Pomeranz working to solidify spot in rotation
Left-hander escapes trouble against Giants, building confidence for season
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies left-hander Drew Pomeranz worked through traffic, coming up with key strikeouts and ground balls when he needed them most on Thursday night. He more than hung with Giants ace Matt Cain for five innings.
But more important was that if he'd been asked, Pomeranz could have been effective longer. As it was, he pitched around 10 hits in five innings, struck out four and forced eight groundouts while earning the decision in a 10-4 victory at Scottsdale Stadium.
It's only Spring Training, and the Rockies haven't revealed if Pomeranz, 24, will even be in their starting rotation, although it certainly looks that way. The main competitor appears to be lefty Christian Friedrich, who battled back issues for most of Spring Training and is set to make his first Cactus League start Friday against the Rangers at Surprise Stadium.
But Pomeranz's performance suggests that the trials of last season -- 2-9 with a 4.93 ERA in 22 Major League starts in a year that also saw him make 10 starts in the Minors -- and an offseason spent correcting weaknesses have given him savvy and toughness. If he can develop those traits and harness the talent that made him a first-round Draft pick a few years ago, the Rockies could have a rising star on their hands.
The Indians drafted Pomeranz fifth overall in 2010. He was traded to the Rockies in 2011 as part of the Ubaldo Jimenez deal and finished the year in the Majors, but he had a long idle period before the trade went official and missed time because of appendicitis. Rarely do teams ask pitchers with so little exposure to the length of a professional season to be rotation members, but that's what the Rockies did last year.
When the Rockies dabbled with a four-man rotation, they carefully avoided pitching Pomeranz on three days' rest, but he still had issues with arm soreness and changed his motion. He never pitched more than 6 2/3 innings in a start. This year, he has shown up sharper and stronger.
"That's the biggest difference," Pomeranz said. "I don't know if it was my training, what I did this offseason, but I have more in the tank. I can reach back when I need to."
On Thursday night, he pitched under pressure throughout. He worked Buster Posey into a double play to end the first with a runner at third base. The Giants scored once on four hits in the second, but Pomeranz coaxed a Andres Torres grounder to end the inning with two aboard.
In a one-run, three-hit third, Pomeranz got Francisco Peguero to ground out and struck out Adam Duvall to leave two on base. The hit that started the trouble, Hunter Pence's one-out single, was an infield grounder to first baseman Todd Helton. Normally, Pomeranz would have been covering first, but he froze on the mound because shards of Pence's shattered bat were flying his way.
Torres doubled with two down in the fifth, but Pomeranz ended that by forcing Wilson Valdez to pop up.
"He's done that a few times this spring where he looks like he might be headed for trouble and he's pitched his way out of it," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "That's a good sign for him, another outing we can take some positives from."
The Giants' traffic was caused mostly by soft hits.
"There were a lot of ground balls that were finding holes, broken bats," Pomeranz said. "There were some hits, but it wasn't like they hit very many of them hard. A lot of ground balls, which is what I want. Some of the hits wouldn't have been if they were 2 feet the other way."
Pomeranz had an effective fastball -- "It's heavy, there's velocity and deception," Weiss said -- and is certain he can pitch at a higher level when he must.
"I don't know that I prepared like I would have for a regular-season game," Pomeranz said. "I feel great with my fastball but I need to work on the location of my off-speed."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.