Nick Hundley; baseball; sports; denver; coors field; denverite; colorado; kevinjbeaty Colorado Rockies; Jorge De La Rosa; baseball; sports; denver; coors field; denverite; colorado; kevinjbeaty

Rockies starting pitcher Jorge De La Rosa likely made the final start of his career in Colorado on Tuesday. (Kevin Beaty/Denverite)

It’s no secret that pitching at Coors Field is a difficult task. The thin air makes pitches break less and allows baseballs to travel further. The outfield is cavernous. Even the best, like Dodgers’ ace Clayton Kershaw, whose 4.63 ERA at Coors Field is more than two points higher than his 2.38 career ERA, struggle here.

Rockies’ pitchers don’t tend to be around for a long time. Some get their confidence rocked and don’t recover. Others flee for greener pastures. Since 2008, 55 different pitchers have logged starts for the Rockies.

So it was amazing Tuesday when longtime starter Jorge De La Rosa left the mound as a Rockie at Coors Field for likely the final time after spending nine seasons in Colorado.

De La Rosa is 35 and in the final year of his two-year, $25 million contract. The Rockies have a stable of young pitchers who will battle to make the five-man rotation next season. If this was truly it for De La Rosa in Colorado — and all signs point toward that, whether he retires or ends up with another team — he’ll leave as the franchise leader in wins (86), strikeouts (985) and perhaps, most impressive of all, the guy who proved you could have staying power in a park that chews up and spits out pitchers.

De La Rosa made his Rockies debut on May 3, 2008. Since then, he’s battled relegations to the bullpen, Tommy John surgery and the obstacles of pitching in LoDo to post a 53-20 record at Coors Field. That .720 winning percentage is by far the best mark in franchise history, among qualifiers.

His stuff, which consists of a fastball that runs in the lower 90s and a potent split-finger changeup, is by no means overpowering. And yet, he’s managed to endure.

Teammates will tell you the reason why is his courage on the mound.

“The thing with De La Rosa is he’s not afraid to throw anything,” third baseman Nolan Arenado said. “That helps him out, especially here. You can’t be afraid to throw different pitches. I think sometimes when pitchers come here, they get scared to throw their curveball or whatever it is. He’s not afraid to throw it. He’ll throw it whenever he wants.”

That brazenness — to throw any pitch in any count — has allowed him to last from 2008, when Valerio De Los Santos was making starts, to 2016, when Tyler Anderson was doing so for the first time in the big leagues.

De La Rosa was a key part of that 2009 playoff team and a key part of many other (bad) Rockies teams. He’s lasted in an organization that’s had two general managers and three managers since 2008.

“This guy has been a bit of trailblazer, showing people that you can pitch at Coors Field, and doing it better than anybody else in franchise history,” Walt Weiss said Tuesday. “It says a lot about his competitiveness, his work ethic and his ability to execute a game plan.”

De La Rosa’s (probable) last didn’t go well. He gave up seven earned runs on seven hits, and the Cardinals chased him after 4 2/3 innings. You only wish he’d gotten one more outing as a Rockie, so you could sit and wonder how he was still keeping hitters off balance after all the years he spent in a pitchers' graveyard.

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