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Can Dellin Betances help the Yankees without his fastball?

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Betances’s fastball velocity is sitting much lower than usual.

New York Yankees v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Dellin Betances finally made his first MLB appearance of the 2019 season on Sunday, the living embodiment of “better late than never.” If you asked Betances and some within the Yankees’ front office to be honest, I’m sure many of them thought that “never” seemed like a viable outcome for Betances’s chances pitching this season.

Instead, not only is Betances an active member of the bullpen, but he will be counted on to pitch important innings in the Yankees’ 2019 championship push. However, he’ll be doing so with a slightly different strategy on the mound.

Betances is a man of many weapons on the mound, but none are more fearsome than his scorching fastball. Or, maybe that’s none were more fearsome than Betances’s fastball. It may be September on the calendar, which is when teams want their players at peak conditioning before the playoffs, but for Betances, it might as well be April. He hasn’t pitched at all this season, so his arm will take a while to warm up. His fastball was sitting around 95 mph during his debut on Sunday, a notable decline from the 97-100 mph heater he’s thrown over his career.

The problem for Betances and the Yankees here is that by the time Betances’ arm gets fully warmed up, the Yankees’ season might be over. If Betances is going to help the Yankees in the immediate future, he might need to pitch without his trademark fastball.

Fortunately, Betances still has other weapons to work with. His curveball is one of the filthiest in all of baseball, and he has developed a slider over the last few seasons that serves as a faster version of the curve with similar movement. Betances’ control on these pitches is excellent – his walk rate on those pitches last year was 6.5 percent and 4.5 percent respectively, compared to 13.4 percent on his heater. With that in mind, there’s reason to believe that he can command these pitches while his fastball is still ramping up.

Interestingly, Betances’ velocity on his breaking balls isn’t much lower than his previous velocity, so it’s not like his shoulder injury has sapped him of all his bite. A low fastball velocity at the beginning of his seasons also isn’t new territory for Betances – his fastball velocity is always a little lower in April than it is over the summer (although granted, it’s never been this low):

We can’t take too much from one game, but Betances could also compensate for lessened velocity with better fastball command. Look at the location on the first strikeout in this video:

That’s located perfectly, right on the corner. Of course, it was just one pitch, but Betances will likely fare better this year by living on the corners with his reduced velocity than by throwing it where he did last year, back when he could still blow 100-mph smoke past hitters:

Betances seems to be aware of the change in pitching styles too. He’s admitted that his fastball isn’t where he wants it to be, but still thinks he can contribute. “I don’t see why I can’t,” Betances said. “My breaking ball was good (in the rehab games), so I just have to be able to change speeds and make sure I keep the hitters off-balanced. That’s the name of the game if you throw low 90s or mid-90s.

“I’m not all the way there yet, but I’ll get there.”

It would be unfair to expect Betances to get all the way back with his fastball velocity before the playoffs begin in just over two weeks, but he can still help the Yankees. His breaking pitches are still nasty, he knows he has to use his fastball differently, and he’s pitching with confidence on the mound.

The 2019 version of Dellin Betances may not be the one that Yankees fans are used to, but it can still be an effective one.