The long road back for Colorado Rockies pitcher Chad Bettis is bringing him to Albuquerque for the first time since 2015.
Bettis will make his second rehabilitation start for the Isotopes tonight at 7:05, continuing his improbable climb back to the big leagues after he was diagnosed with cancer in November.
“It’s pretty unbelievable,” Bettis said. “I don’t think that I sit here without the expectations of being able to come back this year. That’s something that when I first started the chemo, that was my expectation. I didn’t know what that would look like, out of the bullpen or starting again, but my that was my goal this year.”
Bettis’ previous start came Sunday at Salt Lake, where he gave up three runs on six hits and two walks while striking out four in 2 2/3 innings. Bettis said he saw some signs of improvement despite that line.
“I just want to be able to focus on just executing each pitch (tonight), not necessarily worrying about the movement or consistency of each pitch,” he said. “That was kind of what I was battling up until that last start. So, once I got that down, now it’s just about executing each pitch.”
Bettis said that it feels somewhat like the tail end of spring training.
“A little bit, I think, in the way we’re ramping up here,” Bettis said. “But at the same time, maybe a little more intense just because at the end of spring training you’re right there toward the beginning of the season. That’s where I feel like I’m at. We’re really close, we’re really close.”
The Rockies are certainly looking forward to Bettis’ start as part of his ongoing comeback.
“Everybody’s just thrilled to get him back,” Colorado owner Dick Monfort said. “The sooner the better. He’s not only a great pitcher, he’s a great human. He’s gone through a real battle. I know his teammates have kept connected with him and he’s kept connected with them. It will mean a lot when he shows up and he’s got a jersey on that means he can go out and play and help us try to get to the playoffs this year. It’s a big deal. I just saw Chad in (the clubhouse). What he’s done, what he brings to the Rockies, the grit, the work, he’s a Rockie through and through.”
General manager Jeff Bridich agreed.
“I will speak for the entire organization on this one, that day when he steps on the major-league mound for us again, this year, it can’t happen soon enough because we are going to be so excited when it does,” Bridich said. “But we’re not going to skip steps in between now and then. We can just look forward to it when it happens.”
Bettis said he has felt plenty of support not only from the organization, his teammates and Rockies fans, but almost everyone he encounters.
“I think it goes beyond Rockies fans,” he said. “I think you hit it on the head when you said baseball fans. I think the outreach that everybody has come forth with support and blessings and prayers, it’s been overwhelming, but not in a bad way by any means. It’s been something that’s very gracious. People have been very gracious to not only me but my family as well during this time.”
Bettis also made sure to touch base with Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Jameson Taillon, who also had surgery for testicular cancer this year.
“We ended up connecting when we were in Pittsburgh,” Bettis said. “It was pretty crazy. He’s in the same boat that I feel like I am in the sense that we want to bring some serious awareness to this young man’s disease. So we’re trying to figure out what that looks like and how we can help young men figure out where the next steps could be.”
Bettis said he is adjusting to being a sort of spokesman about cancer.
“I knew that this was going to be a little bit uncomfortable with initially, but it’s something I need to be comfortable with in the long term,” he said.
As for his health, Bettis said all is well at the moment.
“I feel good,” he said. “Been able to recover pretty well here, so it’s exciting. I’m not necessarily where I want to be at with that last start, but I think it was a good stepping stone in the right direction.”
It was certainly not easy when he was undergoing chemotherapy in March.
“It was, I think, I don’t know how to compare it, but this was pretty smooth sailing on the sense that physically I was able to retain my strength,” Bettis said. “I didn’t have to go all the way back down and start from scratch. On the other side of that, my stamina and my endurance, I had none of that. It was something that I had to build up a little bit to get to this point.”
Bettis’ daughter Everleigh was born just six days into his chemo sessions, which proved to be a sort of double blessing.
“It went away from ‘how are you doing’ to ‘how is Everleigh doing, how is (my wife) Kristina doing,’ ” he said. “That’s what I really liked about it. The focus wasn’t all on me. Still to this day I don’t like it. I don’t like being the center point of focus. I try and do my best job to defer that to other people or what have you. Through those moments in time, you learn a lot about yourself and it’s impactful for a long time.”
One thing Bettis does not have to worry about is how his start will affect the Rockies’ plans for the non-waiver trade deadline on Monday.
“The start itself doesn’t impact it at all,” Bridich said. “The start itself is purely for Chad Bettis, that next step for him in his comeback from chemotherapy and cancer. We have been taking things day by day and start by start with Chad. We’ve done that the whole time with him. It’s health first. I think the reasons why are obvious. That will continue.”