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Rockies starter Chad Bettis finding success after changes to mechanics, repertoire

The 26-year-old righty has found his groove and is quickly making his mark as a pivotal component of the Rockies' starting rotation.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

DENVER -- Of the several young arms that have had a shot in the Rockies' starting rotation, it is the one many had written off -- 26-year-old Chad Bettis -- who has found the most success.

The right-hander will make his seventh start of the season Monday in Houston. During his first six outings, Bettis posted a 3.05 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in 38⅓ innings, walking 11 and striking out 33. The underlying numbers for Bettis are positive as well; he owns a 2.32 FIP and 3.53 xFIP.

"He's been lights out," Rockies catcher Nick Hundley said. "Really, really good fastball command, the differential between his fastball and his off-speed pitches in terms of velocity has been outstanding and he's throwing a lot of strikes."

Heralded as a top Rockies prospect throughout his minor league career even after a shoulder injury cost him the entirety of 2012, Bettis struggled in his first two seasons in the big leagues with a 6.88 ERA in 37 appearances, eight of which were starts.

"We're all creatures of habit," Rockies pitching coach Steve Foster said. "Pitchers are probably the world's worst at it, falling into habits that feel comfortable, and when you get comfortable whether it's your load, or your finish or your timing and separation, you get comfortable doing what you've done in a short period of time and you forget how to repeat your delivery. That happens a lot."

Bettis especially struggled in 2014, when he finished with a 9.12 ERA in 21 appearances, all out of the bullpen.

"When they told me I was going to come out of the bullpen last year, I had no problem with that; that's what they thought was going to be the best thing for the team so I was all for it," Bettis said.

Near the end of last season, the Rockies made the decision to transition Bettis back into a starting role, demoting him to Triple-A Colorado Springs where he posted a 4.88 ERA in 24 innings over the course of five starts. He has remained exclusively a starter in 2015, both at Triple-A Albuquerque and with the Rockies.

"This is what I've always wanted to do, Bettis said. "I've always wanted to start."

The real work for Bettis came in the offseason and during spring training, when Foster worked with him to adjust his mechanics and get him out of the bad habits he had developed. Most of that work was done on the back fields; he appeared in just four of the Rockies' 34 Cactus League games and logged only 13 innings.

"We looked at last year and we saw some things that we felt like were preventing him from throwing strikes," Foster said.

Foster also said that he looked at video going all the way back to Bettis' days at Texas Tech to find what had worked for him in the past.

One thing that has helped Bettis to succeed this season has been an increase in the use of his curveball, a pitch many say cannot be successful for a pitcher at Coors Field. According to PITCHf/x data, Bettis threw his curveball just 4.2 percent of the time last season and with 11.3 percent of his pitches in 2013. That number has jumped to 23.5 percent this season. Bettis noted he went to the curve in order to correct what he felt was a flaw in his game in 2014.

"Last year I was way too predictable out of the bullpen," Bettis explained. "I took that as a learning and growing experience, instead of negatively, and turned it around. I wasn't going to be as predictable as last year -- ever."

Some of that predictability last season stemmed from the fact that his primary breaking ball, the slider, was just six mph slower than his fastball on average. This year, his curveball comes in at an average of 73.9 mph, 18 ticks slower than his fastball, which averages 91.9.

"When you have command of more than one pitch, and you're able to go from 72 to 92, you have more weapons and it's harder to hit," Foster said.

More than just the difference in velocity from his fastball, it is the myriad of ways in which Bettis has used the curve that has made it an important pitch in his arsenal.

"He can throw it for strikes when he wants to, he can bounce it when he wants to, throw it to both sides of the plate -- he's been very effective with it," Hundley said.

That command of the curveball, which was not present in past seasons, can be credited in large part to the adjustments made with his delivery, according to Bettis' pitching coach.

"He's staying behind it more and he's got his timing right with his delivery, so it's helped him command it better and that's why he's throwing it more," Foster said.

Bettis said the spike in curveball usage was not much of a mental adjustment for him because of the confidence he has in the pitch.

"I trust it as much as I did everything else," Bettis said. "I just envision it in my head and then throw it."

What the adjustments to his delivery and repertoire have led to is the return of the strikeout to Bettis' game. Prior to his initial call up in 2013, he averaged 9.25 strikeouts per nine innings in the minor leagues. However, that number dropped to 5.58 K/9 in his first two big league seasons. This season, however, his K/9 has jumped back up to 7.75.

Bettis has also cut down on his walks in 2015; he is walking just 2.58 batters per nine innings this season after posting a 3.89 BB/9 number in his first two big league seasons,

"Working on his delivery has helped tremendously with his confidence and throwing pitches in the strike zone," Foster said.

More than anything, Bettis said he feels at home in the Rockies rotation and is confident in his ability to stick there.

"Everything is as consistent as I want it to be right now," Bettis said. "I'm making some minor adjustments here and there but for the most part I feel comfortable."