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Rays veteran reliever Joel Peralta helped friend Dellin Betances straighten out curveball

The Tampa Bay Rays' Joel Peralta delivers a

The Tampa Bay Rays' Joel Peralta delivers a pitch during the ninth inning of a game against the Yankees on Aug. 15, 2014 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. Credit: Getty Images / Brian Blanco

Dellin Betances has been a project for the Yankees since they picked the 6-8 righthander in the eighth round of the 2006 draft out of Brooklyn's Grand Street Campus High School.

The pitcher's blossoming from failed starter into one of the sport's most dominant relievers this season, he has said, is the result of help he has received along the way from myriad pitching coaches and gurus in the organization.

But there was help from outside the organization, too, provided by an unlikely source. It came from someone who in the last year has become not only a pitching mentor of Betances' but a close friend as well.

"My first thought when I saw him pitch was I was impressed with his size and how hard he threw," Rays veteran reliever Joel Peralta said during the weekend in St. Petersburg, Florida. "Because of his velocity and his height, I said, 'If that guy learns how to pitch, he can be really good.' "

Betances began making the transition from starter to reliever in May of last season and had some success as a September call-up, though not in the game Peralta first took notice, Sept. 26 at the Stadium, when he allowed three hits and two runs in one-third of an inning.

In the offseason Peralta extended an invitation to the pitcher to work out for three weeks in January in Bonao in the Dominican Republic at Fausto "Chiqui" Mejia's baseball academy. Peralta credits Mejia -- both are from Bonao and the latter has run his baseball academy there for years -- for his conversion from shortstop to pitcher in 1999.

For Betances, who maintains his New Jersey residence during the cold months of the offseason, accepting the invite was a no-brainer.

"I wanted to go down there just to train," he said.

But Betances, 26, got much more, quickly bonding with the 38-year-old Peralta, who reached the majors as a pitcher with the Angels in 2005.

Peralta talked extensively about establishing a plan of attack for every hitter, and a lot of their discussions revolved around the curveball that Betances went about refining with Peralta and Mejia.

"I went into the offseason working on small mechanical drills that helped me," Betances said. "And then I worked on being more consistent with that pitch and those guys helped me down there with that."

Scouts and talent evaluators have said all season that Betances' knee-freezing curveball, and his ability and confidence to throw it any time, is among the biggest reasons for his ascension to dominance.

The darting pitch typically comes in around 84 to 86 mph, proving to be an almost impossible on-the-fly adjustment for batters who have just seen a 98- to 100-mph fastball.

"I told him, if he can throw the breaking pitch for a strike first pitch, to anybody, lefty or righty, he's going to have the advantage to use all his pitches," Peralta said. "Most of the [hitters], they see Betances throwing 99 mph, they're not going to look for that [the curveball]."

The pair's relationship has endured during the season, with the two communicating often via text or phone and Betances visiting Peralta at his Tampa area home each of the last two trips the Yankees have made there. Peralta, who has been with five teams and seen plenty over the last decade, shakes his head at what Betances, who said he plans to head to the Dominican again this offseason, has become.

"He went from good to amazing," Peralta said. "You're not supposed to be that good within your first four years in the big leagues. Well, he's that good. He can be the next Yankee closer. He can be a closer for any team in the bigs with the stuff he has."

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