Triple-Digits Fastball Transforms Rubby De La Rosa's Career
ZEBULON, N.C.—When Rubby de la Rosa opened his 2010 season, he was a little-known 21-year-old coming out of low Class A Great Lakes' bullpen. By the end of the year, the Dodgers righthander had reached Double-A Chattanooga and was recognized as having one of the best arms in the minors.
To call that a breakout year wouldn't do it justice.
De la Rosa posted a 4-1, 3.19 record in 59 innings for Great Lakes, adding 55 strikeouts. Those numbers might not jump off the page, but reports of de la Rosa's fastball reaching as high as 102 mph did. He finished his stint in Great Lakes by allowing three runs in his last 21 innings before being promoted to Chattanooga in July, after which he finished the season going 3-1, 1.41 in eight starts.
What made de la Rosa's 2010 season all the more amazing was how far he came in a short time span. De la Rosa pitched in the U.S. for the first time in 2009, making five appearances in the Rookie-level Arizona League. It didn't end well. He went 0-1, 6.06 with 11 walks in 16 innings before being dispatched back to the Dominican Republic.
The winter of 2009-2010 thus represented a fork in the road for de la Rosa's career.
"The thing for him was really just getting focused on where he was trying to go with his career, and making a commitment to himself and to the organization that this is something that he really wants to do," Dodgers farm director De Jon Watson said. "I think he did that. He really took a long look in the mirror at himself and focused himself towards what he was trying to get to."
Back in Double-A to start 2011, de la Rosa carried a 2.93 ERA through 40 innings and led all Southern League starters in opponents' average at .199. With 52 whiffs, he ranked second among SL starters with 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings,.
"I have been more consistent this year than last year," de la Rosa said. "I can throw my fastball in whatever count, my breaking ball for a strike and my changeup has been very good, more than last year."
Los Angeles ranked dead last in international bonus spending in 2010, continuing a recent trend. The club's reticence leaves de la Rosa as the most notable player in the system to carry the banner for its international program. De la Rosa represents the kind of success story the Dodgers are shooting for, as he signed out of the Dominican Republic for just $15,000 at age 18 in the summer of 2007.
De la Rosa was significantly underweight and threw 89-91 mph when he signed. Since getting on a proper diet, he's grown into his 6-foot-1 frame, building up the strength to throw one of the minors' best fastballs. These days, de la Rosa's heater sits in the mid-90s with armside movement that makes it incredibly tough for minor league hitters to handle. De la Rosa can reach back for some extra oomph when he needs it, and he's shown he can hold his velocity deep into games. In the sixth inning of an April start at Carolina, he touched 100 mph and threw several fastballs at 96 or higher.
There's more to pitching than throwing hard though, and de la Rosa has impressed his coaches with his aptitude for the job.
"(He's) not only being a thrower because he throws hard but becoming a pitcher," Chattanooga manager Carlos Subero said. "It's taking place. It took place toward the end of last year. You can talk to Rubby about a hitter and he'll tell you what he's trying to do. He's not necessarily always going to execute, but having a plan for each hitter, I think he's definitely gotten better."
"Part of our job is to try to develop the pitchability with these good arms," Chattanooga pitching coach Chuck Crim said. "But that's something Rubby brought to the table even in the beginning. He could throw strikes. Sometimes I think he throws too good of strikes when he's ahead, and that's something we've been working on too, putting guys away."
Up For A Challenge
De la Rosa's changeup has been his most consistent secondary pitch, coming in at 85-89 mph with fading action. He also has a slider that he's added some more bite to since last year and has been a focus of his work with Crim.
"He's always had his changeup, it's his slider that's really been coming around," Crim said. "It's something we've been working on, trying to get him to throw more strikes with it, trying to locate it a lot better. It's something that is going to work real well with his fastball."
De la Rosa has shown he doesn't shrink from a challenge.
"He doesn't get fazed when he doesn't do well," Subero said. "He likes to be challenged. If somebody gets a hit, next time, he knows you got a hit off him, he's going to try to get you out."
Subero likes to tell a story from de la Rosa's fourth start in Double-A in 2010, against Carolina last August. Mudcats center fielder Felix Perez hit a two-run double off de la Rosa in the fifth inning. When Perez came to bat again the seventh, de la Rosa was at the end of his rope, nearing 100 pitches, and there were two men on base again.
De la Rosa didn't back down. He threw three fastballs past Perez, all over 96 mph, to strike Perez out and finish his outing.
"We knew he was special," Subero said, "but when he does that kind of stuff and you're able to see it, you're like, 'He's a competitor.' "