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Rockies' Bettis grateful to enjoy healthy spring

Cancer survivor throws 2 scoreless frames in Cactus League debut
MLB.com @harding_at_mlb

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Rockies righty Chad Bettis began his Cactus League season Sunday by walking Rangers leadoff man Rougned Odor. But Bettis can handle a little trouble.

Bettis snapped into a groove by striking out two -- both on curveballs -- in two perfect innings in the 4-2 loss to the Rangers.

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Rockies righty Chad Bettis began his Cactus League season Sunday by walking Rangers leadoff man Rougned Odor. But Bettis can handle a little trouble.

Bettis snapped into a groove by striking out two -- both on curveballs -- in two perfect innings in the 4-2 loss to the Rangers.

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"Fastball command is everything to me," said Bettis, who threw 24 pitches. "The leadoff guy, it got away from me a little bit. After that was over, I felt that settled down pretty good.

"I really needed to work on my offspeed stuff, curveball and cutter. I feel like it's going to be pretty pivotal for me this season, so I need to get that as sharp as I can, as fast as I can."

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

This is a different spring pattern for Bettis. In recent years, he stayed out of the early games to work on mechanics. This time he wanted to jump into competition as early as possible.

Even though he is moving ahead with his career after battling testicular cancer last year, Bettis could stop to appreciate that on Sunday. He missed all of Spring Training last year, began chemotherapy in March and didn't pitch in the Majors until August, going 2-4 with a 5.05 ERA in nine starts.

"This is a very small first step, but I thought it was good," he said. "The fact that I'm here and healthy is big for me."

Getting his chance

Righty Peter Lambert, 20, gave up two runs on four hits, but fanned three in the sixth inning in his Cactus League debut. Lambert struck out 131 in 142 1/3 innings at Class A Advanced Lancaster last season while earning MLB.com Rockies Pitching Prospect of the Year.

Video: Top Prospects: Peter Lambert, RHP, Rockies

"Anytime they can go out and log some innings, whether it be in a big league game, whether it be in Spring Training or on a back field against big league hitters, that is something those guys will be able to learn from," said bench coach Mike Redmond, who ran the team while manager Bud Black attended a memorial in San Diego for longtime Major League front-office executive Kevin Towers. "I'm sure he learned some things today."

Defense gets you noticed

Daniel Castro, who spent last year at Triple-A Albuquerque and played in the Majors with the Braves (2015-16) made a diving play to the middle to rob a hit in the seventh. Castro and the shortstop he flipped the ball to for the out, Shawn O'Malley (formerly with the Angels and Mariners), are vying for utility spots. Additionally, outfield prospect Sam Hilliard cut down a runner at the plate with a throw from right field.

Simulating the future

Righty Jon Gray said his simulated game of about 30 pitches was productive. At times, runners were placed on base, which gave him (and German Marquez, who also threw a simulated game) a chance to prepare for new rules that limit non-substitution mound visits by a manager, coach or teammate to six over nine innings.

One reason for fielder visits was to make sure the pitcher was aware of infield defense strategy, such as bunt plays.

Pitch and running game signs come from the catcher, infield signs from the third baseman. Extra visits came when the pitcher forgot to also check the third baseman.

"Usually it was a little bit of everybody; I would ask questions if I wanted to know for sure, because I didn't want to be pitching while thinking about the situation if the ball got hit," Gray said. "But I feel like I've got a good grasp on that. The less stuff we have to say to make things clear, the easier it's going to be."

Estevez being rested

Righty reliever Carlos Estevez is "down for a few days" because of what pitching coach Steve Foster called a "tweak piece" in a midsection muscle on his left side. Estevez pitched one scoreless inning and gave up a hit in Friday's Cactus League opener against the D-backs.

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

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