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Slow start frustrates Dellin Betances

New York Yankees relief pitcher Dellin Betances walks

New York Yankees relief pitcher Dellin Betances walks off the mound after allowing a fifth-inning, two-run home run to New York Mets' Juan Lagares, right, in an exhibition game in Tampa, Fla., Wednesday, March 25, 2015. Credit: AP / Kathy Willens

TAMPA, Fla. - Dellin Betances' performance last spring raised eyebrows for all the right reasons. He has done the same this spring for all the wrong ones.

"I'm obviously frustrated,'' Betances said after yesterday's 7-2 loss to the Mets at Steinbrenner Field. "It's been four outings where each and every time out I've given up a run.''

Betances, pitching back-to-back for the first time this month, came on with two outs in the fifth inning. He got ahead of Juan Lagares 1-and-2 before hanging a curveball the centerfielder ripped over the wall in left. The two-run homer upped Betances' ERA to 6.75 in 51/3 innings.

Last year, in earning a bullpen spot few thought he would, Betances had a 0.73 ERA in 121/3 innings in Florida. The standout spring training portended one of the best seasons in the sport, when the hard-throwing righthander posted a 1.40 ERA in a team-high 70 games. He struck out 135 and walked 24 in 90 innings, leading many to believe he was ready to assume closer duties.

Regardless of whether Betances or lefty Andrew Miller is named closer -- or a combination of both, which Joe Girardi hasn't ruled out to start the season -- if the Yankees are going to have the lockdown bullpen many expect, Betances must have another stellar season.

Betances' rough spring aside, Brian Cashman doesn't see a reason why that won't be the case. The general manager points to a simple, and certainly plausible, explanation for the struggles.

"The easy commentary behind that kind of stuff is the relievers are still building their arm strength,'' Cashman said.

He was speaking specifically of Betances' fastball, which has rested in the low 90s, roughly the same as this time a year ago. His fastball routinely sat in the neighborhood of 98 mph last season, but few pitchers (because there's little need) throw at peak velocity in March.

In dismissing concerns about Betances, Cashman cited other power pitchers expected to be in his bullpen -- Miller, David Carpenter and Justin Wilson -- none of whom has been regularly reaching the mid-90s.

"Because it's a whole group situation, I don't worry about it,'' Cashman said.

Said Betances: "I know it will come, no matter what.''

Although opposing teams' scouts aren't making much of Betances' velocity, they have noticed differences from last spring. "His stuff just isn't there,'' a National League talent evaluator said. "Both his fastball and breaking ball are not per usual. But some guys take a while. If it's not there in a month, then it's time to worry.''

One AL scout mentioned Betances' 6-8 frame and the difficulty many taller pitchers have in repeating their delivery.

"Those mild delivery inconsistencies are normal for the really tall guys. CC [Sabathia] is a rare exception,'' he said. "I would guess he's just one of those guys that takes a while for his arm to get in shape. Hopefully, he doesn't overcompensate. That's how guys get hurt.''

Betances' fastball sat at only 88-90 mph yesterday, but Girardi attributed that to pitching back-to-back for the first time.

"He was 93 [Tuesday] night,'' Girardi said. "It's all part of the buildup process. If it's the last week, the last day, you might have a little more concern.''

Betances said his results could be a case of familiarity. "A lot of these guys know who I am now,'' he said. "Last year there was a lot of unknowns. But right now I need to get [a little] more velo and attack the zone better, but today I thought it was good. I just made a mistake to Lagares.

"It's frustrating, but I'm sure I have four more outings left and I'll try to do whatever I can to be ready for the season.''


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