Jon Gray and Chad Bettis got the chance to catch up Tuesday at Coors Field. A couple hours before Gray threw live batting practice on the field, he told Bettis, a fellow righty in the Rockies’ starting pitching rotation, how dull things had been in the dugout without him.
“I told him how bored I’ve been in the dugout since he’s been gone and everything,” said Gray on a day when both took steps toward working their way to once again pitching in a big-league game.
Gray hasn’t pitched since April 18, when he exited his third start of the season with a stress fracture in his left foot. Bettis hasn’t pitched at all in 2017 as he’s battled cancer.
Bettis is healthy now. He rejoined the Rockies’ on a full-time basis Tuesday. And if everything goes according to plan, he and Gray will make their returns this summer and serve as reinforcements for a Rockies’ rotation that has pitched surprisingly well in their absences.
“It’s the process of getting back and getting back to play ball,” Bettis said. “I’m a baseball player. I feel like that’s what I need to do. Whatever I can do to help this team, that’s what I’m here for.”
The Rockies didn’t provide specific timetables for either player’s return.
Gray, who threw between 50-60 pitches, will need to throw at least two rehab starts in the minors before he starts at the big-league level again.
“This is the first time I’ve moved laterally and side to side on things,” Gray said. “To not feel pain at all, it’s a good sign.”
Bettis said his focus is on regaining his stamina as opposed to strength. He had surgery last week to remove the chemotherapy port that was inserted under his left clavicle. Bettis added that he’s hoping to return by the All-Star break, which begins July 10. However, he did admit that might be an ambitious goal.
“Everybody wants a timeline,” Bettis said. “For me, I’ll tell you right now I want to be back by the All-Star break. I don’t know if that’s realistic. I think it is for me, but I’m me. I think it’s tough because everybody wants a timeline, everybody wants a date when I’ll be back.”
Gray and Bettis combined to throw 354 innings last season. This year, the Rockies’ starting rotation ranks fourth in FanGraphs’ park-adjusted ERA metric despite getting a combined 12 1/3 innings from the pair of righties.
Rookies Antonio Senzatela, Kyle Freeland, German Marquez and Jeff Hoffman have combined to go 20-8 with a 3.65 ERA in 197 innings pitched. That’s allowed Colorado’s starting rotation to remain a strength even as veteran righty Tyler Chatwood (7.03 ERA in six starts at Coors Field) and second-year lefty Tyler Anderson (5.85 ERA) have at times struggled.
Bringing Gray back into the fold — and Bettis later on — could create a log jam that forces Rockies manager Bud Black to make some tough decisions. Black said Tuesday that it was too early to begin drawing any conclusions about who could be bumped back into the bullpen or to the minors. He added that if the time comes when there are too many arms and not enough spots in the starting rotation, that’s a good problem to have.
“The more reinforcements you have, the more options, that’s a good thing,” Black said. “It tells you about the strength of our team in terms of depth and talent. Where we are as a starting pitching group right now, we feel pretty good about it.”
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