TAMPA, Fla. — Dellin Betances had few reasons to tweak his offseason routine.
The 6-8 righthander has been one of baseball’s best relievers the last two seasons, posting a 1.40 ERA in 70 appearances in 2014, his first full season out of the bullpen, and followed that with a 1.50 ERA in 74 outings last year.
But the hard-throwing Betances, who struck out 135 batters in 90 innings in 2014 and 131 in 84 innings last season, nonetheless felt the need to change things up this offseason.
“I took two months off from throwing, from playing catch,” Betances said Wednesday morning before a workout at Steinbrenner Field.
Instead, the 27-year-old said, he spent that time working with his trainer on “core and shoulder stability.”
“It’s probably the best I’ve been this early in the spring,” said Betances, who struck out two and allowed a run in his spring debut Monday vs. the Astros, though that run resulted mostly from a dropped fly ball, after a long run by centerfielder Lane Adams, that was scored a double.
Told two opposing team scouts thought his arm looked surprisingly “live” for a first spring outing, Betances nodded his head.
“I don’t think I recall my arm being the way it felt, the way the ball was coming out,” Betances said. “I don’t think I’ve felt like that in any spring. Usually it takes a little bit longer for me to get it going.”
How his arm felt at the start of last spring was a big reason Betances, who spent the month of January in Bonao in the Dominican Republic at Fausto “Chiqui” Mejia’s baseball academy, a place two offseasons ago he refined his curveball, did not throw the first two months of this offseason.
Though the regular-season results made what preceded it largely irrelevant, Betances did not like the way his arm felt in the spring of 2015.
He struggled to a 5.40 ERA over nine spring appearances, at one point allowing a run in four straight outings.
Some attributed it to his fastball velocity sitting in the 93-95 range, forgetting that few power pitchers reach peak velocity in the spring, especially early.
Betances intuitively knew that but nonetheless tried to overcompensate as last spring progressed.
“I was like ‘What’s going on? Why am I not doing this [throwing harder]?’” he said. “For me, it’s a process and if I can understand I’m not going to be throwing that hard and just trust what I have and not try to overdo it, I think I’ll be OK. But when you put it in your mind and you try to do a little more, I think things get out of whack, your mechanics start to fall apart and I think that’s what happened last spring.”
Contributing to that might have been the knowledge that last spring he was coming off one good season as a reliever and was still thought to be fighting for a job.
Though he says “I don’t take anything for granted,” he acknowledged his preparation this spring is as the late-inning reliever who very much has a guaranteed job.
“Your mentality is a little different,” Betances said of the approach when competing for a spot and having a spot already secure. “[With a job] you’re trying to work on stuff and get ready for the season.”
That, however, doesn’t mean the laid-back Betances believes he’s “made it,” or anything of that nature after two straight standout seasons.
“Once the season starts, I’m going to keep my foot on the gas pedal,” he said. “I’m not satisfied with what I’ve done. What’s happened has happened. This is a new year and I have to stay focused and help the team win.”