Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Betances bests May, Reading in a battle of rebounding starters

TRENTON — In a way, Tuesday’s game against Reading, which pitted Dellin Betances against Trevor May, was a bit like a man fighting his reflection. 

Both came into the evening as heralded prospects whose stock had bottomed out. Both also have suffered through issues with command and confidence, and both have dealt with the indignity of demotion at one point in their career. 

In a 4-3 Thunder win in front of a packed house at a steamy Waterfront Park, however, Betances and May looked like pitchers taking steps forward. 

With the win, Trenton moved to 7 ½ games up in the Eastern Division on New Britain, which split a doubleheader with Binghamton. 

Betances, in his eighth start since coming down from Triple-A, limited Reading to just two runs on six hits and one walk while fanning five over as many innings. He threw 61 of his 93 pitches for strikes and left the evening with a rejuvenated sense of self-assurance.

“I feel good. I’ve been here whole month already and a couple of weeks, but I feel like I’ve gotten a lot better,” Betances said. “I feel like I’m where I need to be.”

Betances cited a sharper curveball and change-up as reasons for his success on Tuesday. He referred specifically to a change-up he used to finish off Reading left fielder Darin Ruf — one of league’s top sluggers — at the end of the fifth inning. 

Ruf, who’s seen Betances both with Trenton and when the pair was together in the Florida State League in 2010, said he was impressed with the way Betances used his entire arsenal this time around.

“He was throwing pretty firm,” Ruf said. “He had some good downhill angle on the pitches he kept down. I think he threw his change-up effectively tonight. He took a lot off compared to the fastball. … He’s got good stuff. If he can just get his breaking ball over a little bit more consistently, I think he’s a really good pitcher.”

On the other side, May, the top arm in a badly depleted Phillies system, showed improved command and signs of turning his season around after a dreadful three-month stretch from May through July. Tuesday was his third straight start allowing two or fewer earned runs. 

Like Betances, May has also dealt with a reduced sense of confidence, the low point coming on June 23 against Altoona, when he allowed six runs on six hits – including four home runs – and four walks at home against the Altoona Curve. 

He’s worked hard to change his mind-set since then, and the effort is finally starting to pay off. 

“After a start against Altoona when I gave up a bunch of home runs, I was kind of feeling at the lowest point I had all season, May explained. “It was like, ‘I’m going to make a bunch of changes and just embrace them. What do I have to lose?’ I’ve strung three pretty good starts together where I run out of gas a little bit at the end. I feel like I’m really this close to throwing a few gems.”

The Thunder got a pregame boost from the return of Abe Almonte from a five-week stay on the disabled list. Reinstalled in the leadoff spot, Almonte smacked a pair of doubles, including one in the sixth that plated the eventual deciding run. 

“It felt good to have him back,” manager Tony Franklin said. “As I said earlier, Abe was quite the catalyst before he was injured, and we lost an All-Star outfielder. That’s quite a bit of offense we lost. He was among the league leaders in stolen bases, and still is. It’s good to have him back.”

Kelvin Perez, Mark Montgomery and Ryan Pope strung together the final 12 outs around three hits – all against Montgomery – punctuated in the ninth when Pope fanned Ruf on three pitches with two outs and the tying run on second base. 


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