Dellin Betances says his current control issues are different from the ones that plagued him early in his career. And while there haven’t been many silver linings of late surrounding the reliever who suddenly can’t throw strikes, that is one.
“It’s just delivery right now, consistency in my delivery,” Betances said. “Before my stuff wasn’t as good as it is now.”
The “before” Betances referenced was his early time with the Yankees, years he would just as soon forget but ones that have come up recently. There seems to be a familiarity, at least on the surface, to his struggles.
Betances has taken losses in three of his last four games, most recently Wednesday against the Blue Jays, when he walked four in one-third of an inning and forced home the tiebreaking run. In his last five outings, the 6-8 Betances, an All-Star four years running, has allowed seven runs and 11 walks in three innings.
The numbers are reminiscent of the bad old years.
There was his big-league debut against the Rays at the Stadium on Sept. 22, 2011, when Betances allowed two runs, no hits and four walks in two-thirds of an inning. He threw 27 pitches, seven for strikes.
Six days later, he made his first, and only, big-league start. He allowed one hit, two walks and no runs in two innings, throwing 44 pitches, 23 for strikes.
On Wednesday, he threw 10 straight balls at one point. “I feel my stuff is there,” he said. “It’s a just matter of being consistent with my mechanics.”
Austin Romine, a catcher in the organization since 2007 (Betances was drafted in 2006), agreed. “That’s exactly what I see,” Romine said. “Curveball’s still sharp, his fastball’s still 99 [mph]. It’s a big body. It’s hard for him to get stuff going the way he needs it to go. I don’t see it lasting very long. As long as his stuff’s still there . . . that’s all you can ask.”
That the issues are mechanical and not a matter of quality of pitches doesn’t necessarily mean an easy fix. Romine’s “it’s a big body” comment brings to mind a remark by 6-10 Randy Johnson shortly after he retired.
“This isn’t a tall man’s sport,” Johnson said in January 2010.
Pitchers walk a fine line in being able to repeat their deliveries, taller pitchers even more so.
“Those mild delivery inconsistencies are normal for the really tall guys,” one opposing team scout said. “It doesn’t take much to throw them off. He’s been there before, obviously.”
Another opposing team scout who has watched Betances recently said he “didn’t look comfortable” from the time he threw his first pitch Wednesday.
“It’s not exactly the cleanest arm action or delivery, even when he syncs it up,” the scout said. “To me, he’s even more closed than he was last year, and he gets into trouble when his direction gets out of whack.”
Betances has allowed only 14 hits and struck out 51 in 27 1⁄3 innings this season. But even before the latest wild streak, he walked 15 in 24 1⁄3 innings.
Pitching with runners on has been an issue, too. Betances said he’s “in between two different deliveries” depending on whether there are runners on: “If there’s a runner on first, I’m trying to go quick,” he said. “My timing is just not there right now.”
Betances’ troubles could not be coming at a worse time. The Yankees enter this weekend’s series against the Brewers having lost 16 of 22 games.
For Joe Girardi, the answer is to continue pitching him. “That’s the way you get players back on track, is by working on it and getting him in games,” said Girardi, who did not rule out putting Betances in some lower-leverage situations. “That’s something you can always think about, just to try and change it up to get him back on track. But it’s nothing we’ve talked about.”