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Gazette Premium Content KLEE: Here's the pitch — Rockies on mound of trouble

By Paul Klee Updated: March 30, 2013 at 12:00 am

DENVER — With a swish of his signature, Tigers ace Justin Verlander guaranteed himself $160 million. The potential is there for $202 million if the contract reaches its full count.

(Soak in those figures for a second. Take the kid out back and coach the proper grip of a fastball.)

The Rockies starting pitchers — all five, not four — reportedly will make around or below $15 million this season.

Makes sense, if not cents.

All by himself, Verlander pitched 238 innings with a 2.64 ERA in 2012.

The Rockies' projected starters — Jhoulys Chacin, Jorge De La Rosa, Juan Nicasio, Jeff Francis and Jon Garland — pitched 304 innings in 2012, due to injury and otherwise. The 2012 Rockies had an MLB-worst 5.32 ERA.

Opening day is Monday, and it is unfair to discount a team that hasn’t thrown a pitch.

This pitching staff, however, came at a discount and will decide how high, or how low, the Rockies finish in the NL West.

Beer sales at Coors Field should be solid, again, with games longer than a winter layover at Chicago O’Hare. It won’t surprise me, or anyone, if the Rockies double up, again:

The NL’s top hitting team and the NL’s bottom pitching team, sharing the same uniform.

“From a pitching standpoint, we want to put the ball on the ground, so our infielders can play and turn double plays,” manager Walt Weiss said. “Offensively, our mentality is to make the opposing pitcher earn every out he gets and really grind out at-bats.”

There is hardly a question mark up and down the lineup, a healthy mix of established and promising bats.

“It can be overpowering at times — if everybody is in the lineup and healthy," said bench coach Tom Runnells, the former Sky Sox manager. "And certainly we have to execute and have good seasons. But the talent level is very good.”

The lineup arrives with an exclamation point.

The pitching rotation has more questions than a lost fan on $1 beer night.

Weiss had a mantra for his staff in spring training: ground balls, ground balls, ground balls.

If the manager earned a buck for each time he said so, he might pay 1/200 of Verlander’s salary.

“Getting ground balls isn’t the whole way to be effective as a pitcher,” said Weiss, whose juggling abilities will be tested in his first year as manager. “But it’s important, particularly where we play. So in a general sense, we like guys who put the ball on the ground.”

In the offseason, wouldn’t it have made sense, if not cents, for the Rockies to swap a bat for an arm?

That didn’t happen. Garland, who last pitched in the majors in 2011, and Wilton Lopez were the main acquisitions. The Rockies will dance with the arms already here.

Ground balls, ground balls, ground balls.

Paul Klee is the Denver sports columnist for The Gazette. He can be reached via email (paul.klee@gazette.com) or on Twitter (@Klee_Gazette).

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