NEW YORK -- Erik Kratz squared to bunt, trying to put the ball in play, trying to make something happen, perhaps to cause a little chaos. Dellin Betances aimed a fastball high, but it sailed, tipping off Wilson Ramos’ outstretched glove and flying to the Yankee Stadium backstop.
There was no play at the plate. Clint Frazier scored easily, sending the Mets to a 2-1 loss to the Yankees on Saturday and leaving Betances questioning, once again, his issues during a trying season.
“It was just a bad day,” Betances said. “I can’t really point it to anything. I just felt right away like I didn’t really have much, and I was out there trying to battle.”
Signed over the winter to become a key member of the Mets’ bullpen, Betances reported to Spring Training optimistic following an offseason spent rehabbing his partially torn left Achilles tendon. He had missed most of 2019 due to right shoulder problems, but Betances wasn’t concerned with that, nor with his low spring velocity. Everything would sort itself out in time.
More than a month into the season, however, that hasn’t been the case. After Ramos tied Saturday’s game with an eighth-inning homer off Adam Ottavino, the Mets asked Betances to throw a scoreless ninth to send the game to extra innings. Instead, the former Yankee walked Frazier to open the inning, then allowed a two-strike single to Jordy Mercer with one out.
At that point, manager Luis Rojas came to the mound for a chat with both Betances and his infielders, telling them to look for an inning-ending double-play ball with runners on the corners. But when Kratz squared to bunt, Betances uncorked a wild pitch to end the game.
His ERA increased to 6.10 in 13 appearances.
“I definitely felt like I didn’t have anything today,” Betances said. “I was trying to battle out there, but it sucks, especially because we did a tremendous job of tying the game off one of their better bullpen guys. It sucks to come in there and not get the job done.”
In evaluating Betances’ struggles, there is no singular answer. The most obvious place to begin is his average fastball velocity, which has fallen from 98 mph from 2016-18 to 93 mph this season. But that’s not the only issue. Betances has stressed the fact that while it can be more difficult to pitch at lower velocities, it’s not impossible. His fastball features more natural cut this season, Betances said, which he can use to his advantage.
“I’ve got to find a way ... to make it work,” Betances said. “I’ve got to learn to pitch with what I have right now.”
Of at least equal concern to Betances is the fact that he is struggling to put away hitters with two strikes -- including Mercer, who ran the count full before singling to deep right field. Opposing hitters are batting .286 off Betances in two-strike counts, versus .073 in his last two full seasons (2017-18).
Finally, Betances is walking more batters. A lot more. His leadoff walk to Frazier was his seventh in 10 1/3 innings, for a rate of 6.1 per nine that is more than 50 percent greater than his career mark.
Were Betances only suffering from one of those three issues, he might not be having such trouble. Combined, they have made it difficult for him to pitch effectively.
“I haven’t been concerned with any of these guys,” Rojas said. “The process of this season, we’re at the 30-game mark, but you’re working with basically the first month of play that these guys are used to doing in the past. The buildups, the throwing back-to-back, even throwing three days in a row, those are some of the things that start happening as the season evolves.”
For the Mets, however, this is not a progression. This is a fight to the finish against a league full of hungry teams, all of which are facing the same constraints. Particularly with Seth Lugo moved to the rotation and several other back-end arms -- Edwin Díaz, Jeurys Familia and Justin Wilson, to name three -- pitching inconsistently, the Mets need Betances to thrive.
“I’ve been trying to find that consistency,” Betances said. “There’s games where I’ve felt really good, and then there’s been a couple games where I haven’t done my job. I’ve got to be better than that.”