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Betances gets confidence boost on back field

Hicks 'feeling really good'; Severino to start throwing Wednesday
@BryanHoch
March 14, 2019

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Dellin Betances scored a confidence boost on a back diamond of the George M. Steinbrenner Field complex on Thursday morning, as the Yankees' reliever fired 28 pitches to hitters, continuing to build arm strength as he prepares for the regular season. Betances' mechanics have been spotty through

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Dellin Betances scored a confidence boost on a back diamond of the George M. Steinbrenner Field complex on Thursday morning, as the Yankees' reliever fired 28 pitches to hitters, continuing to build arm strength as he prepares for the regular season.

Betances' mechanics have been spotty through three Grapefruit League appearances, and he said after the last one that he "felt like crap." Working under the watch of manager Aaron Boone and pitching coach Larry Rothschild, Betances said that his pair of simulated innings represented an improvement.

"I just felt better warming up," Betances told reporters. "I was like, 'OK, that feels a lot better.' That first inning, I felt like I was not letting it rip as much. The second inning, I was like, 'Man, it's coming out better,' and the hitters thought the same, so that was good."

Betances and the Yankees remain unconcerned about his fastball velocity, which has mostly sat between 88-91 mph in his appearances, maxing out at 93 mph.

"We're talking six, seven, eight miles an hour," Boone said. "I don't think that went away when he fell asleep over the winter."

Betances has said that it is normal for him to pitch with reduced velocity during Spring Training, and that it could take until May for him to generate his regular high-90s octane.

"I think he's right where you'd expect him to be," Rothschild said. "I think he's approaching where we'd want him to be. We'll see as time goes on. I think he's building the arm strength. The second inning today, you started to see the way he's capable of throwing the ball."

Cessa impressing
Luis Cessa continued what has been a strong bid for a spot on the Opening Day roster Thursday, hurling four scoreless innings in New York's 1-1 Grapefruit League tie against the Blue Jays at Dunedin Stadium. Cessa permitted two hits and a walk, striking out three, as he shaved his spring ERA to 0.69.

"I know I've pitched well," Cessa said. "I just try to do my job, working hard every day. The coaches, the manager, everybody has the decisions. I just try to do my job, and I'm waiting."

Cessa is battling Domingo German and Jonathan Loaisiga to fill one of the two projected vacancies at the back end of the rotation, with Luis Severino and CC Sabathia out for the beginning of the regular season. Showcasing improved fastball command, Cessa has permitted seven hits and a walk over 13 spring innings, striking out 13.

"Cessa was really good again," Boone said. "I thought his two-seam fastball was really good again today, which is really encouraging. I thought he pitched well with his heater. He was efficient; had purpose to what he’s doing. I feel like he has a real good idea what he’s doing right now, and he’s going out and executing. Another exciting step forward for him."

First steps
DJ LeMahieu played six innings at first base in Thursday's exhibition game, a position that the versatile infielder had not manned in a game since 2014 with the Rockies. Boone said that he envisions LeMahieu playing mostly second and third base, but he could appear as frequently as once a week at first base, backing up the winner of the Greg Bird/Luke Voit battle.

"I thought he looked comfortable," Boone said. "Consistent with what we’ve seen of his work on the back fields. I don’t think there are going to be any issues. The big thing is those situations where you are a cutoff man, and you react properly on the fly. You can intellectually know what to do -- and I am not worried about that that much -- but to get in those game situations where you just react naturally, that’s kind of the next step."

Hut hut
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson will join the Yankees’ big league camp for three days beginning on Friday, marking the second straight spring that Wilson has donned pinstripes. Wilson manned second base for two seasons in the Rockies' Minor League system after Colorado made him a fourth-round Draft selection out of North Carolina State in 2010. He hit a combined .229 over 93 games from 2010-11 between the short-season Northwest League and Low-A Asheville.

Stamp of approval
Boone said that he was in favor of the rule changes announced Thursday by Major League Baseball and the MLB Players' Association. Of particular interest was the upcoming amendment to Rule 5.10(g), which will mandate that pitchers must face a minimum of three batters or complete a half-inning, with exceptions for injury or illness. The rule goes into effect for the 2020 season.

"I'm OK with that," Boone said. "With our club, I don't feel like we have a lot of matchup guys anyway. There's not a lot of times where I'm going one hitter at a time or even two hitters at a time. Usually we're trying to stay away from a guy, especially during the regular season. Our dudes are usually out there at least for an inning, so I don't think it would have that much of an effect on us."

Bombers bits
Aaron Hicks
, who has experienced lower-back stiffness, is "feeling really good" as he continues core exercises, according to Boone, who believes that Hicks will soon be cleared to resume baseball exercises. Hicks has not appeared in a Grapefruit League game since March 1.

Luis Severino, who has right rotator cuff inflammation, is slated to begin his throwing program on March 20. Severino was scratched from a March 5 start, at which time the Yankees said he would need two weeks without throwing.

Up next
The Yankees return home on Friday to host the Red Sox in a 1:05 p.m. ET contest at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Right-hander Domingo German will make his fourth spring appearance (second start) for New York as he continues to vie for a rotation spot. Right-hander Hector Velazquez is starting for Boston.

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and Facebook.