TRENTON -- The first game of Friday night’s doubleheader, a 7-4 loss to the Harrisburg Senators, marked the latest installment in the ever-continuing saga of Dellin Betances’ 2012 season.
The results were mostly positive save for a few rough stretches, but for the pitcher whose mental game has come under question both inside and outside the organization, the biggest positive was how he felt after his outing.
“I feel like it’s kind of gone back to being more fun,” he said. “A lot of times when you put too much stress on yourself, sometimes you don’t enjoy the game as much. This is something that I love – I’ve done it for a long time now. I’m happy to be back to a good state of mind.”
In throwing seven innings of four-run (one earned) baseball, Betances occasionally reminded those who attended why the Yankees continue to hold him in high regard. He struck out seven – including the side in the seventh inning on just nine pitches – but walked three.
The Thunder took the nightcap, a seven-inning affair, 5-1, behind longballs from Addison Maruszak and Kevin Mahoney and superb work from spot starter Ryan Pope and two relievers.
With the split, Trenton gains a half-game on New Britain, which lost to Reading on Friday night, and now holds a three-game lead for the division.
For Betances, the mid-90s heat was still there, as was the plus curveball and promising change-up. Problem was, each pitch was only there in spurts. For every sharp hook he threw, another stayed flat and up in the zone.
His evening was hurt by four errors from his defense – including three from first baseman Luke
Murton and a rare catcher’s obstruction call on Jose Gil that allowed a run to score. Despite those issues, Betances finished the game’s final seven innings on 98 pitches, 59 of which were strikes.
It was just his second outing of seven innings or more in Thunder uniform, including his tenures here in 2010 and 2011.
“I thought he was very good – very good,” manager Tony Franklin said. “I can’t say enough about his performance, to be honest with you. He was down in the zone. That was about as good as he’s been since he’s been back. It’s very encouraging.”
Since being demoted from Triple-A toward the end of June, Betances has pitched six times and has notched a 1-1 record with a 4.28 ERA, a 1.40 WHIP and 3.6 walks per nine innings.
When asked last week, Yankees roving pitching coordinator Nardi Contreras posited that Betances’ struggles might be rooted in a desire to do too much at once, rather than letting the power of his arsenal do its work.
“His stuff is great,” Contreras explained. “It’s just what happened at the Triple-A level is that he tries to do more. Delivery-wise, he’s very solid. You watch him in the bullpen and he commands and throws strikes with his three pitches. He stays within himself.
“He gets in the game, especially when someone into scoring position, he tries to do too much and he loses his delivery, which loses his release point, which makes a lot of walks. That’s what he was doing at Triple-A ball.”
That assessment matched up with that of a scout on hand for Friday night’s game who also saw Betances work at Triple-A this season, where he walked 69 in 74 2/3 innings over 16 starts before the Yankees sent him back to the Eastern League.
“There’s no denying the stuff,” the scout said. “When he hits on that curveball, that’s really good. It’s just the command – I’m really worried about the command. There’s always been a stiffness to his arm, it’s not a real smooth, loose arm.”
That stuff the scout referred to, despite the numbers, is why Betances is still a commodity, albeit one whose value has been depressed over the last 12 months. Still, with the non-waiver trading deadline just days away, his name has come up in discussions with other clubs.
The White Sox had a scout tail Betances for three starts earlier this month, as was first reported by The Trentonian. The Yankees also had a pair of scouts, including their special assignment scout, in the stands on Friday watching Betances.
After playing 14 innings on Friday, Trenton and Harrisburg will do it again on Saturday, this time with a little more star power.
Former Yankees ace and Thunder hurler Chien-Ming Wang will take the ball in the first game for the Senators. He’ll oppose Vidal Nuno, who started the year in Tampa’s bullpen but has been dynamite since he started helping plug Trenton’s leaky rotation in late May.
Wang is returning from a strained hip, the latest in a series of injuries he worked through since breaking his foot while rounding the bases at Houston’s Minute Maid Park in 2008.
Former Thunder starter Joba Chamberlain will appear on Sunday, though it is unclear in what role.
Reports on Friday indicated that Chamberlain, who pitched for Trenton in 2007, would enter at some point with men on base. Sunday will be Chamberlain’s first rehab appearance since Wednesday, the second of back-to-back outings with High-A Tampa.
NOTES: The stars from Fox’s “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days” visited Waterfront Park during the second game on Friday night. Zach Gordon, who plays Greg, and Robert Capron, who plays Rowley, signed autographs for fans on the concourse just adjacent to the press box. The author of the books upon which the film series is based, Jeff Kinney, also signed for fans.