PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- There might as well be a "Help Wanted" sign hanging on the bullpen door at Yankee Stadium these days. Dellin Betances has taken note of the opportunity, and for the first time, he believes there is a chance to break camp with the club.
Once a touted prospect as a starter, Betances seems to be flourishing as he adapts to a new role as a reliever. Betances' command has improved, and the right-hander with a 6-foot-8 frame and mid-90s fastball is presenting an appealing relief option for the Yanks.
"I knew coming in that there were opportunities, that there were spots available," Betances said. "I knew coming in that I had to come in strong and have a good Spring Training. I'm just going to try to keep doing whatever I have to do every time out."
Betances hurled 1 2/3 innings of scoreless, hitless relief in the Yankees' 5-4 Grapefruit League loss to the Rays on Wednesday, walking one and striking out two. He has permitted just one hit in 5 1/3 innings this spring, spanning three appearances.
"He's throwing more strikes and more consistent strikes," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "His velocity was closer to what you're going to see during the course of the season. It inched up a couple ticks today, which was good to see. His curveball was pretty good as well."
Yankees catcher Austin Romine has been catching Betances for years, and he said that he senses the bullpen move has paid off.
"I think his comfort level is a lot better," Romine said. "He's able to make adjustments pitch to pitch, hitter to hitter. Today was case in point: He went out, lost his feel for his slider, got it back the next at-bat. Before, he would just try to grip it and throw it harder. Now he's settling down, hitting his spot. He's a lot more productive."
The Yankees' bullpen is fairly unsettled, with only closer David Robertson, setup man Shawn Kelley and left-handed specialist Matt Thornton assured of beginning the season on the big league roster. At least one candidate in the fifth-starter battle will likely begin the year in relief as well.
Betances said that he has grown more comfortable in a relief role, which he first dabbled with in the Arizona Fall League in 2012. Betances said that he is working more with a slider that he can throw for strikes; it has not replaced his curveball, but he is throwing the curve less frequently.
Being up with the Yankees last year, Betances said that he spoke often to Mariano Rivera, Robertson, Joba Chamberlain and Kelley about relieving, while also hearing about the hitters' perspective from Robinson Cano.
Betances was informed in December that he had an extra Minor League option added, meaning that the Yankees would not necessarily have to add him to their 25-man roster at the end of camp. Betances said that he hopes it won't be a close call.
"At first I was a little upset. I didn't think very much at the time," Betances said. "I was like, '[Darn],' ... At the same time, if I didn't come here and do the job, I would have been somewhere else. I just thought to myself, 'I've got to do the job no matter what.'"
Tanaka to face top of Phillies' order in first start
TAMPA, Fla. -- Masahiro Tanaka is scheduled to make his first start of the spring on Thursday, and the right-hander is looking forward to testing his stuff against the top of the Phillies' batting order.
"It will be my first time actually starting a game from the first inning. I'll be able to face some of the first-string batters," Tanaka said through an interpreter. "I'd like to go up there and see how I can pitch against those batters."
The 1:05 p.m. ET game at Bright House Field will mark Tanaka's second spring appearance; he entered in relief on March 1 against the Phillies at George M. Steinbrenner Field, throwing two scoreless innings while allowing two hits and striking out three.
"I feel that's important, to be able to face good batters here in the [United] States," Tanaka said. "Definitely, I need that experience. It's very important to me."
Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that he is eager to see how Tanaka handles the Phillies' batting order. Tanaka is scheduled to pitch three innings in Thursday's game.
"I think it's an opportunity to see what he needs to do, to see what he feels he needs to do to be successful over here," Girardi said. "He's had a ton of success in Japan, and they want to make adjustments, just like anyone else."
Tanaka, 25, said that he feels that he has been able to adjust well to life in a Major League camp after years of stardom in Japan. His teammates seem to have embraced him; during his interview Wednesday, reliever Preston Claiborne leaned over to offer a fist bump after Tanaka answered a reporter's question, which Tanaka happily returned.
Saying that there have been no surprises in particular about the training regimen in camp, Tanaka said that he has found Florida to be "very comforting and nice every day." When Tanaka heads to the mound on Thursday, he plans to be most focused on his mechanics.
"This is something that I'm always aware of, is the pitching form, how I pitch out there," Tanaka said. "That is something that I'm always conscious of, being on the mound."
After dealing with illness, Soriano set to debut
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Alfonso Soriano is on track to make his Spring Training debut on Thursday against the Phillies at Bright House Field, Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
Soriano has been limited to batting practice and on-field workouts during camp because of a persistent illness that started as the flu. Soriano estimated earlier this week that he was feeling about 80 percent, but he still complained of dizziness and nausea.
The Yankees would like to begin getting a better look at Soriano, who figures prominently in their outfield mix this season as part of the puzzle in left field and right field. Soriano is also likely to see at-bats at designated hitter.
El Duque joins Yanks as Minors pitching instructor
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez has re-joined the Yankees' organization as a Minor League pitching instructor.
Hernandez is spending time at the Yankees' training complex in Tampa, Fla., and he plans to be in town for the next few weeks. Manager Joe Girardi said that he was not certain if Hernandez would visit the big league camp this spring.
Hernandez, 48, pitched nine seasons in the Major Leagues from 1998-2007, joining the Yankees after defecting from Cuba. He compiled a 90-65 record and a 4.13 ERA in 219 games (211 starts), winning four World Series titles -- three with the Yankees from 1998 to 2000, and one with the White Sox in 2005.
• Eduardo Nunez was sent out to second base on Wednesday against the Rays, as the Yankees continue to evaluate him as a utilityman. Nunez has played mostly shortstop in his career, but he will have to convince the club of his versatility to make the team.
"Defensively, you've got to be able to handle a couple of different spots," Girardi said. "He's played mostly at shortstop, but because of the situation we're in, he's got to move around."
• Non-roster invitee Yangervis Solarte started a third consecutive game for the Yankees on Wednesday, this time at shortstop. Girardi has been impressed thus far with the switch-hitter, who is flashing the ability to play several different positions, as well as a live bat.
• The Yankees will get their first chance to utilize baseball's new replay system on Thursday against the Phillies. Girardi said that they would have a coach in the clubhouse watching video, who could communicate to the dugout using walkie-talkies. Girardi said that he might try the system on Thursday, even if he believes the umpires are correct on a close call.
"I might," Girardi said. "Why not? You've only got so many chances in Spring Training."