"Focus on the target."
"Not trying to do much."
"Take it like a fresh start."
"I have to get my confidence up."
"I'm trying to get right."
And after striking out five over six scoreless innings in his first Double-A start in 10 months, Trenton's 4-3 defeat to the Sea Dogs on Saturday evening, his postgame thoughts, too:
"I'm getting back on track."
"I take this as a new beginning."
"This is a step in the right direction."
"This definitely gets me more confident."
"It's not how you start, it's how you finish."
In one sentence the second-ranked Yankees prospect said being knocked down a peg from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre -- where he compiled a 6.39 ERA in 16 starts -- to Trenton this week was a mutual decision. In another, he admits that the news was upsetting, while he appreciates the intentions of Yankees' brass.
"We thought that coming to a different place -- we're just trying to get me right because we all know things haven't gone too well, but they just want me to get right, to where they know I can be and where I know I can be myself," he said. "It's just a matter of trying to be the pitcher I was and the pitcher I am capable of being."
Betances, a New York native six years removed from being drafted by his hometown team, finally looked more the part, scattering three singles and not allowing Portland to advance a runner past second. He even picked off one trying to steal third in his final inning of work.
The 6-foot-8, 260-pound right-hander also was happier with spotting his plus-grade fastball inside and down and mixing in his curveball and changeup at opportune times.
But the command that eluded him with the Triple-A Yankees -- he issued 69 walks over 74 2/3 innings there -- was still troublesome. It also may be within reach, now more than before.
"I was happy with keeping my walks down. I had three walks, but one of them was to the leadoff guy and then after that I felt like I got in real control of the game and everything felt good," said Betances, who threw 55 of 91 pitches for strikes. "If I can throw strikes, get ahead in the count, that helps me out."
This is proven. Check out his first Triple-A win on April 27 and his career-high eight-inning outing two weeks later as proof that throwing strikes behooves him. It certainly did in 2011 when, nearly two years after undergoing Tommy John surgery, he posted a 115-to-55 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 105 1/3 innings for the Thunder.
All that was before his tumultuous 20-game run in the International League.
"I'm just trying to finish the season strong now," he said. "I need to get back up there."
Despite his best efforts -- and exiting with a two-run lead -- Betances didn't factor in the decision. The Sea Dogs rallied for three runs in the eighth and won the game on the third pitch of the ninth as Drew Hedman pulled Lee Hyde's offering over the right-field fence.