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Bettis twirls gem as Rockies shut out Bucs

April 17, 2018

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates gave their fans "thank you" vouchers for sitting through bitter weather at PNC Park on Tuesday night. But the Rockies received the biggest gift -- the cold efficiency of right-handed pitcher Chad Bettis.Needing just 85 pitches to work 7 1/3 innings, Bettis lifted the the Rockies

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates gave their fans "thank you" vouchers for sitting through bitter weather at PNC Park on Tuesday night. But the Rockies received the biggest gift -- the cold efficiency of right-handed pitcher Chad Bettis.
Needing just 85 pitches to work 7 1/3 innings, Bettis lifted the the Rockies to their sixth victory in seven games -- and their first shutout, 2-0.
In the second straight game to begin with a 27-degree wind-chill, Bettis (3-0) worked quickly. But he normally pitches as if someone is going to take the ball from him if he doesn't get rid of it, so that wasn't unusual. Bettis lived with his changeup, which has emerged as his best pitch this season.
"Initially, I was a little bit worried when I was warming up for the game because my hands were so cold," Bettis said. "But after I came in and got some HotHands [hand warmers] on, it was fine.
"What worked the best was my changeup. This season, it seems like we're talking more and more about my changeup more than anything. I've got a real good feel for it, so I'm going to use it to the best of my ability."

Bettis gave up five hits and two walks, but wasn't damaged because of quick outs that included three strikeouts, two double plays (one on a grounder) and 11 groundouts. He had competition, both in quality and efficiency, from Pirates righty Trevor Williams (3-1), who gave up two runs on four hits and three walks in six innings. But just two Pirates reached scoring position against Bettis.
"He lives on the margins," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He changes speeds. He's got a little quick pitch in there that he ran at us a few times as well. The spin makes the velocity pick up. Doesn't leave a lot of balls at the center of the plate. We had some offensive counts and we had a number of mis-hits."
He was also helped by a Gerardo Parra throw on a strange play. Williams, who opened the third with an infield single and was bundled in his jacket at first base, tried to advance to second on Sean Rodriguez's fly to left. Parra's throw beat him easily.
Parra drew a one-out walk in the first, daringly beating Pirates left fielder Corey Dickerson's throw to third on Ian Desmond's single and scoring on Carlos Gonzalez's grounder. The way Bettis was going, that was all he would need.
"There weren't many hard-hit balls -- he pitched great," Rockies manager Bud Black said.
The plan going into last year was for Bettis to be the veteran leader of an otherwise young rotation, but he missed the first five months while battling testicular cancer. While a rotation that at times featured four rookies and two third-year pitchers was talented enough to lead a playoff run, seasoning was lacking.
Fully healthy this year, Bettis -- who turns 29 on April 26 and is the elder statesman of the rotation -- has been salty.
In his four starts, Bettis has not given up more than two runs. The last two, against the Nationals on Thursday -- seven innings, one run, three hits -- and Tuesday's lowered his ERA to 1.44. In Rockies history, only Ubaldo Jimenez (0.95 in 2010) and Shawn Chacon (0.98 in 2003) have had lower ERAs through four starts.
Bettis is a key reason the Rockies, whose offense has been spotty at best and managed just five hits Tuesday, have a 2.35 starter ERA over the last seven contests (10 earned runs in 38 1/3 innings). The overall staff ERA during the seven games is 2.32, and opponents are hitting .188.
The pitching, which included a bullpen effort that concluded with Wade Davis' eighth save in nine chances, has helped the Rockies fashion a 9-4 road record.

Changing the scouting report: Left-handed-hitting rookie Ryan McMahon, who at times has been set up to whiff on the low-and-outside pitch, in the fourth inning stayed with Williams' changeup and lashed it to left for a two-out RBI single and a 2-0 Rockies lead.
Battling through a rough start at .097, McMahon understands he'll receive the same strategy until he proves he can beat it.
"He tried to stand me up with a couple of fastballs, up, and I just stayed with that one low and away, got it and put a barrel on it," McMahon said. "I just stuck with it, decided to ride it out. I'd done my homework, prepared for it and that's what I was sticking with."

As soon as it began: To open the bottom of the sixth, Bettis missed on a full-count changeup to Gregory Polanco and suddenly faced a potential tying run. But Bettis needed just one pitch for a Starling Marte fly to right, and on his third pitch to Josh Bell he forced a double-play grounder. Bettis finished the inning at 68 pitches. 
With Tuesday's victory and Monday night's 6-2 triumph, the Rockies have won their first series at PNC Park since winning three of four in 2011.
When you're a rookie third baseman standing in for five-time Gold Glove Award winner Nolan Arenado (due to return Friday from a fighting suspension), you can't be faulted for playing it safe. But with Jordy Mercer standing on third in the eighth, courtesy of his double and a fielder's choice, McMahon coolly fielded Rodriguez's full-count bouncer against reliever Bryan Shaw and fired home to prevent the run.
"It's a little touch throw -- the flat route, dump it off to the guy right there," said McMahon, a standout high school football quarterback and Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif.

"On a night like this, it's intuitive that pitchers want to get back in the dugout. Hitters are a little bit more aggressive in conditions like this."-- Black, noting that Bettis and Williams, the Pirates starter, were especially efficient in a game that lasted just 2 hours, 31 minutes. 
Rockies lefty Kyle Freeland (0-2, 4.50 ERA) will be looking for some help when he faces the Pirates at 10:35 a.m. MT in Wednesday's series finale at PNC Park. In his three starts, Freeland has received 2.25 runs of support while in the game. So the story could be the Rockies' offense against Pirates righty Chad Kuhl (1-1, 5.74).

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for since 2002. Follow him on Twitter and like his Facebook page.