The Colorado Rockies are confusing. A team that has been maddeningly inconsistent on the road and dynamite at home throughout its history has flipped the script in 2015. And despite an early 11 game losing streak and a current stretch that included losing nine of ten at one point, the Rockies have gotten some stellar individual performances including a break-out campaign from DJ LeMahieu who has been the biggest and best surprise for the Rockies this season.
But don't forget that the Rockies have a break-out pitcher as well.
Enter: Chad Bettis.
A year ago, Bettis threw 24 ⅔ innings out of the bullpen and posted a 9.17 ERA.
For this season, Bettis has pitched 49 ⅔ innings, posting a 3.44 ERA, including a slump-busting, one-run performance against the Brewers on Saturday. It was a bounceback game for the team and for Bettis who struggled a bit his last two times out, telling the media after his last start at Coors Field that he just didn't feel good from the get-go.
"I felt more in a routine," said Bettis. "[Michael] McKenry and I had a really good game plan. I would say yes I definitely felt better [in pre-game bullpen] than when I started against the Cardinals."
"He's really coming into his own lately," says third baseman Nolan Arenado. "He's been doing a great job. He's competing, he's throwing a lot of strikes, and his tempo is awesome. It's the best. He works so quick, it keeps us all in the game and that's all you want as a defense. And everytime he goes out we're always on our feet, always ready to makes plays, and he's done a phenomenal job."
Turns out he's not just a breath of fresh air for Rockies fans, but for Rockies defenders as well.
For those inclined to ask "Where did this guy come from?" it's important to remember that until 2013, Purple Row, Baseball America, and Baseball Prospectus all regularly ranked him as a top ten Rockies prospect. These rankings came before his struggles began, he was moved into the bullpen, and then moved back into the starting rotation.
It's been a long road and there have been many adjustments.
So does it take a new mental approach or a string of mechanical adjustments to accomplish such a dramatic turnaround?
"I think maybe a little of both," he says. "When we went into the off season and they gave me that clarity, and I knew I was going to be just a starter, it definitely freed me up a little bit. But that being said, I knew I had a lot of work in front of me to get built back up."
So what has been the difference between then and now? Where does Chad Badass come from?
I asked a variation of this question to Nick Hundley. If there was measurable time between when I finished the question and when Hundley began his answer, you would need some highly technical instruments to measure it.
"Fastball command. He's commanding both sides of the plate with his fastball, staying out of the middle of the plate."
And here I thought it was the sharpness of his curveball.
"Yeah, both," says Hundley, "Obviously its a very good secondary pitch for him, but at the same time, it's a secondary pitch. So if he is commanding his fastball ahead in counts, challenging guys, speeding guys up, it makes that curveball much more effective."
And what about the catcher's read on Bettis' approach?
"He's always had the mentality. From what I've seen, and what I've heard in the past, he's always had a great mindset going in. Attacking, being aggresive, very confident in his ability."
That confidence has shown itself in the face of turbulence even as recently as the beginning of this season.
"In the off season, I did everything I could to give myself an opportunity to come into spring training and hope to break with the club. I knew it could have gone either way but I just wanted to give myself the best opportunity to come in strong and healthy."
It did not go his way, as it turned out, and Bettis did not make the team out of spring training, which could have been a setback. It was "definitely" and understandably disappointing.
"This is where I want to be. But I knew that there were still things I needed to work on a little bit," he admits. "I had some stuff I needed to hammer out with command of my fastball glove-side -- I knew that needed to get better and more consistent. Yeah, it was a little disappointing but it wasn't something that was going to mentally derail me."
Such thoughts of disappointment and mental derailment brought my mind to a pitcher who is now in a very similar position to Bettis a year ago after being an exciting prospect and struggling in his first year: Eddie Butler.
"We've talked. We talk still," Bettis says of his peer. "I just try to tell him to learn from every start. Whether it's good or bad, you have to try to be able to take something that you want to be able to do better the next time out and keep improving and building off of that. And that's where it starts to become a routine, whether you're good or bad, what can I do to be better the next time? That's what I'm trying to pass on."
Pitching is a process. It's a pitch-to-pitch, game-to-game, season-to-season grind and when you are on the wrong end of it, as Bettis knows, it can be tough.
"It's something you have to fight through. It's something that's not fun going through but if you look at the big scheme -- the big picture -- you know that if you can get through it, you're going to come out a better pitcher and a better person."