When Yankees prospect Dellin Betances had a breakout season in 2010, there was talk in New York that he could be a future ace.
While his stock has fallen somewhat in the wake of command issues, the 25-year-old right-hander is looking to prove that his struggles early this season are behind him.
The Yankees' No. 19 prospect spun five hitless innings and Sam Demel carried the no-hit bid into the seventh Sunday before Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre beat Gwinnett, 5-1, in the first game of a doubleheader.
"I felt like I battled early on. It was a tough day today and the weather hasn't been the best, but I was able to make pitches when I needed to and my defense had my back," Betances said.
"My changeup kept me in the game the whole time. I was able to throw it early in the count and behind in the count."
Betances (2-2) walked four batters, struck out three and hit another. He threw 49 of 90 pitches for strikes.
The New York native needed 23 pitches to get through the first inning, 26 in the second and 17 in the third. But he retired the final seven batters he faced, throwing 24 pitches in the fourth and fifth innings.
"It was definitely tough," Betances said. "I wasn't locating my pitches early on. I just tried to calm down and get strike one, and that was the key.
"I felt like I was getting in a groove, but I'm not a coach and it was their decision. I felt good and I could have definitely gone back out [for the sixth inning], but it wasn't my decision."
Demel, a 27-year-old right-hander in his first season in the Yankees organization, retired the Braves on three pitches in the sixth inning, getting a popup and a pair of ground balls. He struck out Jordan Parraz to start the seventh, but Joe Leonard slapped a 3-1 pitch back up the middle to break up the no-hitter and Alden Carrithers drove him home one out later with a bases-loaded single to left field.
Matt Pagnozzi came to the plate as the potential winning run, but his sharp line drive was hit right at first baseman Dan Johnson for the final out.
It was as close as Betances had come to being part of a no-hitter since he threw six hitless innings for Class A Charleston in a 3-1 loss to Asheville on May 16, 2008.
"In 2008, I had one through six in Low A, but the bullpen gave up a hit in the seventh, so it's been a while," said Betances. "It's always pretty cool to see.
"[Demel] has picked me up a lot already and he tried his best. It's a hard thing to do. I was rooting for him as much as I could."
The 6-foot-8 right-hander came into Sunday's start sporting a 1-2 record and an unsightly 7.58 ERA after allowing 16 runs on 19 hits and 12 walks over 19 innings.
Many of those crooked numbers came in the first two weeks of the season. He retired two batters and allowed six runs in a loss at Buffalo on April 14, then was tagged for five runs over four innings four days later in Rochester.
Since that start against the Red Wings, he's given up three runs on eight hits over 15 1/3 frames.
As recently as last fall, Betances was on the verge of cracking MLB.com's list of op 30 prospects. He was the Yankees' No. 2 prospect behind only southpaw Manny Banuelos but has been unable to replicate the success that saw him called up to the Bronx in 2011 after an 8-1 season across two Minor League levels the year before.
A 2006 eighth-round Draft pick out of Grand Street Campus High School in Brooklyn, Betances knows he wasn't as good as he needed to be last year to return to the Majors. He issued 69 walks over 74 2/3 innings and went 3-5 with a 6.39 ERA in 16 Triple-A starts. That led to a demotion to Double-A Trenton, where he was 3-4 with a 6.51 ERA. Across both levels, Betances walked 99 in 131 1/3 innings, although he led the organization with 124 strikeouts.
"My last year was not a good year," he said. "For me, it's about getting that consistency and being able to get to where I was a couple years ago. It's just a matter of trying not to be too aggressive, staying closed and getting that front extension that will allow me to work down in the zone and throw strikes early on. Then I can mix in the off-speed pitches.
"I need to work on the little things, the negatives, and try to go out there and make pitches. It's just about finding that consistency and being able to make pitches. ... That's the name of the game."
Yankees No. 10 prospect Zoilo Almonte was 2-for-4 with a two-run homer and Cody Johnson reached base four times for the RailRiders.
Gwinnett starter Tim Corcoran (1-3) was charged with three runs on seven hits and three walks while striking out four over five innings.