Coming into this previous 10 game home stand, the Yankee bullpen was considered one of the best in the business. That all came into question by the third game against the Orioles, and by Thursday, the organization’s inability to develop pitching was on full display. The combination of Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes not only cost this team in the late innings last Sunday, but also Thursday and Friday versus the Red Sox, and Saturday’s game, which became a spot start for David Huff. Meanwhile, Shawn Kelley is dealing with a tricep inflammation, David Robertson has shoulder tendinitis, and Boone Logan has tightness in his bicep as well as inflammation in his left arm. Cap that all off with the best closer in the history of the game blowing two consecutive extremely important saves against the Red Sox, and we have a huge mess on our hands.
It goes without saying that the Yankees need to win today, they need to win every game. Their starters aren’t exactly giving them length, especially against powerful offenses like the Red Sox and Orioles. The bullpen will be used, and outside of a cold Mariano Rivera, the Yankees have… an injured Shawn Kelley and Adam Warren? The placement on Joe Girardi‘s bullpen depth chart now begins and ends with Mariano Rivera, which was especially clear when he called on him for a six-out save yesterday.
They’re injured, they’re overworked, and they’re playing great offenses, yet we’re looking at a bullpen situation that’s reminiscent of a Spring Training competition. Jim Miller and Matt Daley are now in consideration for high leverage situations, Dellin Betances and Cesar Cabral have a shot at winning regular work, and despite fans begging for releases, there’s no one left to replace Chamberlain and Hughes. I could go on and on about the bullpen situation, but there’s no denying that the hierarchy of relievers feels a lot like March or April. Players are competing for jobs in a Spring Training type atmosphere, yet we’re in the middle of September. It’s the last thing you want while trailing teams like the Rays and Orioles in the Wild Card.
If anyone could fix the bullpen, it’s Joe Girardi. Despite the situation we’re in right now, you can’t blame the manager for this onslaught of injuries and ineffectiveness. Yes, he’s played Chamberlain and Hughes too often over the last week, but playing them even once is too often. These are the tools he’s been given by the front office, and in desperate times he’s tried and failed to capture lightening in a bottle.
With the Rays defeat on the West Cost, Girardi has a second chance to fix the bullpen. The team doesn’t have an off day for another week, so I expect him to let his starters go a lot longer than usual. That could start tonight and tomorrow. CC Sabathia hasn’t been the most reliable pitcher this year, but last week’s performance against the White Sox was inspiring. The line wasn’t great, Robertson allowed two of Sabathia’s three runs to score in the 8th inning, but the starter was efficient against the White Sox. He seemingly lowered his velocity after some wildness in the first inning, and ultimately ended up pitching to contact with superior command. Ivan Nova will also be given a longer leash, especially after throwing a complete game shutout against the Orioles a little over a week ago.
Knowing how Girardi works, he’ll probably manage somewhat backwards in the next few games. If the Yankees are given a substantial lead, he’ll experiment with a few pitchers, likely trying out Daley, Betances, and Hughes in low-leverage situations and hope they can build on that. If he’s dealing with high-leverage situations, he may elect to rest the majority of the bullpen and roll the dice with Adam Warren or Rivera pitching multiple innings. Cabral should also be considered a high leverage LOOGY for Girardi, and though he owns just 1.1 innings of major league experience, he’s retired 3 of 5 batters on strikeouts already. The two he didn’t strike out were right-handed hitters.
And then there’s the possibility of a blow out by the Orioles. If the Yankees are in the unfortunate position where the Orioles rock one of their starters for double digit runs, Girardi will probably call upon Brett Marshall or Jim Miller to go the distance and save the bullpen. With David Huff now lined up to pitch on Thursday, one of Marshall or Miller will probably be held available. One thing that Girardi has taken advantage of in the past has been switching the handedness of his pitchers early in the game. We’ve seen a couple games already where the right-handed Phil Hughes started and the left-handed Huff relieved early on. This forces the opposing manager to set their lineup towards a left-handed or right-handed starter, only to face an opposite handed reliever for a large portion of the game. I expect he may do the same on Thursday.
There’s also the chance that the Yankees acquire someone or bring up a reliever. Unfortunately, a number of the Triple-A arms they expected to have in September have been injured. The chances are extremely low, but Nik Turley would probably be the first arm called up. There’s also some speculation that the Yankees could acquire a pitcher like Frank Francisco, though that might not be much of an upgrade.
Regardless, Joe Girardi has done an excellent job of getting the most out of his bullpen in the past, and I’m eager to see how he handles the proceeding week against the Orioles and Red Sox. If the team can survive this, they have a very friendly schedule ahead of them, and should be in a much more advantageous position to rest their overworked arms.