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."
Exams confirm diagnoses for Chatwood, Gonzalez
DENVER -- The results of MRI exams on the right elbow of Rockies right-hander Tyler Chatwood and the right middle finger of left fielder Carlos Gonzalez confirmed earlier diagnoses, and each player should be able to heal without surgery.
Chatwood, who was scratched from a start Tuesday because of left hamstring tightness and placed on the 15-day disabled list Thursday because of elbow issues, was found to have an impingement in the elbow but no structural damage.
The Rockies placed Gonzalez on the DL on Wednesday because of recurring problems with the finger, and they ordered the MRI exam to rule out anything beyond the sprain of the ulnar collateral ligament in the finger.
Weiss holds team meeting after road skid
DENVER -- Rockies manager Walt Weiss called a team meeting Friday afternoon before the game with the Pirates and on the heels of a 1-9 road trip that was the worst 10-gamer in club history.
The Rockies entered the series with the Pirates -- the team with the Majors' best record -- just ahead of the last-place Giants in the National League West.
"It's just checks and balances, which is what it comes down to, just checking in with the guys," Weiss said. "These guys are competing. They're getting beat up a little bit. They're competing. You've got to fight through it. That's all."
Weiss said he did not discuss any strategic changes.
"Just pretty basic stuff," Weiss said. "I'm not going to get into what I said. We've got to figure it out, is what it comes down to."
It has been a long and frustrating fall for the Rockies, who began 13-6 and were tied for the division lead through May 24. Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, whose rib injury in June was one of factors in the fall, said effort simply could not be an issue, even amid building frustration.
"Respect the game, play hard, finish strong, see what happens," Tulowitzki said. "Are you respecting the game? Are you putting in the work? As long as you don't slack, come every day to the field, trying to help the team win the game, that's all you can do."
Outfielder-first baseman Michael Cuddyer understood the need for a talk from the manager.
"One and nine is not good," Cuddyer said. "If you're going to have a talk, that's the time to have it.
"I don't know. We're not playing well. We're not clicking. We're not very good right now."
Weiss faced many tough situations as a player in the Majors with the Athletics, Marlins, Rockies and Braves from 1987-2000, but this is different.
"You're responsible for a lot more people," Weiss said. "As a player, you're responsible for yourself. Hopefully some of your teammates, you've got to have each other's back."
Rockies' lineup facing mix of injury, inefficacy
DENVER -- Friday's outburst aside, one of the more perplexing aspects of the Rockies' precipitous fall has been a lack of offense.
"It's tough to say," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "I think we've struggled making some adjustments. If teams are getting you out one way consistently, you've got to make an adjustment. We've been slow making that adjustment in some ways. That's added to some of our offensive problems."
Also, an examination of the lineup reveals two issues -- the top and middle of the order has been injured, and the rest has been ineffective.
Since June 13, leadoff man Dexter Fowler, cleanup hitter Troy Tulowitzki and No. 3 hitter Carlos Gonzalez have all been on the disabled list. Gonzalez is currently out with a right middle finger injury, Fowler is playing with right wrist pain and Tulowitzki still has pain from a broken rib.
But despite being relatively healthy, the lower part of the order has not produced.
For the season, spots 6-8 have a .251 batting average, which is fourth-highest in the National League.
But from July 1 to Thursday's 2-1 loss to the Mets, hitters 6-8 hit .237. Only the Padres (.236) and the Mets (.231) have been less productive.
Catcher Wilin Rosario, who in the healthy lineup bats sixth or seventh, entered Friday with a .273 batting average, 15 home runs and 52 RBIs but batted fifth Friday. Rosario has hit .306 in the No. 4 ad No. 5 spots but .230 (34 of 148) when hitting sixth, seventh or eighth.
Todd Helton at .254 and rookie Nolan Arenado at .253 have had their struggles -- Helton with on-again, off-again back issues, Arenado with youth.
Ups and downs are part of a season, but Weiss said this season had been unpleasantly unexpected.
"Not for this length of time," Weiss said. "Every team goes through some offensive struggles, regardless of who you are in this league, but I'm a little surprised it's gone this far."
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.