Dellin's velo 'not there yet,' Mets have hope

August 2nd, 2020

As anyone with access to radar gun readings can attest, the version of pitching for the Mets is not quite the same as the version that starred for years in the Bronx. Before injuring his right shoulder early last season, Betances averaged around 98 mph with his fastball. This year, he’s averaged 93.5 mph.

Throughout Spring Training and Summer Camp, both Betances and Mets officials expressed confidence that his flagging velocity would return. As recently as the middle of last month, Betances said he felt “100 percent.” But a dip in velocity during Friday’s loss to the Braves, in which Betances allowed four runs, proved his recovery has not been linear.

“Obviously, I’m not there yet,” Betances said. “But I’m continuing to work, and as the season progresses, I hope to be there.”

Although Betances technically appeared in one game for the Yankees last season, he said it feels like he missed a season and a half. During that lone appearance, Betances partially tore his left Achilles tendon, necessitating another lengthy rehab period. Had the 2020 season started as scheduled in March, Betances might not have been ready. The Mets’ hope was that Major League Baseball’s three-month shutdown would give him enough time to round into prime form.

It didn’t.

Still, Betances insists he is healthy, and he believes he can succeed against MLB hitters despite diminished stuff. More than increased velocity, Betances said, he needs improved control of both his fastball and curveball.

Manager Luis Rojas hypothesized that Betances’ struggles on Friday were due to his appearing three times in four days, though Betances said it’s all part of the process of building back up.

“I feel like the more repetitions I get, the better I’ll be able to get,” Betances said. “I’m still not there right now, but I feel like right now, I’ve just got to attack the strike zone and change speeds with what I have, and make the batters a little uncomfortable, and I feel like I can have a little success that way. But if I put guys on and fall behind, it’s not ideal for any pitcher.”

Welcome to The Show

Shortly after the end of the Mets’ 7-1 loss to the Braves on Saturday, rookie reliever Franklyn Kilome returned to the clubhouse to check his cell phone. Awaiting him were messages from his mother, brother and several friends.

“They said congratulations on my first game in the big leagues,” Kilome said in English, after conducting most of his postgame interview in Spanish. “They asked me if I was excited. I said, ‘Hell yeah.’”

As one of the few bright spots in the Mets’ loss, Kilome -- the club’s 12th-ranked prospect -- had reason to be jazzed. He pitched four innings in total, recovering from an Ender Inciarte RBI single and a Ronald Acuña Jr. solo homer to retire the final nine batters he faced. That effort allowed manager Luis Rojas to avoid using any other relievers from a taxed bullpen.

“Great outing,” Rojas said. “He gave us exactly what we needed there -- length.”

For Kilome, the debut marked a new beginning in more ways than one: It was his first regular-season game since 2018, the year the Mets acquired him from the Phillies for Asdrúbal Cabrera. Following that season, Kilome underwent Tommy John surgery, keeping him off the field until this spring. Because there is no Minor League season, he made it all the way to August before appearing in a game that counts.

“What can I say, it was a long two years,” the 25-year-old Kilome said through an interpreter. “Especially being a young person, it’s kind of hard to be able to stay focused. But luckily for me, I was able to just believe and have faith.”

Reinforcements coming

Relievers , and are all continuing to progress at the Mets’ alternate site in Brooklyn, with Hughes in particular perhaps only days away from joining the team.

Hughes, who missed nearly all of Summer Camp due to an undisclosed issue, threw live BP on consecutive days this week. While the Mets have not revealed a timeline for his return, pitching on back-to-back days is generally one of the last obstacles a reliever must complete before activation. Hughes is coming off a year in which he posted a 4.04 ERA in 72 appearances for the Reds and Phillies.

Also edging close to a return is Gsellman, who missed much of Summer Camp due to right triceps tightness. He faced batters for the first time on Thursday, but he must progress to the point that he can do so on back-to-back days like Hughes.

Lagging behind those two is Brach, who missed most of camp after contracting COVID-19. Brach has yet to face batters, but the right-hander could do so in the coming days.

“The experience of those guys will be great additions to our bullpen when they get to us,” Rojas said.

Back in the lineup

With six lefties scheduled in the Mets’ first eight games, was largely confined to the bench despite having one of the team’s most successful Summer Camp showings. He returned to the starting lineup on Saturday for just the second time, playing left field in place of J.D. Davis.

The Mets have had fewer reasons to use Smith off the bench this year because the designated hitter rule eliminates any chance of pinch-hitting for the pitcher. Still, the Mets believe all the time off will not affect Smith, who hit .282/.355/.525 last season despite sporadic playing time.

“The credit [goes] to Dom, at his young age, to adapt to this type of role that he’s at starting the season,” Rojas said. “I think accepting it is one of those things that will make you understand and have the proper mindset to fulfill that role and be ready when you get the call. That’s something that he’s done very well.”