TAMPA – The only thing tougher than saying Dellin Betances’ name is facing his stuff.
The New York Yankees setup man and sometimes closer is scary good and seems to only be getting better.
Most teams would die to have a reliever with his stuff and poise. Betances is a part of the Yankees’ three-headed monster out of the bullpen, a trio that honestly gives them a chance to make it to the postseason off the bullpen alone.
There’s lefty Andrew Miller, who was fantastic as the main closer last season. In the offseason, the Yankees traded for Aroldis Chapman. He will assume the closer role after his 30-game suspension for domestic violence. Betances is the third wheel, but just as important as the first two arms.
“I was excited when I first heard it come down,” Betances said of the Chapman trade.”It adds another weapon at the backend. It puts more fear on the opponents.”
The question is simply how can Betances be better this season than his first two full seasons in the majors, both that earned him trips to the All-Star Game. It almost doesn’t seem possible.
And although Betances’ role hasn’t been defined, it doesn’t matter to him. In his mind, it’s about getting the job done.
“I just want to help the team win, no matter where I’m at,” said Betances, who was born in Washington Heights section of Manhattan and grew up a Yankees fan.
Early on, the Yankees will need more of Betances with Chapman banished for a month.
“I assume I’ll do the same thing as last year,” Betances said.
Last season, he was 6-4 with a 1.50 ERA. He had nine saves and fanned 131. He even got votes for the Cy Young award.
“The last two years, he isn’t where he is in spring training right now,” Yankees’ pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. “Which is unusual. It’s usually the other way, a young pitcher trying to make a team is in the best shape coming in because he knows his opportunities are early.”
Rothschild said Betances came to spring training throwing the ball as well as he has ever seen him this early.
“He always does the work, puts the time in, he’s always ready,” Rothschild said. “So there’s not much you fault him for, there’s really nothing. He’s a good kid and accepted every role we’ve thrown at him.”
Betances has excelled in all of them as well. Last season, he became first Yankees’ reliever to fan 100 batters in back-to-back seasons. In 2015, it took just 64 innings to reach that accomplishment.
You wouldn’t have believed he was going to have a banner season after how he looked in the spring. A year ago, his velocity was down and control a bit off.
Not this spring. Betances has been in midseason form almost from the beginning. His fastball mid-to-high 90s.
“I can focus now on little stuff, commanding my fastball more, getting myself ready, instead of trying to make the team,” Betances said about his spring preparation. “That’s the biggest difference.”
Betances is a workhorse. Only 12 pitchers in the majors made more appearances the last two seasons than him. He pitched in 174 innings, leaving all other relievers in the dust. And Betances struck out a whopping 266 batters in that span. The next in line was Chapman with 220 punch-outs in that same span.
“He’s always handled the workload real well,” Rothschild said. “And we’ve watched it with him. He’s really good at what he does.”
The load shouldn’t be as bad this season with three great arms in the pen.
“The more pitching we get here in the bullpen, the more it helps him,” Rothschild said. “We can rest him more, make sure he’s strong when he does pitch.”
With that bullpen in place, Betances sees good things for his team in 2016.
“If we’re winning after a certain inning, the team feels good, we feel good, we just have to go out there and do our jobs,” Betances said. “If we do that, we put ourselves in good position to win the division.”
And at some point, you can envision that Betances will be the Yankee’s closer, following in the footsteps of the great Mariano Rivera.
“There’s no rush to that,” he said. “That’s something I’ve learned throughout my career. Obviously, it took me a while to get up here. It’s about being patient. To me, I just want to be a part of this organization and do whatever I have to do to help us win a championship.”