Chad Bettis may not have had his best stuff on Sunday, but he produced the best start of his brief Minor League career.
The Rockies prospect allowed two hits and struck out eight over eight innings as the Class A Advanced Modesto Nuts blanked the Visalia Rawhide, 5-0, for their third straight win.
Bettis (4-3) was coming off his worst start as a pro, a five-inning stint at Inland Empire in which he surrendered nine runs on 11 hits. He had an extra day to think about it after Saturday's series opener was postponed by rain.
"That was definitely really embarrassing," admitted Bettis, a second-round pick in last year's Draft.
Incorporating two versions of a changeup he's been working on during bullpen sessions, the Texas Tech product did not allow a hit until Jon Mark Owings doubled off the glove of right fielder Kent Matthes with one out in the bottom of the fifth.
"It hit his glove and popped out," Bettis said. "I just really applaud him for making the effort and risking his body. He could have gotten hurt."
Owings moved to third on a groundout and Rossmel Perez walked, but Ryan LaPensee took a called third strike to end the threat. Venturing into the eighth inning for the first time as a pro, Bettis struck out Raoul Torrez and retired Perez on a groundout before LaPensee lined a single to center field for the Rawhide's second hit.
"I think that was on a cutter or a fastball outside," Bettis said. "They definitely earned that hit."
The 22-year-old right-hander plunked David Nick as Visalia got a runner to second base for only the second time. But he ended his outing by retiring Chris Owings on a grounder to first base.
"I don't feel I had my best stuff today," Bettis said. "That made me focus a lot more on staying down in the zone and missing off the plate instead of in the middle.
"I used the four-seam change more to righties because I feel like it doesn't move into them as much as a two-seam does. I was using that as a command change and the two-seam more to lefties, starting in the middle and letting it run away."
Bettis was an All-Star in the short-season Northwest League last summer, going 4-1 with a 1.12 ERA in 10 games, including nine starts. He moved up to Class A Asheville and continued to excel with two wins and a 0.96 ERA in three starts.
Things have been a bit bumpier in the hitter-friendly California League. In his first three starts last month, Bettis was 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA. But he went 0-2 with a 10.69 ERA in three starts leading up to Sunday.
"The biggest adjustment for me has been the angle," Bettis explained. "I could get away with a lot of mistakes in Tri-City. At Asheville, I could use a two- or three-pitch combination and they would swing over it. Coming up here, the hitters are more selective. They hit your mistakes, especially if you leave the ball up. I've been trying to create better angles and keep it down in the zone."
It also helped that Modesto supplied him with an early cushion, courtesy of Carlos Martinez's second-inning grand slam.
"That was great to have," Bettis said.