Betances stands tall in first save chance

Betances stands tall in first save chance

BOSTON -- It's enough of a challenge to handle Dellin Betances' high-octane heat and video game curveball behind the plate, so Brian McCann is sure that he would want no part of having to stand in the box and try to make contact.

"I'd ask for a pinch-hitter," McCann joked on Saturday, after Betances struck out all four batters he faced to lock down the Yankees' 4-2 victory over the Red Sox, marking Betances' first save opportunity of the season.

"He's elite. He's the standard," said McCann. "He comes in, pounds the zone, and he's got two unbelievable pitches. Nobody wants to face him."

With the shadows creeping across the infield, Betances presented an unfair assignment for Mike Napoli, Brock Holt, Xander Bogaerts and rookie Blake Swihart -- so much so that Betances said the task of closing out the ninth really didn't feel all that different than an earlier inning.

"I feel like I'm going out there with a game plan, trying to execute pitches," Betances said. "I don't think I changed anything from last year. I was a little out of whack in Spring Training, but I just try to do some of the stuff I did last year, staying back and just having a good game plan when I'm out there."

Betances has ironed out the wrinkles that troubled him during the tail end of the spring and again looks like the pitcher who earned selection as a first-time American League All-Star in 2014. He has struck out at least two batters without allowing a hit in seven consecutive appearances since April 19, and has struck out 25 in 14 1/3 innings overall.

"I felt like toward the end [of Spring Training], my arm was getting a little stronger," Betances said. "Just playing catch, I felt stronger. You've got to believe in yourself and believe that you can go out there and be better. That's something that the coaching staff has preached. They've given me the confidence to go out there and do the best I can."

It gives the Yankees reason to puff their chests, now improving to 15-0 when leading after eight innings. Combined with Andrew Miller, who is 9-for-9 in save chances and got the day off Saturday, the Yankees feel they have a dominant combination at the back end of the bullpen that can continue securing wins at this pace.

"The bullpen this year is as good as I've ever seen," outfielder Brett Gardner said. "You want to get those guys the lead. If we can have a lead after five, six innings, you feel really good about your chances. Hopefully we can keep scoring enough runs to get a lead, and hopefully those guys can keep doing their thing at the end of the year."

Girardi never deemed it necessary to officially name a closer, but Betances has settled nicely into his role from last year while Miller has taken on the ninth-inning duties just fine. Betances said that there is no disappointment in seeing Miller's save total swell.

"Not for me. We're in first place right now and we're both doing a [great] job," Betances said. "He's doing a great job. I told you guys, no matter what situation I'm in, I'm just trying to help the team win. We're winning, so I'm happy. I'm a happy man. Definitely, I'm having a lot of fun."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.