by Brian Kluepfel
Five years ago, Jhoulys Chacín was the star pitcher for the Modesto Nuts of the California A-League. His play there got him noticed, and by 2009 he was no longer a Nut, but a Colorado Rockie—a genuine Major League ex-Nut.
But fate has a funny way of grounding us (if you like your nuts ground, that is, like in Thai food, for example). In 2012, Jhloulys (pronounced “you-lease”) hurt his arm, and was sent to rehabilitate said wing in—you guessed it—Modesto. Nothing like a stint in Modesto to teach one a little—ahem—modesty. You’re no longer a major league pitcher whose laundry gets picked up for him after each game—you’re in California’s Central Valley on a team named for the nearby walnut and almond trees.
At a previously-mentioned New York Mets/Colorado Rockies game during which Wilmer Flores got his first Major League hit, and Mets wunderkind hurler Matt Harvey pitched his first complete game, Harvey’s counterpart for the Colorado nine went was ex-Nut Chacín.
Jhoulys is the only Chacín left standing after his older cousin Gustavo was cut by the New York Mets in 2011. Hey, if you can’t make the Mets’ rotation, maybe it’s time to call it a career. And for a guy from torrid Maracaibo, the prospect of another season for the Buffalo Bisons AAA team can’t be too enticing, either. What an odd thing, to have your career end completely by age 29.
But we come to praise Jhoulys, not to bury Gustavo. Jhoulys is in his fourth big-league season and for a stretch in August and September, had a 1.94 ERA over 10 starts. He only won 3 or 4 of those games because he plays for the Rockies, who have sunk like, well, rocks after a surprise burst out of the gate in the NL West and are currently in last place with a shot only at catching the moribund Giants, slightly above them.
Gustavo is 25 years old and seems to have found his stride as a pitcher. Only the economics of modern sport could explain how a guy with a lifetime mark of 36-40 is making 1.65 million dollars a year, but that’s another discussion.
After a direct callup from AA Tulsa in 2009, 21-year-old Chacín made the Rockies proud, leading National League rookie pitchers in strikeouts. He won 9 games that year against 11 defeats; until this season he’s never even had a winning record. But his impressive 2012 finish led the Rockies to award his a two-year, $6.5 million contract, and he’s redeeming their investment with his best campaign yet. He could win 15 games on a basement-dwelling team, pitching his home games in the rarified air of Coors Field.
All this may or may not be attributable to Jhoulys’ measured reaction when Rockies’ GM Dan O’Dowd called him out last winter for being in poor condition and maybe just a tad pudgy upon reporting to spring training. Jhoulys took that one below the belt, answered in a professional and courtesy way, and then proceeded to tighten his belt both literally and figuratively, shutting down the rest of the NL after returning from an injured pectoral muscle. He hit the tape with a final six weeks of 3-2, 2.85 pitching.
So there you have it—the nutty saga of Jhoulys (don’t call me Julius) Chacín, born in Maracaibo, late of Modesto and Tulsa, and very glad that he’s not watching Al the Almond and Wally the Walnut try to liven up a Wednesday night crowd at John Thurman Field.