Chad Bettis hasn't pitched much this season, but the Tulsa Drillers right-hander and Colorado Rockies prospect still helps out wherever he can.
He's even willing to run out and wrangle a tiger if that's what the team needs.
Bettis, a second-round pick out of Texas Tech in 2010, is on the verge of returning after being sidelined since mid May with shoulder trouble. He pitched a simulated game Saturday, throwing about 30 pitches prior to Tulsa's game against Arkansas, and pronounced himself pain-free.
"Today felt great, so we're just waiting for the next step and keep this process going forward," said Bettis, who worked on his curveball, fastball, changeup mix and is anticipating a 45-pitch outing next time.
Bettis was the California League Pitcher of the Year in 2011, going 12-5 with a 3.34 ERA at Modesto while leading the league with 184 strikeouts and 170 innings pitched. But a strained shoulder muscle suffered last year in Spring Training kept him out the entire season, and last month's setback left him 2-2 with a 4.00 ERA after just seven starts in his Double-A debut.
"I would always like it to go faster, but I think everybody would like it to go faster," Bettis said. "Coming off my shoulder injury last year, I understand the process that we need to take. You just have to buy in and make sure you stay positive and go forward from that."
When Tulsa got off to a 1-5 start, he and fellow right-hander Joe Gardner decided the team needed a pick-me-up. At a random truck stop deep in the heart of Texas, the two bought a relatively lifelike stuffed tiger and brought it aboard the bus and into the Pantheon of Minor League superstitions. The tiger became the Drillers' good-luck charm as the team won seven of its next 10 and played its way into a three-way scuffle for the first-half North Division title.
"It was the middle of the night, everyone was asleep," Bettis said. "We just figured we'd get this tiger and get the morale up around the team, and I think it definitely helped. We also started having team barbecues and stuff like that. It just brought the team closer together."
Bettis has even found himself in the thick of things during games, despite being out of the lineup. When umpire Nathan White ejected third baseman Jayson Langfels from the dugout during the top of the sixth inning Saturday, it was Bettis, either taking the fall for a teammate or believing he had been singled out, who began the "walk of shame" toward the clubhouse before Langfels left in a huff.
"It's nice to see everyone come together and play as a team, and just to experience another playoff push, it's a lot of fun to be part of," Bettis said.
If Bettis does indeed get back to 100 percent, he may actually be better for his experience. He spent a month in Denver with the Rockies last year and got to see up close how big leaguers conduct their business.
"It just makes me want to get there as fast as I can," said Bettis, who was able to study hitters' swings and hobnob with Rockies Troy Tulowitzki, Matt Belisle, Todd Helton and Rex Brothers. "Right now it's concentrating on getting healthy, this whole process, and I don't feel like I'm that far."
Hooks' shot: Corpus Christi set a franchise record with 42 victories on the way to its South Division first-half title. Domingo Santana homered in the 11th inning as the Hooks beat Frisco, 3-2, on Friday night to claim their second consecutive playoff berth and third overall since joining the league in 2005.
Figure eight: The Arkansas Travelers had a league-high eight players named to the North Division roster for the Texas League All-Star Game, to be played June 25 at Arvest Ballpark in Springdale, Ark. Midland and San Antonio each had seven named to the South Roster.
On hold: San Antonio's Reymond Fuentes landed on the DL last week riding a 34-game on-base streak.