Bettis continues progress toward rehab outing

July 8th, 2017

DENVER -- Rockies right-hander ' voice echoed off the steel, plastic and concrete of an empty Coors Field: "Yeah, baby."
Bettis uncorked a 2-2 slider on the last of the 37 pitches he threw during Friday's live batting-practice session, and swung over it for a strikeout. After two such sessions this week, Bettis, completing a comeback from testicular cancer, will throw a bullpen session on Sunday, then make his first injury rehab assignment on Thursday for Double-A Hartford. He'll throw two innings or 30 pitches at home against Trenton.
Friday's strikeout of Valaika was glorious and important for Bettis, 28. Tuesday's session finished with Valaika crushing a homer over the center-field wall. Bettis is going from comeback mode -- after surgery in November, then chemotherapy in April and May -- to competition mode.
"I would say it was closest I've been simulated to a game that I've been with this step," Bettis said. "It was nice to get there and get through it."
Bettis said celebratory shouts happen during games. They happened quite a bit last year when he went 14-8 with a 4.79 ERA -- and especially after the All-Star break, when he was 7-2, 3.75.
"That competition -- he got me last time, and he was due for a punchout," Bettis said. "And I needed to get my ticket."
, who saw some difficult sliders and low fastballs, and , who was tied up by a couple of cut fastballs, also participated in the workout of 20 pitches in the first inning and 17 in the second, with game-condition counts being kept. Bettis was scheduled for 12 pitches in the second. But when Valaika stepped into the box with a broad smile, the plan was changed to a full at-bat.
Valaika, like the rest of the Rockies, can't wait for the day when Bettis is facing a Major League opponent rather than teammates in an empty park.
"It's exciting," Valaika said. "He's had a tough road, but I think he's coming back stronger."
Manager Bud Black, who was there with a warm hug after Bettis completed his duties with some fielding practice, sees Bettis' Major League form gradually returning.
"He punched out Valaika. He's throwing 90 mph, he's done this work for the last month to prepare for this so he's checked off boxes physically to be ready," Black said. "And I think that's what it shows. He feels good, mentally and physically. That's why there's that smile from both those guys."