DENVER -- Rafael Betancourt's smile brightened the Rockies' clubhouse Wednesday afternoon.
Just 8 1/2 months after undergoing Tommy John surgery -- an operation that ended his era as the Rockies' closer (57 saves 2009-13) -- Betancourt, who re-signed with the Rockies in April under a Minor League contract, said he is up to 40-pitch bullpen sessions. His presence lightened the mood on the day that oufielder Carlos Gonzalez's nagging left index finer issue forced him to the 15-day disabled list.
Betancourt, 39, has been working out in Scottsdale, Ariz., but now joins the Rockies for more bullpen sessions and possibly some simulated work. There is a tentative plan to send Betancourt to Rookie-level Grand Junction, whose season begins June 20, and have him climb the Minor League levels in hopes of returning before the season is done.
The recovery has been smooth so far.
"I never had that kind of surgery," Betancourt said. "From what I've heard from other guys, the timetable they give is 12 months or more than that. People were saying, 'He's gonna miss next year.' I said, 'OK, let me try.' I don't have anything to lose."
The recovery is believed to be shorter for a reliever than a starter.
For example, Rockies starter Jorge De La Rosa underwent Tommy John surgery in May 2011 and seemed on the road to a quick recovery. But setbacks delayed his return until the very end of 2012. Moreover, he didn't pitch effectively until 2013 and didn't find full strength until this year.
But Cardinals reliever Jason Motte returned from the same surgery last month, a few days more than a year after the procedure. Motte has been effective, but the fastball that used to pop in at 98-99 mph is sitting at 92-93.
Betancourt isn't addressing setbacks and has no interest in discussing what happens if his comeback turns difficult.
"I'm not thinking about that, just going with how I feel now and see what I can do this year," Betancourt said. Betancourt said he is throwing fastballs and changeups off the mound. The slider, often his put-away pitch, he is throwing only on flat ground.
"You never know, maybe I'll come back throwing fastball and changeup and forget about the breaking ball -- that was the pitch I felt it when I got hurt last year," Betancourt said.
Betancourt will throw a regular bullpen session on Saturday. Then a bullpen on Tuesday will simulate a two-inning appearance. Soon after that he will be able to face hitters.
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.