BOSTON — As the Yankees staggered to the finish line in 2016, so did their best reliever.
Dellin Betances went through the roughest period he’s had since becoming a full-time reliever in 2014, allowing at least one run in six of eight appearances and posting a 15.00 ERA in that stretch to raise his season ERA from 2.05 to 3.12. He allowed 13 runs (10 earned), 11 hits and eight walks in six innings in that span, and opposing hitters had a .344/.475/.469 slash line.
But one of Betances’ closest friends in the game said he doesn’t see a reason for worry.
“If I were a Yankee fan, I would have zero concern about Dellin Betances,” reliever Andrew Miller said before the Indians — who lead the Red Sox two games to none in their American League Division Series — worked out at Fenway Park on Saturday afternoon. “I think he’s the best in the business and I think he’s proven that.”
During an interview a couple of days earlier in the Indians’ clubhouse at Progressive Field, Miller suggested some kind of drop-off in Betances’ performance was inevitable.
“I think he’s been used probably far more than anybody else in the game the last few years,” said Miller, who wasn’t being critical of how the Yankees have used Betances, 28. “It’s going to show at some point.”
Indeed, Betances has been used more than any other reliever the last three years — 70 appearances in 2014, 74 in 2015 and 73 this season.
The 6-8 righthander posted a 1.40 ERA and 0.78 WHIP in 2014, a 1.50 ERA and 1.01 WHIP in 2015 and a 3.08 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in 2016. He struck out 126 batters in 73 innings this season, an average of 15.5 per nine innings.
“You are going to fatigue,” Miller said. “I don’t think the appearances to me are as big . . . The innings, I think, is where he separates himself. He’s throwing multiple inning so much. That’s something he brings that other guys just can’t possibly do. It’s an advantage for Joe to use and for the Yankees to use to their advantage, but I think no doubt it wears you down. Just like any pitcher. I don’t know how many guys are out there that have made a consistent 70 appearances or whatever like he has the last three years]. There’s not many of them, and they’ll probably all tell you at this point, if you could give them truth serum, they’re pretty tired.”
Still . . .
“I think he’s going to be better for it,” said Miller, 31, who also has been prolific during the same three-year stretch, making 73, 60 and 70 appearances. “I don’t think there’s any other way around it that he’s as good of a pitcher as there is in baseball.’
Betances and Miller, who has thrived with the Indians — as he did with the Yankees — have kept in constant touch since the latter was dealt to Cleveland for four highly regarded prospects at the trade deadline.
“We get to talk a lot,” said Miller, who went 10-1 with a 1.45 ERA, 0.69 WHIP and 123 strikeouts in 74 1⁄3 innings this season.
The 6-7 lefthander said that despite appearances, they aren’t as different as one would think. “We obviously throw the ball differently, but we have a pretty similar pitch mix. We’re both throwing fastballs and breaking balls about half the times and we’ll sometimes talk about sequencing and what we want to do,” said Miller, whose breaking pitch is a wipeout slider while Betances’ is a fall-off-the-table curveball. “Just sorting through some things. Recently] both of us were kind of going through a phase where it felt like guys were maybe sitting on the breaking ball and we should have used our fastballs more. So we can relate and talk about stuff like that.”
Miller stressed that “concern” shouldn’t be part of any Betances evaluation. “His desire to get better and figure things out is unmatched,” he said. “He’s going to be just as good if not better than he’s been because he’s just learning and still trying to figure things, which is hard to believe considering how eye-popping his numbers have been. He’ll be fine.”