TAMPA, Fla. — As he struggled to get his fastball consistently above 90 mph this spring, Dellin Betances maintained all was well.
In previous springs, the reliever pointed out, he had been a slow starter with his fastball velocity, but added “when the lights come on” for the regular season he would be ready to go as he always has been.
It turned out, however, something more than a slow-to-build arm caused the diminished velocity. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said that an MRI taken Tuesday morning showed “right shoulder impingement,” essentially meaning inflammation.
Cashman said Betances, slated to immediately start a regimen of anti-inflammatories, will start the season on the injured list. But his belief is Betances, who joined CC Sabathia, Luis Severino and Aaron Hicks on the list of players who won’t be on the Opening Day roster, will not be out for an extended period.
“I don’t think this is a long situation,” Cashman said. “I just think it’s one that I think it’s best for us to react to now.”
Betances, a free agent after the season, reported to camp almost a week after his fellow pitchers because of the birth of his first child (an excused absence by the club) and believed the low velocity reflected his late arrival and the need to build up his arm strength.
But Betances’ most recent outing, Sunday in Clearwater against the Phillies, was not encouraging as his velocity actually decreased a tick or two from the preceding ones. His fastball sat in the 88-90-mph range, according to opposing team scouts, and Cashman suggested the MRI to Betances to be sure there wasn’t anything serious going on.
Betances, who believed he might have been rushing himself this spring to catch up, agreed to the test and was somewhat relieved.
“I feel a little bit better to be honest with you just because I get to take my time a little bit,” Betances said. “I felt like with a week left in [spring training], it wasn’t going to be fair to my teammates to go out there not having the stuff that I’m capable of throwing. I feel like I was trying to rush to get back to competing, which is what I love doing.”
The 6-8 reliever, who estimates he’ll be able to throw on flat ground in 3-5 days, said he isn’t worried.
“I’m not too concerned,” he said. “I think it was just more precautionary. Might as well get it checked and I’m glad it’s something with a couple days off I should feel good and kind of ramp things up again.”
Cashman stressed his concern level is low as well.
“The worry is only that we don’t have him available from the beginning, there’s not a worry past that,” he said. “Unfortunately, because Opening Day is coming, there’s always that feeling of everything has to be perfect and ready to go, but we’ve been around long enough to know it doesn’t have to be that way. What we need to do is make sure we have him right.”
And while Betances is a significant cog in the bullpen, there are still an array of power arms such as Aroldis Chapman, Chad Green, Adam Ottavino, Zack Britton, Tommy Kahnle and Jonathan Holder that Aaron Boone can call on.
“We feel we’re built to be able to withstand that,” Boone said. “We’re still going to go north with a dynamic bullpen.”