Keys to NL teams' rotations

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A year ago, the Colorado Rockies acquired veteran right-hander Jason Marquis to fill a void created by the anticipated loss of Jeff Francis to shoulder surgery for the 2009 season.]

It paid off.

Marquis provided early season stability for the rotation, was selected to the All-Star team, and went 15-13 while working 216 innings in helping the Rockies earn the NL wild-card spot.

Francis, meanwhile, underwent the surgery, went through his rehab, and by the end of the Arizona Instructional League was given a clean bill of health.

Marquis is now with Washington, having signed a two-year contract.

The Rockies, meanwhile, are banking on Francis returning from the surgery and regaining the command and composure that allowed him to equal a franchise record with 17 victories in 2007.

The Rockies, however, aren't the only team counting on a pitcher to rebound to fill out their rotation.

It's a concern every club has going into spring training.

Consider what's going on with National League rotations:

ARIZONA saw its season go to pieces after RHP Brandon Webb made one start, went on the disabled list and eventually underwent surgery on his right shoulder. The Diamondbacks exercised the option in Webb's contract at $8.5 million, gambling that even though Webb didn't have his surgery until August, he will be strong enough to team with Dan Haren and give them a contender-caliber rotation.

ATLANTA has its new phenom, 6-foot-4 lefty Tommy Hanson, and he impressed after an in-season call-up last year, going 11-4 with a 2.89 ERA in 21 starts. At the age of 24, he will be tested to see if he can avoid the sophomore jinx and fill at least the No. 3 spot in the rotation.

CHICAGO CUBS feel they already won, unloading Milton Bradley on Seattle, but in return the Cubs took back disappointing right-hander Carlos Silva and the $25 million he has coming over the next two years. Silva has never been an ace but if he can regain his four-year form in Minnesota (47-45) and rebound from two ugly years in Seattle (5-18) he could provide back-end depth for the Cubs' rotation.

CINCINNATI may not break camp with lefty Aroldis Chapman in the rotation, but the Reds are looking for quick returns from the Cuban defector who signed a contract with a record-setting guarantee of $30 million during the offseason. A quick advancement by the 21-year-old could give the Reds' rotation depth to surprise in a competitive division.

COLORADO is looking for Francis to step back in behind Ubaldo Jimenez and Aaron Cook, but also needs a continued surge from lefty Jorge De La Rosa, who won 16 of his final 19 decisions.

FLORIDA decided to make RHP Josh Johnson the evidence of a commitment to start tying up its top young players, giving him a four-year, $39 million deal, the second biggest ever for a pitcher who is arbitration-eligible for the second time. Johnson dominated last year (15-5), but it was the first time in his career he was healthy enough to work 200 innings.

HOUSTON was concerned about RHP Roy Oswalt's appearance of losing interest a year ago, and hopes its managerial change will provide an emotional lift. Oswalt failed to win in double figures for the first time last season and had a career-worst 4.12 earned-run average.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS are counting on Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley to give them a left-right tandem at the top of the rotation, but Billingsley hit the wall last season. After starting 6-1, he finished 12-11, and was 0-5 in his last eight starts. He wasn't a consideration for the postseason rotation. But he is only 25, and provides a lot more hope for the future than the likes of Vicente Padilla.

MILWAUKEE saw its rotation shredded by free agent losses a year ago. This time around the Brewers looked to the market to fill holes, and decided to take a three-year, $29.75 million gamble on lefty Randy Wolf. When he's healthy, he's a prime competitor, but last year was the first time in six years he was able to work 200 innings.

NEW YORK METS promoted Dan Warthan to pitching coach midway through the 2008 season when Rick Peterson was fired, and Warthan became the 2009 scapegoat when John Maine went down for three months in the first week of June. Critics said Maine needed to be protected, getting extra rest when possible. Among the many needs the Mets have if they are to rebound in 2010 is a healthy Maine. Has he built arm strength or will Warthan be more judicial in trying to push the right-hander?

PHILADELPHIA made the offseason splash, acquiring Roy Halladay from Toronto. He's the premier pitcher in the game, and given the recent trend of pitchers finding life easier in the NL than the AL, Halladay is going to have to deal with expectations that will include Phillies fans figuring he should add an NL Cy Young award to the AL trophy he already has.

PITTSBURGH keeps trying to mix and match, hoping that one of its young arms develops. At least the new regime hasn't made any sucker bets like its predecessor's addition of Matt Morris, who earned nearly $1 million for each of his 16 starts in a Pirates tenure that ended with his in-season release last year, and subsequent retirement.

ST. LOUIS pitching coach Dave Duncan has worked miracles with underachieving veterans and has the perfect candidate this year in RHP Brad Penny, who can dominate hitters but has never been overly driven on a baseball field. He has averaged six innings a start in only three of 10 big-league seasons, earning a reputation for looking at the bench once he gets through five innings with a lead.

SAN DIEGO isn't even dreaming about the postseason this year, but a healthy first half from RHP Chris Young could help move the Padres along in a major rebuilding plan. Sidelined in mid-June last year with shoulder problems, and limited to 14 starts, Young could become a key part of mid-season trade talks with contending teams, who might give up a couple legit prospects for a healthy Young.

SAN FRANCISCO is dependent upon dominating starting pitching to contend. Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain provide a nice starting point for the rotation, and the emergence of lefty Jonathan Sanchez into a consistent No. 3 would be a major boost. Sanchez showed his potential with a no-hitter and 177 strikeouts in 163 1/3 innings last year, but he also issued 88 walks, a true indication of the inconsistency that led to his 8-12 record and 4.35 ERA for a team that had a composite 3.58 ERA for its starting rotation.

WASHINGTON looked for a quick-fix on the free-agent market this year, and provides an interesting challenge for right-hander Jason Marquis' claim to fame. Marquis' teams have advanced to the postseason in all 10 years of his big-league career, including Colorado a year ago.