Chad Bettis reared back and let loose, with no thought or worry, no doctors and no cancer. A fastball as hard as he can throw, straight at a catcher’s mitt. Not a pitch, but a throw.
“I wanted to let it go and see where it ended up,” Bettis said. The Rockies right-hander, in his long recovery from testicular cancer and chemotherapy, pitched live batting practice to hitters for the first time Tuesday at Coors Field.
He loved it — even if the batter, Pat Valaika, turned that pitch turned into longball over the left-field fence.
“I couldn’t hit his changeup, that’s for sure,” Valaika said. “I was curious how he’d throw. It was firm. He was getting it there in a hurry. He looked really good.”
Bettis threw 25 pitches, to Valaika and Alexi Amarista, plus 30 more in the bullpen and eight warm-up pitches. Bettis will throw another round to hitters again Saturday. After that, the real work starts.
The 28-year-old will probably begin a minor-league rehabilitation assignment during the all-star break next week. Consider it his spring training. Bettis, as if he were starting to ramp up in March, will probably pitch in five games of increasing length, once every five days. His first outing would probably go two innings, or about 30 pitches.
That would point toward a return to the Rockies sometime in August. And the Rockies are building him into a starter.
“He’s a starting pitcher,” Colorado manager Bud Black said. “Things are lining up. We’ve seen Chad throw off the mound now for some time, with increasing intensity. And this is another step. But he’s passing all the markers, and it’s really good to see.”
The Rockies already are dealing with a surplus of starters. They moved 22-year-old rookie Antonio Senzatela out of the rotation to the bullpen last week. And lefty Tyler Anderson is on the disabled list after arthroscopic surgery on his left knee.
They will not argue against increasing the number of available starters. Rookie Jeff Hoffman’s seven-inning outing Monday night was just the second victory of any length for a Rockies starter, after Jon Gray‘s six-inning win last week, in the past 10 days.
For Bettis, the goal is only baseball. A tumor marker test within the next two weeks is his only remaining health hurdle. But he is already plowing forward.
“It’s nice to be talking about mechanics again instead of how my strength is, how I’m recovering, stuff like that,” he said. “I feel as normal as I can be. Everything is there. I feel back.”
Footnotes. Colorado first baseman Mark Reynolds, in a fan vote-off for one remaining spot on the National League all-star team, sat in fourth place among five players in early vote tallies. Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner was in the lead. The vote-off ends Thursday. … Black on Tuesday moved right fielder Carlos Gonzalez into the cleanup spot against the Reds, one spot ahead of Reynolds. Gonzalez returned from a shoulder injury Monday, but his six home runs trail Reynolds’ team-best 19. Black said the move was as done to protect Reynolds, as well as promote Gonzalez. … Second baseman DJ LeMahieu was held out of the starting lineup as a planned day of rest.