Miller, Betances form Bronx Strikeout Machine before Chapman
NEW YORK (AP) Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller send batter after batter muttering on the way back to the dugout.
The New York Yankees' dynamic duo of late-inning relief pitchers is overwhelming offenses with sickening sliders, imperceptible fastballs and wily curves in what has become the Bronx Strikeout Machine.
Overall, nineteen of their last 26 batters have whiffed.
''I didn't even see it. It felt like it just dropped out of the air,'' Oakland's Mark Canha after striking out against Miller this week.
And Aroldis Chapman joins them next month, creating a terrible trio teams might have to face when the Yankees take leads into the seventh inning.
Miller has struck out 42.5 percent of batters (113 of 266) since the start of the 2015 season, the best percentage in the major leagues, according to STATS. Chapman is second at 41.7 percent (116 of 278) and Betances is third at 41.0 percent (148 or 361).
''Used to say get to the bullpen. You know, the game's changing a little bit,'' Yankees manager Joe Girardi explained. ''Sometimes you say, you better get to the starter, because the back end is not a lot of fun to face.''
Relief pitching started to change in the 1970s with closers like Goose Gossage and Rollie Fingers. It evolved more when Tony La Russa turned Dennis Eckersley into a largely three-out finisher with the late 1980s Oakland Athletics.
Cincinnati showed what a deep back end could do in 1990 when the Nasty Boys trio of Randy Myers, Rob Dibble and Norm Charlton pitched the Reds to the World Series title. And the 2014 Royals surprised much of the major leagues when Greg Holland, Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera used 96-99 mph heat to bring Kansas City within one win of a championship.
''When you have the threat of lockdown seventh-, eighth-, ninth-inning guys and have the ability to shorten the game, it puts a lot of pressure on the opposition,'' Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. ''It's tough to manage against teams that can shorten the game like that.''
Miller and Betances have combined to strike out 30 of 49 batters this year (61.2 percent), STATS said. The overall big league percentage is 21.9.
Betances, a 28-year-old right-hander, comes in for the eighth when New York leads in close games, and his 6-foot-8, 265-pound body is as intimidating as his pitches: 97-98 mph fastballs and an 83 mph curve.
Miller, a 30-year-old left-hander, is more like a crane, listed at 6-foot-7 and 205 pounds. He dropped his sinker and changeup three years ago, and this year has thrown an 84 mph slider on about two-thirds of his pitches, using a 95 mph fastball for his others.
''It seems like you get strikeouts and guys inevitably start swinging earlier in the count, trying to put the ball in play,'' Miller said.
''I'd take a three-pitch inning any time, because that means you got three outs in three pitches.''
Betances was the big league bullpen workhorse last year, topping relievers with 84 innings after finishing second with 90 in 2014. He says he learned from Mariano Rivera, who set the career saves record and helped the Yankees win five titles before retiring at the end of the 2013 season.
When he's done with the eighth inning, Betances likes to watch Miller from the dugout in the ninth.
''We kind of motivate each other when we're out there,'' he said.
Miller will drop back to the eighth inning and Betances to the seventh when Chapman is done serving his season-opening 30-game suspension under baseball's domestic violence policy. New York acquired the 28-year-old left-hander from Cincinnati in December.
Chapman threw the 62 fastest pitches in the major leagues last year, ranging from 102.36 to 103.92 mph, according to MLB's Statcast data.
Given that trio, the Yankees will be confident most nights when they have a lead in the seventh.
''It's going to be awesome for us to watch, and I think definitely gets into their heads,'' Yankees starter CC Sabathia said.