(Sports Network) - Jorge De La Rosa played an instrumental role in the Colorado Rockies' surprising march to the playoffs last season. Tonight the left-hander will try to move his team closer to the San Diego Padres in the National League West standings when he makes a long-awaited return to the mound for the opener of a key three-game series between the divisional foes from Coors Field.
De La Rosa won a career-best 16 games and racked up 193 strikeouts in helping Colorado earn the NL's Wild Card berth in 2009, and appeared to build off that success through the early stages of this season. The 29-year-old won three of four April starts, including an outstanding seven-inning stint against the Padres in his 2010 debut, before being placed on the disabled list with a torn tendon in his left middle finger.
The Mexican native prepped for tonight's assignment with three rehab starts for Triple-A Colorado Springs and hopes to return to the form he displayed when facing the Padres at Coors Field on April 9. De La Rosa yielded just a single hit and struck out nine batters while walking just one in that contest.
De La Rosa wasn't as successful against San Diego during his breakthrough 2009 campaign, however, going 0-1 with a 5.68 ERA over five starts. In 11 lifetime appearances (seven starts) versus the Friars, the hard-throwing southpaw is 1-2 with a 4.98 ERA.
He'll be attempting to pitch the surging Rockies to a fifth consecutive victory tonight and follow the lead of aceUbaldo Jimenez, who became the first major-league pitcher in a decade to win 15 times prior to the All-Star break in Thursday's 4-2 triumph over visiting St. Louis.
Jimenez (15-1) limited the slumping Cardinals to one run and three hits while fanning six over eight sharp innings to post a franchise-record ninth straight winning decision. The NL Cy Young Award front-runner's 15 victories are the most before the break since Toronto's David Wells went 15-2 in 2000.
The Rockies staked Jimenez to a quick lead on consecutive RBI singles by Jason Giambi and Brad Hawpe in the first inning. Giambi added another run-scoring hit later on and ended 4-for-4 to help Colorado to a three-game series sweep.
"To sweep this team, first of all it's not really easy to do ... it's very, very difficult as a matter of fact," said Rockies manager Jim Tracy afterward. "When you accomplish it, it is a major step forward for you if you allow it to be that."
Colorado has now won six of its last seven tests and has closed within three games of San Diego's lead atop the NL West. The Padres enabled the Rockies to gain ground by losing the first two matchups of its recent series at Washington, although Bud Black's squad was able to avoid a sweep behind a sensational performance from Mat Latos in last night's finale.
Latos starred on both the mound at the plate in Thursday's 7-1 verdict. The young standout struck out eight Washington batters over seven shutout innings to improve to 10-4 on the season, and helped his cause by going 2-for-3 with a solo homer and two runs scored as a hitter.
"Instead of just nit-picking for the corners, I went after hitters," Latos told the Padres' official site after the game. "I was just letting them try to make contact early in the count. I made a good pitch, their guys got contact and I got ground ball outs."
Latos' first career homer was one of four long balls hit by the Padres on the evening. Chase Headley had a two-run blast as part of a 3-for-5 game, with Chris Denorfia and Jerry Hairston Jr. adding solo shots to the win.
Kevin Correia would love to receive a similar power display when he gets the call for San Diego in tonight's opener. The right-hander hasn't notched a win since May 31, having gone 0-2 with four no-decisions and a lackluster 6.00 ERA in six starts since.
Correia did pitch well enough to end that drought his last time out, though, as he limited Houston to five hits over seven shutout innings before leaving a scoreless game this past Saturday. His previous starts came against the Rockies and wasn't nearly as effective, with the California native tagged for six runs and issuing six walks in five innings of a June 28 loss.
The 29-year-old is just 2-5 with a 4.74 ERA over 27 career appearances against Colorado, 10 of which have come in a starting role.
The Rockies have won six of the nine meetings between these teams so far in 2010 and took two of three from the Padres at Coors Field back in April.