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Rubby De La Rosa returns to Arizona Diamondbacks on a minor-league contract

Didn’t see this coming, but I’m not averse to the deal

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Colorado Rockies v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Rubby De La Rosa’s 2016 campaign was cut short with elbow issues. He began the season in the Arizona rotation, but hit the disabled list at the end of May with inflammation (on the same day as Shelby Miller). He made a brief return in the final month of the season, but his two starts there lasted only three innings in total, and he didn’t pitch in the last 17 games. There was some suggestion Tommy John surgery might be considered, but De La Rosa opted for stem cell injections into the ailing shoulder instead, in a bid to avoid that. His status for 2017 was vague at best, and with an estimated $3 million salary in arbitration, the team opted not to tender Rubby a contract.

That was generally expected to be the end of his time with Arizona, but Nick Piecoro of The Arizona Republic reports as follows this afternoon:

The Diamondbacks have agreed to terms with pitcher Rubby De La Rosa on a minor league contract... De La Rosa has spent the past two seasons working almost exclusively as a starting pitcher, but the Diamondbacks intend to have him transition into a relief role, a move they hope will allow him to stay off the disabled list. The plan is for him to compete for a bullpen spot in spring training; if he makes the team, he’ll earn $750,000 with a chance to make up to $3.5 million in incentives, according to a source.

The idea of moving De La Rosa to the bullpen has been something suggested a number of times over the course of his career, all the way back to 2013, when he was with Boston. Even under the old front office in August, when he was on the DL, Chip Hale said, “If he’s throwing 70 (pitches) at the end of the year and he has no pain … and does he throw his changeup at that point of the year? We’ll see. If that is going at 70 pitches, fastball, change, slider, I would assume he could start next year. But if not, [the bullpen] is a possibility.” Given the abbreviated nature of his return in September, along with the arrival of Taijuan Walker, it look like the new executives have decided it’s best to commit to De La Rosa as a reliever.

Rubby’s raw “stuff” has not been in question. Despite those elbow issues, his fastball averaged 94.6 mph last year, and touched 98 mph - in 2015, he cracked three digits with it, and that could play well in short stints out of the bullpen. The main question for now is whether he’ll be fit to pitch, which makes an incentive-laden minor-league contract a decent enough gamble. There hasn’t been any medical update since the end of the season, but pitchers and catchers report in about six weeks, so it won’t be long before we should have some inkling as to Rubby’s odds of starting to cash in on those incentives.