Colorado Rockies: Chad Bettis nears start of rehab assignment

DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 5: Chad Bettis /

There have been plenty of feel-good stories in Major League Baseball this year, from Eric Thames’ triumphant return from Korea to Ryan Zimmerman’s renaissance campaign and first career Midsummer Classic start. One pitcher is nearing a return from injury, however, and his comeback story beats them all.

Colorado Rockies starter Chad Bettis is set to begin a minor-league rehab assignment over the All-Star break, as the right-hander works toward his first start since 2016. After making 32 starts for the Rockies last year, the 28-year-old was diagnosed with testicular cancer and underwent surgery in November. Then a checkup during spring training revealed the cancer had spread, forcing him to begin chemotherapy.

It has only been three months since Bettis left camp on March 20, but the hurler is back on the mound already. He has been working out with his teammates since rejoining the club on June 6. According to manager Bud Black, Bettis actually hoped to be back even sooner. He will throw live batting practice sometime this week before departing on a rehab assignment—assuming all goes well.

"“It’s a really good feeling to watch this unfold,” Black said in an interview with The Denver Post. “It’s been in stages over the last couple of months. Now, to … see him clear all of these hurdles, it’s just really, really cool.”"

Bettis didn’t have a spectacular season for the Rockies last year, throwing to a 4.79 ERA, but he was a workhorse, leading the team with 186 innings pitched and 14 wins. He also flashed plenty of ability along the way.

That shutout came in one of Bettis’ final starts of the year last September, and he will look to pick up where he left off upon his return. The team—which currently sits 6.5 games out of the NL West lead—could certainly use his help: Colorado owns one of the most potent offenses in the majors (sixth in runs) but has been held back by inconsistent pitching (19th in ERA).

Of course, it isn’t easy to be effective on the bump in Denver’s elevation, and like many Rox before him, Bettis has struggled at home throughout his career, owning a 5.57 ERA at Coors Field. Having said that, he has improved over the years and has lowered his home ERA along with his walk rate every season since his big-league debut in 2013. Bettis has also increased his ground-ball rate every season since 2014, which helps him counteract the thin air at home.

In fact, walking fewer hitters and keeping the ball on the ground is a recipe for success in any ballpark, and in 2015, Bettis spun another gem in a bandbox.

If he can pitch anywhere near that level on a consistent basis, the Rockies could quickly develop a scary one-two punch atop their starting rotation with Bettis and Jon Gray.

But even if he doesn’t hit his previous highs in his return, Bettis’ fight back to the mound will earn him plenty of respect around the league. There is also an encouraging track record of players coming back strongly after testicular cancer, such as John Kruk and Mike Lowell. Both reached out to Bettis and Pittsburgh’s Jameson Taillon, who recovered last month from surgery to treat suspected testicular cancer. Since his return, Taillon has lowered his ERA from 3.31 to 2.97, most recently hurling 6.1 innings of shutout ball against Tampa Bay. In a couple of weeks, Bettis will toe the rubber to try to one-up Taillon’s comeback.

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With an explosive offense and young roster, Colorado is an easy team to root for this year: They boast the reigning NL batting champion, a former NL batting champion and one of the top overall hitters in baseball—among myriad other talents. Even still, the Rockies will get many extra fans around the world whenever Chad Bettis draws the start.