Most of the W's in Dellin Betances' career have been questions. When will he be able to command his pitches? Will he be able to make the transition to the bullpen? Why isn't he progressing to Yankees stardom more quickly?
Betances answered some of those questions Saturday with his first big-league W (as in win), pitching two scoreless innings in the middle of a 4-3 victory over the Angels. He was the first arm out of the bullpen, entering in a critical situation with one on, one out, Albert Pujols at the plate and the score tied at 3 in the fifth.
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Even after a strange balk that he still didn't understand after the game, he remained focused and got Pujols to ground out before Howie Kendrick popped up to end the inning.
"He had a huge day for us," Joe Girardi said. "Probably today was the toughest situation we've put him in so far, and he responded extremely well."
Those who have been around Betances during his mostly minor-league career are not surprised to see the Yankees' confidence in him growing almost as big as his imposing 6-8, 260-pound frame.
"I've always known he's had great stuff," fellow reliever Adam Warren said. "He's got the best stuff of us out there. Now he's starting to command the ball, so it's scary how good he can be."
Added John Ryan Murphy, who caught Betances Saturday: "When he's in the strike zone, he's unhittable. He's in the mid-90s and has that breaking ball. When he's doing that, he's going to have a lot of success."
It was Betances' eighth scoreless appearance in nine games this season. After he got out of the fifth, he posted two strikeouts in the sixth and left a runner on first after a walk. He struck out J.B. Shuck to open the seventh before allowing a single to Collin Cowgill that prompted Girardi to move on to the next arm from the bullpen.
Betances said he didn't receive any souvenirs from his first win. No scorecard, no game ball, no commemorative dirt from the mound. Anyway, he seemed more jazzed by another first: Murphy's first major-league home run, a drive to left on the first pitch of the fifth that broke a 3-3 tie.
After landing on the fan side of the leftfield wall, the baseball found its way to Murphy's back pocket in the postgame clubhouse. "He definitely did the job today, and I'm so happy for him," Betances said.
Murphy said he tried to be aggressive in his at-bats because he gets so few of them. He was at the plate for all four of the Yankees' runs; a bases-loaded balk followed by a two-run single in the second and then the mid-game game-winner.
"It's special," Girardi said of Murphy's homer. "And it even means more because we win the game by one run and what he did, so he'll never forget it. It's a great moment for him."
That Betances' first career victory came out of the bullpen was, he said, "kind of weird." He'd been a starter for most of his career and was pegged early in his tenure with the Yankees as a future golden arm. But like those exciting young pitchers who preceded him -- Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes -- his inconsistency led him to be a reliever.
"He's had to change roles and fight to get here,'' Girardi said, "and he's thrown the ball extremely well."
It's a role to which he is still adjusting.
"Every time I go out there, the experience helps me," Betances said. "A lot of the guys have given me good advice in the bullpen, and even the starters. For me, it's just having the confidence and the faith and thank God everything has gone well."
It's gone so well that in the not-so-distant future, Betances could be the guy who comes into games not in the fifth but in the seventh or even eighth.
Perhaps, one day, even the ninth.
"I'm just trying to do my job every time my name is called," he said with a meekness that does not match his moxie on the mound. "That's all I can do. Whatever role they put me in, I'm just trying to do the best I can at that situation."