After an uneven start, what was supposed to be an overwhelming Yankees advantage this season has been exactly that of late. Potentially record-setting, too.
“I know we have the potential to break records,” reliever Dellin Betances said before Wednesday night’s game against the Nationals. “I thought that before the season started, just because of the power arms that we have and the ability to make pitches in the bullpen one through eight.”
In Tuesday night’s 3-0 victory over the Nats, Betances, Chad Green and closer Aroldis Chapman threw 3 1/3 scoreless innings, extending the bullpen’s streak to 21 2⁄3. It ended at 23 1/3 innings Wednesday when Chasen Shreve allowed a solo homer to Juan Soto in the seventh inning.
Yankees relievers are on pace to strike out 759 batters, which would smash the record of 662 set by the Astros last season. “It’ll be exciting if we get the opportunity to do that,” Betances said.
Betances has played more than a bit part in the bullpen’s turnaround from its early-season struggles. The 6-8 righthander seems to have rediscovered the form that made him an AL All-Star the last four seasons.
Since April 21, the bullpen’s ERA is 2.26, the lowest in the big leagues in that span, with 184 strikeouts. In that stretch Betances has posted a 2.21 ERA, struck out 36 and walked eight in 20 1⁄3 innings. He has been even more dominant since May 10, posting a 1.20 ERA and holding opponents to a .063 average, with 25 strikeouts and six walks in 15 innings.
Betances’ ERA ticked up to 8.10 after a rough appearance April 13 at Detroit, when he allowed three runs and five hits in two-thirds of an inning. But even when things weren’t going well for him in the early going, he maintained he felt as good as he ever had. The results eventually followed.
“Early on, I was giving up some runs, more runs than I would have liked,” Betances said. “But knowing what I’ve done, knowing the durability that I have and being able to make pitches when I have to, I’ve always believed in myself. I felt good all year this year, it was just a matter of the results changing.”
Aaron Boone said from the start of the season that he liked the way the ball was coming out of Betances’ hand. He never wavered in putting him into critical situations, even if his previous appearance didn’t go well.
“The stuff was there, so it wasn’t something where you’re seeing a player with diminished ability,” Boone said. “There were just some small things that he was making adjustment-wise with his delivery, so I felt like he’d get results. What my eyes were telling me, I felt like he was really close to being on the verge of what you’ve seen most of his career, and he’s proved that to be true.”
Betances said his confidence never faltered, in himself or in the rest of the bullpen, which has gotten standout seasons from Green (1.95 ERA, 42 strikeouts in 32 1⁄3 innings); Jonathan Holder (no earned runs in 17 appearances entering Wednesday since his recall from the minors April 21), and Chapman (18 saves, 50 strikeouts in 28 2⁄3 innings).
“Sometimes you’re going to go through struggles, you just don’t know if it’s going to be early, middle or later,” said Betances, who was speaking about the entire bullpen but could have been discussing himself. “There’s different factors to it, but I think we always knew what we were capable of.”