Salt Lake City is a familiar place to Colorado Rockies reliever LaTroy Hawkins. Kind of.
"I don't recognize it at all," Hawkins said of the city he called home for parts of four seasons from 1994 through 1997. "I drove around last night, and I'm like, 'Wow, it's completely different.'"
Hawkins' return to Smith's Ballpark for the first time in almost two decades is part of a three-game rehab assignment for the 42-year-old right-hander, who has been on the disabled list since April 22 with right bicep tendinitis. He's scheduled to pitch twice in the series, marking his first appearances in Salt Lake since June 6, 1997 -- exactly 18 years ago to the day of Game 1 of the Albuquerque Isotopes' four-game set in Utah's capitol city.
"I pitch Sunday and Tuesday, then I’ll meet the team back in Denver and head to Miami," Hawkins said. That's a sign that the veteran reliever's second rehab stint is going much better than the previous one.
"I feel really good," Hawkins quipped. "I felt great the other night when I pitched. I recovered good. I played catch and feel good today, so it’s definitely a lot better than I was feeling in spring training and early in the season."
The Rockies could face a tough decision with another veteran reliever when it comes time to activate Hawkins. The club is already carrying eight relievers, so one will need to be optioned or otherwise sent out before Hawkins' first appearance. Brooks Brown, Tommy Kahnle and Scott Oberg all have options remaining and would be the most likely candidates to be removed from the 25-man roster in favor of Hawkins, but the trio has pitched fairly well as of late.
One pitcher on the roster who hasn't performed well recently is Rafael Betancourt, who was plastered for three runs on five hits in the ninth inning against the Marlins on Saturday. Betancourt has allowed seven runs on nine hits in two innings spanning three appearances since leaving his May 30 outing against the Phillies with an illness. The 40-year-old right-hander can't be optioned; he doesn't have any left and would need to consent to that anyway due to service time. That makes the Rockies' impending decision much more difficult.
As for Hawkins, he's just glad to have the opportunity to return to the majors and finish his 21st -- and final -- major league season.
"I've been in the big leagues for 20 years and spent 90 percent of that healthy," Hawkins said. "I've got nothing to complain about; if I said otherwise, I'd sound like an ungrateful so-and-so."
"I would never want to sound ungrateful," Hawkins added. "This game's been too good to me."