As Dellin Betances headed for the clubhouse following warm-ups before yesterday's game, a gaggle of young fans screamed his name and begged for autographs. The pitcher obliged.
It's come full circle for Betances. Well, kind of.
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He was once that giddy kid, a Yankees fan from Brooklyn, who sat in the $7 bleacher seats at the old Yankee Stadium with wild dreams of one day sharing the field with his idols.
He shares that field now. But it's not exactly in the role Betances envisioned back then . . . or even at the start of this year.
"I think anybody who was ever a starter, if they had their way, would probably want to go back to being a starter," said Betances, 25, who made his season debut Tuesday in relief. "But whatever role they want me in . . . It was a decision made by the bosses, so I respect that."
Betances once was a highly-touted prospect, selected in the eighth round of the 2006 draft, and the Yankees hoped the 6-8 righthander would one day be atop their starting rotation. He initially wowed scouts with his mid-90s fastball along with a hard slider and changeup, but control issues and inconsistency surfaced in the minors, rerouting his path to the Bronx.
Betances was converted into a relief pitcher in early May while in Triple-A and, despite some initial reluctance, he has perhaps found his niche. Good thing, since the move seems permanent.
"It's still pretty early, but probably a reliever," manager Joe Girardi said of the long-term projection. "I think the fact they moved him to relief this year when he's been a starter in the past probably makes you think he'll be a reliever in his career."
The move was made because Betances was a mediocre starter in the minors, and last year, pitched to a 6.44 ERA in 27 starts and walked 99 in 1311/3 innings. But this season he thrived in 27 games as a reliever with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and didn't allow a run in his final 17 appearances, dating back to June 19.
The Yankees optioned Betances back to Triple-A on Thursday morning.
"Coming out of the bullpen, you get a chance to be out there and pitch more often," Betances said of the change. "I think it's a chance for you to get more consistent, having time to work on things."
He had difficulty on Tuesday "putting guys away" and allowed four earned runs in two thirds of an inning. "I gave them too good a pitch and they took advantage," he said. But for the most part, he said, "the move has worked out for me so far."
It also worked many years ago for Betances' favorite player, Mariano Rivera, whom he said has become his bullpen mentor.
"I've told him the most important thing is he has to trust in what he's doing; trust his stuff," Rivera said of Betances. "He has the potential. He can be as good as he wants to be."