TAMPA, Fla. — Dellin Betances faced hitters for the first time this year Thursday morning, and the overall reaction from those swinging the bats could be summarized this way:
They’re glad they don’t have to do it for real.
“Oh, it’s fun like always,” Chris Carter said.
Carter, 0-for-2 (both strikeouts) in his career against the 6-8 Betances, was joined by Chase Headley and Brett Gardner in taking swings against four Yankees pitchers. Masahiro Tanaka, Chad Green and Johnny Barbato also threw.
Tanaka, who threw a simulated game, and Betances, who threw a live batting-practice session, commanded most of the attention.
“Not a bad start, Dellin,” a smiling Gardner said. “Good to see Dellin right out of the gate. Him and Tanaka. Guys looked good.”
For Betances, having the spotlight on baseball was more than welcome. He engaged in a back-and-forth with club president Randy Levine last weekend after losing Friday’s arbitration hearing (the reliever received $3 million rather than the $5 million he asked for).
After the ruling was announced, Levine blasted Betances’ agents in a conference call Saturday morning. The pitcher returned fire later in the day, particularly angry that the executive called him a “victim” who had been “used” by his representatives.
“I already said what I had to say. Just trying to get ready for the [World Baseball] Classic,” Betances said after throwing 23 pitches. “I feel good right now.”
The hitters said it more than showed.
“It’s uncomfortable for sure,” said the switch-hitting Headley, who had never batted against him. “First, I’m glad I’m standing on the left side [instead of] the right side. He’s got some funk to him. Obviously the stuff is plus, plus. I have no idea how hard he was throwing; looked like was throwing really hard to me. I thought for right now, he looked good.”
Of Betances’ knee-freezing curveball, Carter said: “It’s definitely hard to pick up. He threw a couple to me that were pretty sharp.”
As Betances threw, Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild stood behind a protective screen behind the mound. “He looked like Dellin,” Girardi said, meaning the pitcher with a 1.93 ERA during the last three seasons.
Betances is due to leave camp March 5 because he’s committed to playing for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic, so he started his preparations early. He typically trains at Fausto Mejia’s baseball academy in the Dominican for three weeks but extended that this offseason.
“I did a lot more stuff just to speed up the process,” Betances said. “You have to be ready earlier. I’ll pitch in some games earlier in spring [before leaving]. I feel good.”
Betances received an invite from Joe Torre to play for the United States’ WBC team — Torre is the general manager — but he had his sights set on the Dominican Republic club, managed by Yankees bench coach Tony Peña.
“For me, it’s for my parents,” said Betances, who was born in Manhattan. “They were born in the D.R. and I made that decision and I’m proud of it.”
The Dominican Republic won the 2013 WBC and again is loaded. If the team makes it to the March 22 title game, Betances won’t return to camp until nine days remain in spring training. Not a worry, he said.
“I think I’ll be ready earlier in the season, I’ll be stronger earlier [than usual],” Betances said of his arm strength. “And then I’ll have a week here, pitch one or two more games and get ready for Opening Day.”