Betancourt faces hitters, inches toward game action

Betancourt faces hitters, inches toward game action

DENVER -- Former Rockies closer Rafael Betancourt, who is under a Minor League contract as he completes his return from Tommy John surgery last September, faced hitters for the first time on Friday and hopes to pitch for Rookie-level Grand Junction by July 1.

Betancourt threw 26 pitches to left-handed hitting Ryan Wheeler and right-handed hitting Kyle Parker on Friday, and is aiming to throw 30 pitches Monday. Barring any setbacks, Betancourt will throw one "live" batting practice session at Grand Junction before appearing in games.

The Rockies are tentatively planning for Betancourt to pitch at every level of the Minor League system and attempt to have him come back before the end of the year.

A comeback before the season is done is feasible, based on the fact that Cardinals reliever Jason Motte returned in May, a year and a few days after his Tommy John surgery. Betancourt's put-away pitch was his slider, which stresses the elbow. So since he has begun to throw bullpen sessions, Betancourt has been sticking with fastballs and changeups, and could return relying on the velocity difference and movement.

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.