Colorado Rockies right-hander Chad Bettis spent most of 2013 and 2014 being bounced back and forth from the rotation to the bullpen. And throughout the entirety of those two seasons, he struggled mightily on the mound. That's why, when then-new Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich made it known last January that Bettis was the top candidate to fill out the team's rotation heading into the 2015 season, surprise and confusion were the initial reactions.
But after watching Bettis carve up big league hitters for most of his stint with the Rockies last season, it's easy to see why Bridich spoke confidently of the 2010 second-round draft pick.
"It was energizing, honestly," Bettis said of Bridich's plan prior to last season. "To know that we were all on the same page and that this was what I wanted to do and they were on board with it was huge."
Bettis was the owner of a 6.88 ERA and fewer than six strikeouts per nine innings in 69⅓ frames over his first two big league seasons. Part of his poor production can be attributed to the constant fight of having to get used to different roles, Bettis admitted, but learning how to pitch against top-flight competition was the main thing standing in his way.
"I’ll be the first one to tell anyone I struggled really bad last year," Bettis said. "I lost a lot of sleep over it."
As much as his struggles kept him up at night, the 26-year-old absorbed lessons learned from the nightmarish beginning to his major league career, and things started to come together wonderfully in 2015.
"The importance of getting that first out of the inning is huge," Bettis explained. "Not only that, the predictability factor—making sure you’re not predictable at any point in time—was big for me, too."
Bettis finished the season with a park-adjusted ERA that was 10 percent above league average and whiffed 98 batters in a career-high 115 innings. The end result was Bettis' 2.6 rWAR, good for the third-most value on the 2015 Rockies.
The high point of the year for Bettis came in his fourth start, a road outing against the Philadelphia Phillies on May 29. Bettis took a perfect game into the seventh and a no-hitter into the eighth inning that evening. He finished the game having allowed just two hits while striking out seven batters in eight scoreless frames. It was the third in a string of four consecutive quality start for Bettis, who owned a sparkling 2.70 ERA after five starts.
In July, not long after his worst start of the season (10 runs, eight hits and only seven outs against the Los Angeles Angels at Coors Field), Bettis landed on the disabled list with a minor inflammation in his throwing shoulder.
But he insisted the injury didn't affect his performance prior to his DL stint. Upon his return on Aug. 25, the Texas Tech alum rediscovered his groove, posting a 2.97 ERA with 33 strikeouts and 12 walks over his final 39⅓ innings spanning seven starts.
"For whatever reason I tend to start the season a little slower, [throwing] around 89-93 [mph] and as the season progresses, my velocity starts jumping," Bettis detailed. "I don’t necessarily know why, but I do think it’s the strength aspect and getting built up and getting the innings in."
"To see that jump from being whatever I was in spring training to what I am now is huge," Bettis added. "Hopefully, I can build off of what I’m doing this year and take it into next year."
If Bettis is able to do that, and stay healthy, he'll nestle right into one of the top two or three spots in the Rockies' rotation. For a team that has struggled to find solid, mid-rotation-quality arms over the years, that development would be vital. But for now, Bettis, who has found a new passion for the game, is just happy to be contributing at a high level.
"I'm maturing a little bit and feeling re-energized that I’m a starter again," Bettis said. "To take the struggles I learned from last year, apply them to this year, and see how well I would progress in the process of learning how to pitch as a starter again was big for me."
"Now it's just about getting the workload up, the innings up and going from there."