DENVER — Jhoulys Chacín sits in the far right of the bullpen every night, and listens with a smug smile on his face as the young buffs around him chatter.
The other relievers developed a game, where they guess who will be sent in to pitch and when that night. Lucas Gilbreath, Ben Bowden, Jordan Sheffield and Yency Almonte sit on the left side of the bullpen, entertaining themselves with this venture. Chacín, a veteran of the league, just rolls his eyes.
The other relievers never get it right. Chacín has an impeccable record.
Call it a psychic sense, maybe even some kind of superpower. Or perhaps it is just an instinct that comes from watching over 15,000 innings of major league baseball. Either way, his teammates are mystified. And they’ve never seen him get it wrong.
“Chacín is a freak,” Bowden said. “It’s pretty absurd.”
“It is incredible,” Gilbreath said.
“I just read situations,” Chacín explained. “I will say 90 percent is luck, 10 percent because I know so much about the game.”
Chacín has done — and seen — it all. His role has changed, from a starter to long reliever to a late-inning go-getter. But he’s found a spot for himself now, back with the Rockies’ and the team that gave him his first chance.
On father’s day earlier this season, Chacín and his daughter Nicole, 10, tried to recreate a photo in the dugout from the last time they celebrated the holiday at Coors Field. They couldn’t get it right though — Nicole can’t fit in her father’s lap anymore. They laughed as they did their best to capture the same pose.
Chacín, and now his family, have grown up in this organization.
“It feels like home,” he said.
His journey started one morning in 2004, when Chacín was just 16. He met with a Rockies scout in his hometown of Maracaibo, Venezuela, who told him the Rockies wanted to sign him as an international free agent. But even though his dream was coming true, he couldn’t celebrate right away. His sister's birthday party was in a few hours.
“I remember it like it happened yesterday,” Chacín, now 33, said. “There was a lot going on that day.”
He debuted in 2009 at the age of 21, and stayed with the team until his release in 2015. He bounced around the league after, spending time with the Indians, Diamondbacks, Braves, Angels, Padres, Brewers, Red Sox, Twins and Yankees.
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The Rockies, though, kept an eye on him. They gathered together late in spring training and watched Chacín pitch for the Yankees. They knew there was a chance he would be released, and they pounced as soon as he was made available.
They brought Chacín back to Coors Field for a workout the night before the season started, and signed him a coupe of hours later. Chacín didn’t consider any of the other teams that expressed interest. He wanted to come back to the team that believed in him when no one else did.
“This is the team that helped me through everything,” he said. “They gave me the opportunity, and I’m always going to be grateful.”
Originally slated as a long man for the Rockies', Chacín now finds himself pitching the sixth, seventh or eighth inning. At 33 years old, his stuff is only getting better. His velocity has ticked up on all of his pitches, and he’s added a slider back to his repertoire. His sinker now averages 92.6 mph, higher than at any point of his career, as a decrease in workload has allowed him to pour more energy into every pitch.
After barely pitching in the beginning of the season —he made just eight appearances in the first two months — he's become one of the Rockies' most reliable relievers. He hasn't given up a run since June 26.
He’s been pushed into later innings lately, and although he’s happy with where he’s at now, he said he would like to be a closer one day.
“I think every relief pitcher wants to be a closer,” he said. “I feel like that’s a lot of responsibility.”
Preparing the next generation
Chacín recently got back from the Rockies’ Arizona complex, where he spent a week rehabbing with players in rookie ball as he recovered from COVID-19. The players there were half his age. He joked that they probably weren’t even born when he made his debut
“It was fun to be with the kids,” he said, adding after that it made him feel old.
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The players there are just starting out their professional careers, and like the rookies in the bullpen in Colorado, they had a lot of questions. He’s taken that extra responsibility as a veteran in stride, and seeks out players after they have a bad day. In Cincinnati, when Lucas Gilbreath caved under the pressure during a bases-loaded situation, Chacín took him aside the next day.
Chacín wanted Gilbreath to remember to slow down, and to control himself when he enters the game in a tough situation. More importantly, Chacín advised Gilbreath to move on, and put this one behind him.
“He is always eager,” Gilbreath, who grew up watching Chacín at Coors Field, said. “There’s no substitute for that experience.”
That thought process is how Chacín has survived all these seasons. He’s had his fair share of bad outings, but is able to put it behind him every time. Each day is a fresh start, he said, and a chance to get better.
“My mentality never changed,” he said. “I know I’ll get my chances.”