Dellin Betances is hitting his stride at Triple-A, just as his team in the Bronx might have a growing need for quality arms.
The Yankees' No. 2 prospect went a career-high eight innings for his second Triple-A victory and outfielder Brett Gardner tripled in his second rehab game as Scranton/Wilkes-Barre held off Columbus, 2-1, on Wednesday in Rochester.
"I just felt like I was in a good groove the whole game," Betances said. "I probably [shook] off [Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli] one time, that was the first walk of the game. So we were working well together, just trying to attack the zone and the defense worked well behind me, so that was good."
Betances (2-2) struck out a season-high seven batters and held the Clippers to a run on a pair of hits and two walks on 97 pitches in arguably the best start of his Minor League career.
"Today, everything was working -- changeup, curveball -- and today, I was able to throw first-pitch strikes, which is the key ... something I haven't been doing," he said. "I was just working well with Cervelli the whole time. Even when I got out of rhythm, he came out and told me, 'Let's go. Keep the same game plan, be aggressive, just throw strikes.'"
The Yankees' top-ranked right-hander got the bad portion of his start over with pretty early -- Cord Phelps, the first batter of the game, homered to right on Betances' very first pitch of the game.
"It was a fastball, I didn't think he'd swing first pitch of the game, especially since I've been walking a lot of guys," Betances said. "I think that kinda helped me, kind of woke me up a little bit. It was good -- it wasn't good I gave up a first-pitch home run, but I think it woke me up and made me aggressive the whole game."
Betances then settled in and retired the next eight batters before Phelps struck again with a single to right. His only other baserunners came on leadoff walks in the seventh and eighth.
He said working with Cervelli has helped him on the mound in his few starts they've teamed up.
"He's working hard. It's obviously good to throw to a guy that's played up in the Major Leagues and has experience," Betances said. "When a guy like that is catching, I try not to shake it off too much, and it worked well tonight."
Gardner tripled and walked twice in his second Triple-A game as he works his way back to the Bronx with an elbow injury that landed him on the 15-day disabled list on April 18. His leadoff three-bagger in the first inning set up the Yankees' first run as Kevin Russo followed with a game-tying sacrifice fly. Gardner also drew walks in the third and fifth innings.
"I felt better than I thought I would," Gardner told the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle. "My whole body feels good. My arm, my legs running around the bases and in the outfield."
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said Monday that Gardner could rejoin New York sometime later this week after his first scheduled rehab game Monday was rained out.
"He's playing today, and we'll make a decision after tonight, but it shouldn't be too long," Yankees manager Joe Girardi told ESPN.com before Wednesday's game against the Rays. "We just wanna see how he comes through today."
As for Betances, the trend has been positive this season -- he's allowed two runs or fewer in all four of his last starts. He's held opponents to a dozen combined hits in that span as well.
"I was able to stay under control, trying not to think too much when I'm out there," he said. "Just focus, take a deep breath and attack the zone. I look forward to the next start and working hard in between in my bullpen. Come out and hopefully the next game will be the same."
Walks, though, remain his problem -- he's issued 29 free passes in 36 1/3 innings this year.
"I've been feeling better my last couple starts, even though my walks have been high," he said. "I've been feeling better, my bullpens been better. It's just a matter of taking it out there."
Betances said the walks have been due to an inconsistency in his mechanics on the mound, an aspect of his game he's worked on between starts with Yankees pitching coach Scott Aldred.
"I feel like today I was more in control," Betances said.
"I was able to come back and pitch out of some situations. I felt like my changeup was the key tonight, I threw it for strikes the whole game."
Speculation surrounding Betances heading up to the Bronx will continue to build in the wake of injuries to starter Michael Pineda and closer Mariano Rivera. The Yankees have shifted arms around in recent weeks, sending Freddy Garcia to the bullpen and giving David Phelps a shot in the rotation. Veteran Andy Pettitte rejoins the squad Sunday after the struggling Phil Hughes gets another chance Saturday.