Rockies Begin (2018) At the End (2017): Diamondbacks at Chase Field

The old cowboy looked down at his young associate, who had just been thrown from a horse, shook his head and offered some advice.

"Better climb back on that critter," he said. "Don't want him to think you're scared."

And so it is with the Rockies' journey into Chase Field on Thursday night. They are starting the 2018 season where the 2017 season ended. The Diamondbacks knocked the Rockies off in that win-or-go-home Wild-Card playoff game 11-8 last October.

Now it's time for the Rockies to get back up, dust themselves off and make sure the D-Backs know they aren't intimidated.

Chase Field, after all, not only was the site of that night last October, it also is the current NL ballpark in which the Rockies have their second worst winning percentage (63-114, .356). The only NL park in which the Rockies have a worst winning percentage is Marlins Park (6-15, .286), and they have only played 21 games in the Marlins current park.

As fate would have it, it is Jon Gray who will get the start for the Rockies,. He opens the 2018 season on the same mound where he put an end to the 2017 season, giving up four runs in 1 1/3 innings in the first post-season start of his career.

He will be the fifth pitcher in franchise history to make back-to-back starts Opening Day, joining Kevin Ritz (1996-97), Darryl Kile (1998-89), Mike Hampton (2001-02) and Ubaldo Jimenez (2010-11). 

“There are times when a game feels personal, and you want to get back at someone,” Gray said. “There is some of that tough (in this game), but I have to realize it is another game. One pitch at a time. Execute. Execute. Let things take care of themselves.”

It is, after all, a new season, and the Rockies have new hopes, built off what they accomplished last year when they were the only team in baseball that spent every day of the baseball season with a record that would have earned them a post-season berth. That's heady territory for a franchise that has advanced to the post-season only four times in the 25 years of their existence, and is still grasping for its first division title.

They do return a tested roster. First baseman Ryan McMahon and backup outfielder Mike Tauchman are the only rookies on the roster. Twenty-two members of the 25-man roster were in the big leagues at some point with the Rockies a year ago. The exceptions are three off-season free-agent additions: relievers Wade Davis and Bryan Shaw, and catcher Chris Iannetta, who is back after a six-year absence with his original franchise.

And they have experience from a year ago to build on, particularly in the rotation. A year ago, four rookie starters combined to make 93 starts, and went a combined 38-28, the fourth most wins for rookie starting pitchers in a single season for a team since at least 1913. While Jeff Hoffman is opening the season on the disabled list the three others are on the roster -- Kyle Freeland and German Marquez in the rotation and Antonio Senzatela opening in the bullpen.

 “That is all history,” said Black. “It’s what happens starting (on Thursday) that matters.”

Unlike a year ago, the Rockies open the season relatively healthy compared to last year when they opened the season with a disabled list that included projected first baseman Ian Desmond (broken hand), catcher Tom Murphy (broken right forearm), left fielder David Dahl (stress reaction ribs), and left-handed reliever Chris Rusin (right oblique), and Gray trying to pitch despite a stress fracture in his right foot, which by the end of April forced him on the disabled list for two months.

There is a sense of urgency. Four members of the starting lineup in the opener are potential free agents at season’s end – outfielders Gerardo Parra, Charlie Blackmon and Carlos Gonzalez, and second baseman DJ LeMahieu. And third baseman Nolan Arenado, a free-agent candidate after 2019, has indicated that being on a team that will have a chance to win will be a prime consideration when he decides to re-sign or test the open market.

That, however, is next year. The Rockies focus is on today.