Ex-starter Betances could earn job in Yanks' bullpen

Ex-starter Betances could earn job in Yanks' bullpen

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- There might as well be a "Help Wanted" sign hanging on the bullpen door at Yankee Stadium these days. Dellin Betances has taken note of the opportunity, and for the first time, he believes there is a chance to break camp with the club.

Once a touted prospect as a starter, Betances seems to be flourishing as he adapts to a new role as a reliever. Betances' command has improved, and the right-hander with a 6-foot-8 frame and mid-90s fastball is presenting an appealing relief option for the Yanks.

"I knew coming in that there were opportunities, that there were spots available," Betances said. "I knew coming in that I had to come in strong and have a good Spring Training. I'm just going to try to keep doing whatever I have to do every time out."

Betances hurled 1 2/3 innings of scoreless, hitless relief in the Yankees' 5-4 Grapefruit League loss to the Rays on Wednesday, walking one and striking out two. He has permitted just one hit in 5 1/3 innings this spring, spanning three appearances.

"He's throwing more strikes and more consistent strikes," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "His velocity was closer to what you're going to see during the course of the season. It inched up a couple ticks today, which was good to see. His curveball was pretty good as well."

Yankees catcher Austin Romine has been catching Betances for years, and he said that he senses the bullpen move has paid off.

"I think his comfort level is a lot better," Romine said. "He's able to make adjustments pitch to pitch, hitter to hitter. Today was case in point: He went out, lost his feel for his slider, got it back the next at-bat. Before, he would just try to grip it and throw it harder. Now he's settling down, hitting his spot. He's a lot more productive."

The Yankees' bullpen is fairly unsettled, with only closer David Robertson, setup man Shawn Kelley and left-handed specialist Matt Thornton assured of beginning the season on the big league roster. At least one candidate in the fifth-starter battle will likely begin the year in relief as well.

Betances said that he has grown more comfortable in a relief role, which he first dabbled with in the Arizona Fall League in 2012. Betances said that he is working more with a slider that he can throw for strikes; it has not replaced his curveball, but he is throwing the curve less frequently.

Being up with the Yankees last year, Betances said that he spoke often to Mariano Rivera, Robertson, Joba Chamberlain and Kelley about relieving, while also hearing about the hitters' perspective from Robinson Cano.

Betances was informed in December that he had an extra Minor League option added, meaning that the Yankees would not necessarily have to add him to their 25-man roster at the end of camp. Betances said that he hopes it won't be a close call.

"At first I was a little upset. I didn't think very much at the time," Betances said. "I was like, '[Darn],' ... At the same time, if I didn't come here and do the job, I would have been somewhere else. I just thought to myself, 'I've got to do the job no matter what.'"

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.