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Betances making Yanks take notice this spring

Righty has tossed 6 1/3 innings of scoreless ball in attempt to win spot in 'pen

TAMPA, Fla. -- Dellin Betances wanted to throw his fastball. He'd just snapped off five straight breaking balls, a fairly unusual occurrence, and he wasn't particularly keen on gambling for a sixth as he looked in for the catcher's sign.

Another breaking ball, John Ryan Murphy's fingers suggested. Instead of shaking his head, Betances rolled with it, unloading a nasty pitch that the Rays' Matt Joyce waved at for strike three. That sequence wrapped up another strong inning in a spring that has had the Yankees talking.

"I feel good right now," Betances said. "I feel good with where my offspeed is; I feel like I can throw it for strikes. It's been working for me. I'm just trying to better myself with each outing."

The 25-year-old Betances has had nothing but positive moments to celebrate this spring, rattling off a team-leading 6 1/3 scoreless frames as he continues to compete for an Opening Day roster spot. He pitched a scoreless sixth inning around a double in New York's 3-3 tie against the Rays on Sunday.

"Another good outing," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He's throwing the ball well, doing what he needs to do to give himself an opportunity."

A converted starter with eight big league games under his belt, Betances seems to have taken well to life in the bullpen. That could help the New York City product -- born in Washington Heights, raised on the Lower East Side and drafted out of a Brooklyn high school -- break camp with the team for the first time.

The most important adjustment that Betances has made is being able to control his mid-90s fastball, something that threatened to derail his promising career a couple of years ago. But he has also added weapons, learning to trust his slurve and mixing in an occasional changeup.

"Last year, coming up in September, I threw too many fastballs," Betances said. "I know my offspeed was one of the things that helped me out when I got in trouble with my fastball. I would try to use that to keep myself a little calm with my mechanics. I just tried to take that into this spring, mix my pitches.

"In the big leagues, everybody can hit fastballs, no matter how hard you throw. I'm just trying to use all my pitches the best way I can."

Girardi said that seeing Betances throw six straight breaking balls suggests growing confidence.

"He knows that he can get people out with it," Girardi said. "That's important, because you're going to have to do it at this level. You're going to have to throw it behind in counts. You have to throw it at any time, because relievers are often put into tough situations."

Betances said that he picked up the slurve after being demoted to Double-A Trenton in 2012. Unable to throw his curveball consistently for strikes, Betances received a useful tip from right-hander Mikey O'Brien, who is now in the Reds' organization.

O'Brien suggested that Betances tilt his wrist a little bit when throwing the ball, which helped alleviate some nail issues Betances was having with his curve. Betances kept throwing the slurve in the Arizona Fall League after the '12 season and was encouraged.

"I was like, 'Man, this could be a good pitch to throw,'" Betances said. "I was throwing it for strikes and I stuck with it the whole year last year. It's helped me a lot."

Betances was 6-4 with a 2.68 ERA in 38 games (six starts) last year at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, recording 108 strikeouts in 84 innings.

He had been upset this winter after learning that a technicality had awarded him an extra Minor League option, meaning that the Yankees could send him back to Triple-A this spring without the risk of losing him on waivers to another interested club.

But Betances, who still has his bleachers ticket stub from David Wells' 1998 perfect game at the old Yankee Stadium, still believes he can secure a future in the Bronx. Betances said that he came to camp sensing that there would be an opportunity for him, and his performance has done nothing to dim that belief.

"I still feel like I'm at that age where guys are breaking in," Betances said. "Just to be at the big league level -- what better team than here, with the Yankees?"

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat.
Read More: New York Yankees, Dellin Betances