JUPITER, Fla. — Dellin Betances’ plus-fastball might be relegated to his memory, but the veteran reliever is prepared to begin the regular season using other methods to succeed.
On Wednesday, the Mets received a second straight scoreless Grapefruit League appearance from Betances in their 3-0 loss to the Cardinals.
Betances sat 89-91 mph with his fastball, according to the scoreboard readout at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium, but relied heavily on his curveball in retiring three of the four batters he faced. Nolan Arenado drew a five-pitch walk as the only batter to reach base against Betances.
“Once you get closer to the season, you try to emulate as much as you can on how you are going to pitch when you are out there,” Betances said. “My offspeed has been better. I’m just trying to attack the strike zone and get soft contact.”
Before the game, manager Luis Rojas reaffirmed that Betances — who is owed $6 million for this season — doesn’t have to win a job this spring. But that also doesn’t mean Rojas plans to use him in high-leverage situations, at least immediately.
For now, Edwin Diaz and Trevor May are the most obvious candidates to pitch in the higher-leverage spots, with Miguel Castro lurking during a spring in which he has allowed only two base runners in 5 ¹/₃ innings.
“I am going to try to prepare myself earlier in games than I normally would and I am just going to be ready for whatever situation is thrown at me,” said Betances, a former All-Star with the Yankees. “I know this team is going to win a lot of ballgames and we’re going to need everybody down there. It’s going to be a collective effort and I just want to help the team win.”
Betances entered spring training last year with his fastball sitting in the low 90s. It stayed there through summer camp and early in the pandemic-shortened season, before he went on the injured list with a strained lat. Betances returned for the final weekend of the season in Washington and had increased his velocity to 95-96.
The Mets haven’t seen that kind of heat from the 33-year-old Betances this spring.
“Arm strength is down,” a scout said. “He uses his fastball as a show pitch to set up his offspeed, which is still good. I think he’s at the point in his career where he knows he’s going to have to make adjustments in order to survive.”
Betances isn’t afraid to acknowledge his need for creativity on the mound.
“I can spin it really well and I’m just going to attack the strike zone, I can’t fall behind — I don’t have that luxury,” he said. “Where before maybe you would fall behind and maybe you get chases here and there because you are throwing a lot harder. But now I have got to change my speeds and keep guys off balance, which is the name of the game.”
Betances has pitched to a 9.00 ERA in six appearances this spring, but much of the damage against him was inflicted in his first appearance, which included a bad play defensively that added to his runs total. During his initial two appearances of the spring, Betances said he was fatigued, but he said his energy has increased lately.
“I feel good right now, so I am going to try to pick it up another gear here the next couple of times I go out, but so far it’s been good,” Betances said. “You go through your spring training, little bumps here and there, and getting back in the groove, but I feel good right now.”