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Betancourt's absence has had impact on 'pen

Betancourt's absence has had impact on 'pen

Betancourt's absence has had impact on 'pen

DENVER -- A welcome sight for the Rockies was right-handed closer Rafael Betancourt stretching in front of the dugout, the way he has before games since arriving in 2009. And Betancourt delivered more good news in his recovery from an appendicitis attack that has sidelined him since the All-Star break -- his third bullpen session this week Friday, and news that he would throw a simulated game Monday.

"I threw Monday, Wednesday and today -- 30, 40 and 47 pitches today," Betancourt said. "My energy is good. Today, it was all effort on every pitch, and I feel great.

"I'm also happy the guys came back [from a 10-game, 11-day road trip]. It felt to me like it was three weeks. But I had time to come here [to Coors Field] and work every morning. The first 10 days were weird, but in the last week I've been able to start lifting weights, running and throwing."

Betancourt (2-3, 3.16 ERA, 15 saves in 28 games) usually pitches at about 220 pounds, but in the days after the July 19 surgery he dropped to 212. Now he is at 216 and climbing.

The batting order has dealt with injuries to key players, but it could be argued that the two injuries to Betancourt -- a right groin strain that had him on the DL for most of June, and the appendicitis -- were as big as any.

At times in their history, the Rockies have been contenders while having middle-of-the-road pitching because the bullpen has taken up the slack. The problems with Betancourt, however, have forced pitchers into different roles, and the numbers have shown that it has been tough for them to make adjustments.

A month-by-month check of the stats shows that the starting rotation has been consistent. The April ERA was 4.24, and the monthly ERAs since have ranged from 4.47 to 4.60.

However, the bullpen's ERA has had dramatic spikes that coincided with Betancourt's injuries.

Rockies relievers posted ERAs of 3.00 in April and 3.24 in May. Keep in mind the Rockies were tied for first in the National League West as late as May 24.

But in June, the Rockies' bullpen ERA rose to 4.53. Betancourt made just one appearance in the month, June 29.

In July, Betancourt made five appearances -- and converted all four of his save chances -- but was gone after the All-Star break. For the month, the relief ERA was 4.98, and through the first seven games of August it was 6.75.

Betancourt, 38, whose contract calls for a mutual option for 2014 valued at $4.25 million, chooses to look at himself as one of a group working together rather than indispensable.

"I miss my teammates, but I always say I'm only one guy," Betancourt said. "All of the guys have been there battling every day, and I like to see that. But I can't wait to get back. It's been too much time for me. I miss pitching in a game and especially winning."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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