Cancer fighter Bettis to make '17 debut tonight

Freeland (left groin strain) to return from DL on Tuesday

Cancer fighter Bettis to make '17 debut tonight

MIAMI -- Rockies pitcher Chad Bettis won't feel alone on the mound tonight, when he faces the Braves at Coors Field in his return to the Majors after fighting testicular cancer.

"Not a day goes by that I don't think about the many people who were positively affecting me the whole time," Bettis said Sunday. "I know that I will be carrying it forward, more than just on a pitch-by-pitch basis. I couldn't be where I am without them.

Bettis, 28, was diagnosed and underwent surgery in November, and he also needed chemotherapy this spring, when doctors found that the cancer had moved into his lymph nodes. Bettis made six Minor League appearances and was activated from the disabled list on Monday afternoon. Right-hander Carlos Estevez was optioned to Triple-A Albuquerque in a corresponding move.

"To see a guy go through what he's had to go through, and to see him work his butt off, and to come from a guy that had chemotherapy and how that feels to where he is now," Rockies manager Bud Black said. "What a great story for all of us, for Chad and his family, and a lot of people who are battling cancer."

In his final Minor League appearance, Bettis held New Orleans to one run and three hits in five innings while throwing 70 pitches. He was removed because of threatening rain, but threw 20 more pitches in the bullpen to reach his prescribed total of 90. Then he waited.

After all he had been through for nine months, Bettis didn't mind getting the word from Black on a delayed basis.

"Bud gave me a call a couple days ago and asked how I was feeling, my thoughts on my last outing," said Bettis, who was with his wife, Kristina, and 4 1/2-month-old daughter, Everleigh, when the phone rang. "Did I feel ready? I explained everything to him and told him that I felt ready to go. He said good, that they had some decisions to make and would give me a call tomorrow.

"I got the call yesterday and he said that he is very excited to see me take the ball. He said to get my rest and be ready to go. I felt like a kid the night before Christmas."

Bettis on returning to clubhouse

Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon said Bettis never let the disease get him down whatsoever.

"Chad Bettis is a special person," Blackmon said. "He had an incredible attitude throughout the whole process. He's been a joy to be around during the whole process, which is the opposite of what you might think."

Added fellow pitcher Tyler Anderson, who has been Bettis' teammate since last year and is currently recovering from knee surgery: "He's handled everything he's faced this year with just a ton of grace and courage. He's handled himself really well. Bettis is a good friend of mine, so I'm really excited for him and can't wait to see him back and throwing again."

Bettis makes return from cancer

In two appearances (one start) at Double-A Hartford and four starts at Albuquerque, Bettis went 0-3 with a 4.24 ERA, 17 strikeouts and seven walks in 23 1/3 innings. But the key was how he grew stronger with each start.

"There was a critical eye on him really the last couple starts," Black said. "Our evaluators in the Minor Leagues felt that he was ready from a delivery standpoint, a strength standpoint, a stuff standpoint. All the factors that determine if a guy's ready to pitch in the Major Leagues, and he checked off all those boxes."

Bettis led the Rockies' staff in 2016 with 186 innings and 14 wins. Last season, Bettis (23-19, 5.01 ERA career) went 7-2 with a 3.75 ERA after the All-Star break. With the Rockies in the thick of National League Wild Card contention, Bettis will balance emotion against the need to lead the rotation. With 89 appearances and 60 starts, he's by far the most-experienced starter.

"The moment I take the mound tomorrow, emotion will take its course and it will be whatever the moment will be," Bettis said. "Am I excited that it's tomorrow? Of course I am. I'm just trying not to get ahead of myself.

"I have started studying the Braves, though. I need to prepare myself."

Freeland to start Tuesday

One more starter will join the rotation this week, Kyle Freeland, who Black said will start Tuesday's game against Atlanta.

Freeland has been on the 10-day DL with a left groin strain since Aug. 5. The left-hander threw a 35-pitch bullpen on Saturday at what he said was 85-90 percent effort without any lingering effects of the injury.

"I wasn't hesitant on it and didn't feel any cramps or hinges or anything like that," Freeland said.

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, listen to podcasts and like his Facebook page. Patrick Pinak is a reporter for MLB.com based in Miami. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.