Betances vows to win the hearts of Mets fans
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Now entering his second season with the Mets, Dellin Betances has given the team 11 2/3 largely ineffective innings over 15 appearances. He has not come close to replicating his perennial All-Star-caliber performances in the Bronx, where he spent years as one of Major League Baseball’s premier late-inning relievers. And he knows it.
“I want to win the fan base over,” Betances said. “I was able to do that with the Yankees, but I haven’t done nothing here with the Mets.”
As well-liked as he is around the city and the game, Betances is under no illusions that he’ll be able to achieve his goal with words or personality alone. It’s about performance.
To that end, Betances spent his winter working at RPP Baseball Training & Development in Paramus, N.J., where he dug seriously into analytics for the first time. Last summer, Betances knew his fastball was cutting right to left more than usual, but he couldn’t figure out how to curtail that action. At RPP, Betances threw all his bullpen sessions in front of Rapsodo machines, which allowed him to consume data in real time and make adjustments from pitch to pitch.
The idea was for Betances not only to eliminate the cut from his fastball but to put more “rise” -- essentially, backspin, or what baseball analysts call “induced vertical break” -- on that pitch. By the end of the offseason, Betances’ induced vertical break numbers were more in line with data from earlier in his career.
“I feel tremendously better now than I did last year,” he said. “I feel like I finally had a full offseason to get ready for coming to camp, and being ready for the season.”
Of course, the one number most relevant for Betances is velocity. Known for throwing as hot as 102 mph with the Yankees, he topped out at 96.7 mph last summer and averaged 93.6. In these early days of Spring Training, Betances doesn’t know what his velocity is. The Mets, who regularly use Rapsodo machines, do, but manager Luis Rojas has avoided talking about it, saying it’s not a focus for Betances right now. Eventually, that will have to change for a pitcher who was confident last year that his velocity would return, until it never did.
So, in Betances’ words, “We’ll see.” If he can pitch with improved velocity, the other details will matter less. If he can’t, he’ll need to continue searching for alternative ways to get hitters out and win over the fan base.
“He’s a guy that’s pitched in New York for years now,” Rojas said. “He understands how the game of baseball is taken there from our fan base. He wants to come back and prove who he is. … For him, it was just a down year. Now coming back this year, I talked to him a couple times in the offseason, and he was just hungry the whole time.”
Noah Syndergaard’s rehab progression continued on Wednesday, when he threw another bullpen session at Clover Park. Syndergaard mixed in four- and two-seam fastballs and changeups, according to Rojas, though nothing was “full tilt.”
“Noah’s a monster,” Rojas said. “We knew that Noah’s going to go about it the best way that you can go about it as far as rehabbing. He’s worked his tail off. … He looked really good for the stage that he’s at.”
The Mets still expect Syndergaard to return from Tommy John surgery at some point in June.
No. 99 in the house
Also at the 10-pack on Wednesday was starting pitcher Taijuan Walker, who threw his inaugural bullpen session as a member of the Mets. In so doing, Walker became the first Met to wear No. 99 since Turk Wendell in 2001. According to SNY, Wendell recently shipped Walker a necklace made of animal teeth and claws to replicate the one he wore during his time with the Mets.
Back on site
Dominic Smith reported to camp on Wednesday after missing the first two days of full-squad workouts due to an undisclosed issue. Immediately, the energy at Clover Park changed.
“I knew exactly which field where he was at, me being on another field,” Rojas said. “There’s just guys laughing and yelling and stuff. They had some sort of competition there. Dom’s like that. He got everyone going right away.”
Carlos Carrasco remains offsite, also for an undisclosed issue, but the Mets expect him to report by the end of this week.
Also in Port St. Lucie is hitting coach Chili Davis, who worked remotely last season due to COVID-19 concerns. Davis recently received the first of two vaccine doses, with plans to get the second while in Florida.
“Had I come back here without being vaccinated, it would have been pretty uncomfortable for me,” Davis said. “It makes things more normal for me. ... I was so glad when it happened, because then the decision to come back here and do what I do was a lot easier decision for me to make.”
The Mets lost outfielder Guillermo Heredia on a waiver claim to the Braves, the team announced. A strong defender, Heredia hit two home runs in 18 plate appearances for the Mets last season, leading the team to tender him a contract in December. But the subsequent signings of Kevin Pillar and Albert Almora Jr. made Heredia expendable, so they designated him for assignment last week to clear space on the 40-man roster.