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 Betancourt earns raise from Tribe

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PostSubject: Betancourt earns raise from Tribe   Wed Jan 23, 2008 7:46 pm

01/23/2008 6:20 PM ET
Betancourt earns raise from Tribe
Reliever tied for American League lead in holds in 2007
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Rafael Betancourt burst onto the scene with the Indians shortly after the lights at Chain of Lakes Park in Winter Haven, Fla., went bust.

Betancourt was nothing more than an extra body brought up from Minor League camp that day in the spring of 2003 when the lights went out, forcing an extended delay of a game the Indians were playing against the Expos.

Once the lighting situation was resolved, Betancourt was pretty "lights-out" himself.

"Every scout was trying to search through the media guide," general manager Mark Shapiro remembered, "trying to see who he was."

They know who he is now.

The 32-year-old Betancourt has become one of the most feared setup men in the game. And in doing so, he set himself up with a hefty raise and a measure of stability. The Indians and Betancourt avoided arbitration by agreeing on Wednesday to a two-year contract with a club option for 2010.

Though financial terms of the deal were not immediately available, Shapiro did reveal that the contract includes bonuses, should Betancourt ever take over as the Indians' closer.

If Betancourt can feed off his electric 2007 season, closing might not be far in his future.

Not that he's thinking of such things.

"I won't change because of this," said Betancourt, who is on the Indians' Winter Caravan tour of Ohio this week. "I have to show people I deserve this. I want to show people I can keep being a good pitcher in the big leagues."

The work of a setup man is often unheralded, but Betancourt's performance setting up closer Joe Borowski in '07 was as important to the Indians' run to the American League Central crown as anything. He tied the Angels' Scot Shields for the league lead in holds, with 31, and his relief ERA of 1.47 was the second-lowest such ERA in the AL. His .183 batting average against was the fourth-lowest mark in the league.

Betancourt allowed just three of his 33 inherited runners to score. He also answered questions about his durability by appearing in 68 games and ranking fourth among AL relievers in innings pitched with 79 1/3.

And in one of the '07 season's defining moments, it was Betancourt who got the A's Mark Ellis to swing and miss at strike three for the final out in the Indians' Sept. 23 division clincher.

"The use of his secondary pitches [stuck out], more than in the past," Shapiro said. "He throws strikes, makes hitters beat him and has the ability to pitch with his fastball."

Betancourt had sometimes been criticized in the past for sticking with that fastball too predictably. But the truth of the matter is, when he's spotting it, he's downright dominant. And if the fastball isn't enough of a problem, his slow and deliberate routine between pitches -- in which he tugs at his cap and his shirt incessantly -- is enough to throw batters off their game.

The Indians gave Betancourt an opportunity to refine that game by signing him following a tryout in February 2003. Before that signing, he had spent three years as an infielder in the Red Sox's Minor League system, was converted to a reliever in 1997, spent a year in the Japanese Minor Leagues and missed all of 2002 because of surgery on his throwing shoulder.

His story, then, is one of perseverance.

"This is a great story," Shapiro said. "Knowing where Raffie came from and the ups and downs of his career, for him to get a multiyear deal is great."

From the time Betancourt made his big league debut midway through the 2003 season, he has been a staple in the Indians' bullpen, performing every job asked of him. In 273 games spread out over five seasons, he's compiled a 19-16 record with a 2.80 ERA and 12 saves.

By signing this contract, Betancourt, who made $840,000 last season, is forgoing what would have been his final year of arbitration eligibility in 2009. As part of the arbitration process, Betancourt was seeking $2.5 million for '08, while the Indians were offering $1.75 million.

Betancourt had been looking for a multiyear deal last year, in his first run through arbitration. Getting that deal this time around made him a happy man.

"I wanted this more for my family," he said. "I have a wife and two kids. Now we know we'll be here maybe three years. All I have to do is pitch."

And keep turning off the lights on the competition.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


“It takes pitching, hitting and defense. Any two can win. All three make you unbeatable.”    
–Joe Garagiola
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