Jorge De La Rosa: Prepared to Answer the Call

By Jose M. Romero

It’s been a couple of years since Jorge De La Rosa re-invented himself, from two-time Opening Day starter with the Colorado Rockies —most recently in 2016 — to relief specialist against a hitter or two out of the Arizona Diamondbacks’ bullpen in big moments.

That’s the role the 37-year-old Mexican left-hander is in this season for the Diamondbacks, one he was happy to take and has embraced since his days as a starting pitcher ended.

“I liked it from the start when they gave it to me and I like it even more now,” De La Rosa said during a recent interview in Spanish. “I’ve been pretty happy with what I’ve done.”

De La Rosa has a 3.86 earned run average in 23 games and 16 1/3 innings heading into May 21.

“He’s on a tremendous roll right now,” Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said before De La Rosa gave up a season-high three runs on four hits in one inning of relief on May 20. “He can come into a game in any circumstance and slow it down enough to execute pitches and get big outs. A guy that will come in with a lot of traffic and when he doesn’t do something, it kind of startles you because he’s so prepared and competitive that he’s ready to take on that challenge.”

Making the Cut

De La Rosa wasn’t assured a roster spot in spring training last year or this year. He was signed to a minor-league contract in 2017 and made the team, appearing in 65 games. He came to camp after it had started this year with another minor-league deal, earning a spot as a situational left-hander out of the bullpen once again.

“I don’t have a lot of years left at this level,” De La Rosa said. “You never know how long of a career you will have. If something were to happen, at least I would know that I gave it everything.”

He’s most certainly an unsung hero in a bullpen that features three pitchers who could be closers and have largely been effective at shutting down the opposition from the seventh inning on. Archie Bradley, Yoshihisa Hirano and Brad Boxberger get the call in close games in the final innings.

But Lovullo seems to have faith in De La Rosa even in the most difficult predicaments for a reliever in the middle innings. When the lefty gets his opportunity, he more often than not delivers.

De La Rosa (0-2) had made four consecutive scoreless appearances and not given up more than two runs in an outing until he stumbled on May 20 against the Mets to suffer his second defeat of the season.

Case in point: with an ESPN audience tuning in on Mother’s Day, De La Rosa entered the game, got the second out of the top of the seventh inning, then struck out Washington Nationals superstar Bryce Harper with a splitter that Harper swung at despite the pitch being in the dirt.

The Diamondbacks trailed 4-1 at the time. They would come back to tie it at 4, making De La Rosa’s short outing even more important.

“Like I say to people who ask about it, you don’t have to be the big-name guy,” De La Rosa said. “I just try to do my job when I go into a game and give it everything I have. Being a reliever is a little more complicated, but I have come to like it and I’m glad to have the honor.”

Pride of Mexicans

De La Rosa is the elder statesman of Mexican players currently in the Major Leagues. He’s in his 15th season in the big leagues. The Diamondbacks are his fourth MLB team, though most will remember him for the nine seasons he pitched in Colorado.

De La Rosa was the Opening Day starter twice for the Rockies, earning 86 of his 104 career victories with Colorado.

Pitching in Denver and Phoenix in front of large Mexican and Mexican American crowds has been a source of pride for De La Rosa. He developed a close friendship with Rockies legend Vinny Castilla, a fellow Mexican, in Colorado.

He credits Castilla with helping him get acclimated to the big leagues.

“Now that I have gotten to pitch in a city with a lot of Latinos, I see and hear them all the time,” De La Rosa said. “Last year I’d be in the bullpen and I’d hear the ‘gritos’ from Mexicans in the seats. That’s beautiful and inspiring, and makes me want to try harder and do the best I can for the Mexican fans who support me so well.”

De La Rosa is tied for fifth in all-time wins for a Mexican pitcher in MLB history. His next win will put him alone in fourth place behind Yovani Gallardo, Esteban Loaiza and the legendary Fernando Valenzuela, who won 173 games.

Fellow reliever and teammate Fernando Salas, also from Mexico, has known De La Rosa for years, but the two only greeted each other in passing until they became teammates this season. Now the two veterans talk to each other all the time in the clubhouse before games.

Salas wouldn’t comment on how he thinks De La Rosa has been able to have such a long career — “Those are his things, however he feels” — but he does believe that young players in Mexico have seen how long his friend has pitched and would be wise to follow in his footsteps.

“It’s important that he can be an inspiration for the young people that are coming up and help them when they have the same opportunity,” Salas said in Spanish.

Ready to Take the Ball

Lovullo admits he hasn’t put De La Rosa in the best situations as far as opposing runners on base this season. But he’s enjoyed watching him work.

“He’s unwavering. He’ll take the ball anytime and he’s ready to execute and do his job,” Lovullo said.

Asked if there is a secret to his success and longevity, De La Rosa cast aside the notion.

“The secret is working hard throughout my career and getting better and trying to learn every day about the league and from my teammates,” De La Rosa said. “I’ve been fortunate to last this long with the support I’ve gotten. There have been ups and downs in my career, but I have managed to maintain, and I’ll be able to take that with me when it’s time.”

Featured Image: Ralph Freso / Getty Images Sport