If there is ever an example to point toward when saying that the results of spring training don’t really matter, it’s with the Mets’ newest reliever, Dellin Betances.
At least, that’s the message they should (and at times, have) been conveying.
The former Yankees fireballer made a less-than-stellar spring-training debut for the Queens club on Saturday against the Washington Nationals.
It took 24 pitches to get through four batters that included two walks and a wild pitch on his way to three runs, two of them earned.
The lack of control and command was one thing, but the most eyebrow-raising aspect of his outing was that his fastball ranged between 89-90 mph.
That number continues to drop considerably over the last two seasons.
In 2018, a healthy Betances was averaging nearly 98 mph on his four-seamer — which was his average speed over the past five seasons.
A lost 2019 season provided an extremely limited sample size, but Betances’ brief return to the mound after a shoulder impingement and strained lat saw his fastball average 94.9 mph in his two-thirds of an inning before he tore his left Achilles.
The 31-year-old right-hander’s fastball is the very essence of his pitching repertoire. An overpowering four-seamer is the set-up pitch for his cutter, which looks like a fastball off the release, but is roughly 10-to-14 mph slower and cuts away from the batter in the final third of its journey to the plate.
Not having one of his pitches right would be problematic for a two or three-pitch hurler.
But before Mets fans hit the panic button, that singular outing with the Yankees last season could help provide some insight on Betances’ debut over the weekend, however.
Whether it was apprehension or simply taking things slowly after coming back from that shoulder and lat injury, his stuff was noticeably slower in those eight pitches.
Fast-forward to Saturday with the Mets, and Betances is acclimating to a recovered portion of his body that is vital to his delivery.
The left Achilles is a part of the plant foot that supports the driving force of any pitcher’s motion.
At 6-foot-5, 265 lbs, Betances has a tremendous driving motion toward the plate that allows him to generate such power on his fastball, thus putting more stress on his left foot when it is planted on the mound following the kicking or striding motion toward the plate.
The less driven force coming down on that foot, the less power that is put in his delivery, which would create the threat of Betances putting more strain on his arm to generate more power. That’s the last thing needed after he spent much of last season battling arm problems.
The important thing for Betances and the Mets was that he was back on the mound and felt good. The longer he stays healthy, the more likely that velocity on the fastball comes back.
But it isn’t worth removing the reins yet to see if it’s there yet. The Mets must take it slow to ensure they’ll have their bullpen upgrade for the majority of 2020 rather than run the risk of losing him early in the season.