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First Pitch: No holding Betances back

6/1/2014

NEW YORK -- The last guy to close for the New York Yankees held the job for 17 seasons.

The current one will be lucky to hold it for two.

That is not because David Robertson doesn't have the ability to do Mariano Rivera's job. He certainly does.

And it is definitely not because he blew the save, and the game, to the Minnesota Twins on Sunday. Even The Great Rivera blew saves now and then, and sometimes as many as three times in a row.

It is because the Yankees have a pitcher on their roster right now who is even better equipped to close their games than Robertson, and I doubt I have to tell you who he is.

Dellin Betances wasn't just good to Sunday, he was scary-good, as in J.R. Richard-good, Dwight Gooden-circa-1985 good, Goose Gossage-good. Betances faced six batters and struck out five of them, which prompted Chase Whitley to say, jokingly, "What's wrong with him?"

The connotation being, of course, that it has become a surprise when Betances doesn't strike someone out, or doesn't strike everyone out.

Betances needed just 10 pitches to strike out the side in the sixth, and the final three, all fastballs, so overmatched Jason Kubel that he never even took the bat off his shoulder. But it was the curveballs that got Josh Willingham and Aaron Hicks, unhittable pitches that started in mid-torso and ended at the shoetops, that set Betances apart, much like Gooden's hellacious hook really made his repertoire, his 97-mph fastball notwithstanding.

"Everybody hits the fastball up here," said Betances, who became a reliever only last year in Triple-A as a last-ditch effort to salvage his career when control problems doomed his attempts at starting. "So now I’m trying to mix up my pitches and give them a different look and I think that’s helped me. Now I have the confidence to throw [the curve] in any situation and know that if I make a pitch where I want, it’s going to be a good result."

Betances is only 26 years old, with barely over 40 big league innings on his resume, 32 2/3 of them this season. But he has been the definition of dominant -- 56 of his 98 outs this season have been strikeouts, including 40 of his last 66, indicating he is even getting better -- and at 6-foot-8, 260 pounds, has the kind of intimidating look you want in a closer. Just seeing him on the mound has got to give the opposing team a feeling of helplessness, and that's before he even releases the ball.

It's not going to happen this season -- there's no way you take away Robertson's job on the basis of one outing, or even two (he blew his first save on May 23 when Adam Dunn nicked him for a ninth-inning walk-off homer -- but after a year or two of seasoning, it's hard to imagine the Yankees not deciding that Betances is the better option to get the final three outs of the game and Robertson, who had established himself as an elite setup man for Rivera, is better fit in his former role.

Baseball is a lot of things, good and bad, but one thing it always is, is eminently fair in this respect: The best guys are going to play, period, regardless of who they are or how big their paychecks or how much someone likes them. And if Betances keeps pitching the way he has pitched so far, it will be clear to everyone in the organization that he is the better man for the closer's job.

Betances was smart enough to side-step questions about his possible ascension to the closer's role after Sunday's 7-2 loss. "I really haven't thought about it because we have a guy here who does a great job," he said, referring to Robertson. "Robby’s a great pitcher and I’m learning myself a lot from him and these are the situations where you can learn the most from him."

Barring some unforeseen circumstances, Betances will have the rest of the season to soak up as much wisdom as he can from Robertson, much as Robertson did from Rivera.

But next year, all bets are off, all odometers are reset, and presumably, all jobs are up for grabs.

And I can't imagine anyone better qualified to do the closing than Dellin Betances. Can you?