Despite missing the 2012 season with a shoulder injury, Chad Bettis was slated to begin this year at Double-A after spending his last healthy season in the California League.
It's a tough transition to make even under normal circumstances, but Bettis appears to be thriving -- at least through his first few starts.
The Rockies' No. 4 prospect nearly went the distance in the first game of a doubleheader Wednesday, striking out 11 over 6 2/3 innings as Tulsa edged Arkansas, 2-1.
Bettis (1-1) held the Travelers to one run on four hits and a walk in coming within one out of his first career complete game. The 11 strikeouts equaled a personal best.
The Texas Tech product was named California League Pitcher of the Year in 2011 after a strong debut season. But he strained his shoulder at Spring Training last year and spent the entire campaign working his way back.
Wednesday was another sign that Bettis, Colorado's second-round pick in the 2010 Draft, hasn't suffered any ill effects from his lost season.
"It's a non-issue now. Everything feels back to the way it was, even looking back two years," he said. "Velocity-wise, strength-wise, I feel exactly the same now as where I was."
Bettis established himself as one of the Rockies' top prospects in 2011, when he went 12-5 with a Cal League-leading 184 strikeouts and a 3.34 ERA that ranked second in the notoriously hitter-friendly circuit.
Through four starts with Tulsa, it looks like he's picked up almost exactly where he left off. He's 1-1 with a 2.91 ERA and 26 strikeouts against two walks in 21 2/3 frames.
The right-hander from Texas, who turns 24 on Friday, attributed the promising early returns to the steady, disciplined rehab to which Colorado had him committed.
"When I first got injured, we didn't really pick a ball up or anything for a long time. They wanted to take it slow, not mess it up, do it right the first time so there were no issues when you come back," Bettis said. "It's a little frustrating, but it was exactly what we needed to do.
"When I felt good, when I wanted to go, it was nice to have someone there to tell me, 'Hey, look, you need to take a step back and slow it down a little bit so this doesn't happen again.' We played it right, we played it safe."
Bettis also noted that what he lost in terms of time being on the hill, he felt he gained in time spent absorbing some of the finer points of the game.
"There's nothing that can prepare you to compete except competition, but not competing at all last year, I feel I learned a lot about the game," he said. "The little things, like how hitters are swinging, what they're doing with count differential, what they might be looking for, stuff like that."
The Drillers trailed, 1-0, until the fourth, when Henry Wrigley hit an RBI double and Kiel Roling followed with a run-scoring single.
Bettis exited in the seventh after issuing a two-out walk to Drew Heid. Michael Solbach came on and, after Heid moved up on a passed ball, retired Travis Witherspoon on a ground ball to shortstop for his second save.
Tulsa completed the sweep with a 3-2 victory in the nightcap.