Joe Girardi had gotten accustomed to not saying "closer'' and "Dellin Betances'' in the same sentence. And he didn't have to, as Andrew Miller won the job with a superior spring training before piling up save after save.
Even with Miller headed to the disabled list with a strained muscle in his left forearm, Girardi hedged -- perhaps by force of habit -- in categorically naming Betances his closer.
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"Yeah, that's probably what I'll look to do,'' Girardi said Wednesday after his postgame Bronx bombshell announcement on Miller. "I have to sit down with our coaching staff. Obviously, we'll have to bring a pitcher up to replace [Miller]. We'll have to see how it works out. But I talked about just sliding Dellin down.''
"Down'' in this instance means elevating Betances to the exalted closer position, an inning removed from the eighth, a role that he has dominated. He's 4-0 with a 0.28 ERA, 54 strikeouts and 11 hits allowed in 321/3 innings.
"I've just got to take the same mentality what I've done in the eighth and just try to take it for the ninth,'' he said. "I feel good. I'll be ready to help the team.''
Betances as closer has a long history of speculation and seemed to be crystallized last December when free-agent closer David Robertson went to the White Sox. The Yankees, Girardi in particular, never ordained Betances as the closer, but it seemed as if the 2014 All-Star was headed in that direction. Then Betances' uneven spring training -- a 6.14 ERA in 71/3 innings compared to Miller's 2.57 in seven innings -- swung the pendulum to Miller.
"Losing Miller is hard, obviously,'' Betances said. "He's done a hell of a job. He's probably done the best out of any closer in baseball right now. It's hard losing him. I look forward for the challenge and try to get the job done.''
Miller said he has no doubts about Betances in the closer's role. "I don't think it matters when Dellin pitches,'' he said. "Dellin is as good of a pitcher as there is in baseball right now. He certainly looks like he's going to be like that for a long time. Any team would feel good to have Dellin on their squad. Dellin can get anybody out any time. He's so good, he's been untouchable all year. He'll be just fine.''
There remains the pivotal matter of finding an eighth-inning replacement for Betances. "It's nice to have him be able to fill in, if you will,'' Brett Gardner said of Betances, "but we can't use him in the eighth and the ninth, so we have to find somebody else to get the ball to him.''