It's been a rough few days for Joe Girardi and his bullpen. He used his 2 best relievers in a 5-run game on Tuesday night, didn't have the one healthy one left available yesterday as a result, went with one of his younger, inexperienced middle relievers for the 8th inning, and watched that reliever cough up the 2-run lead that the offense had provided in the previous half-inning. This comes on the heels of Friday night's 9th inning near-meltdown by an even lower-leverage reliever and a few questionable instances of using David Carpenter in close games with men on before he was future endeavored.
There's been a lot to not like from the 'pen over the past month or so, from the injuries to the inconsistency to the decision making to the performance at times. The one part of the roster that was thought to be solid and the least cause for concern has become arguably the most inconsistent, and yesterday it seemed like that came to head for many fans and bloggers around the Yankosphere. I noticed a ton of complaining about Girardi and his decision-making after Jacob Lindgren gave up the game-tying home run in the 8th, and to a certain extent I think the criticism is warranted. I didn't like the call to use Betances on Tuesday, I didn't like the quick hook on Chasen Shreve, and I hated some of the earlier Carpenter decisions. But when you look at what he has to work with right now and the position he's in with respect to his bullpen makeup, how much can we really put on Joe?
Let's set the current standing for the bullpen, and for the sake of the discussion we'll include Andrew Miller since he's only been unavailable for 1 day. There is/was a dominant late-game tandem that has been reliable and worked hard at times this season. There is a continually evolving middle relief corps that is currently occupied by 3 lefties, 2 of whom have very little MLB experience. And there's the crappy back end pair of innings eaters in Esmil Rogers and Chris Capuano, who we already know should never be used in close games but sometimes have to be when the aforementioned overworked guys are unavailable.
That's what Joe has to juggle every game, every series, and every week, and even though I don't think he's had a 100% hit rate on his decision making within those working parameters, I don't it's entirely fair to trash the guy to the level he was getting trashed yesterday. Some of the people calling for his head today are the same people who've been lamenting the lack of reliable middle relievers ahead of Betances and Miller and calling for Shreve and Lindgren to get more looks. Joe has given them those looks, letting Shreve start the 9th on Tuesday night and using Lindgren mid-inning to shut down the 8th yesterday. To his credit, he's trying to give those young players chances to prove themselves in higher-leverage situations and gauging their usefulness as reliable middle relief options.
To their discredit, Shreve and Lindgren didn't come out and close out those innings when they got their chances. Shreve put 2 men on base on Tuesday and walked a batter with 2 outs. That can't happen in that situation. It's the same thing everybody was criticizing Carpenter for. Lindgren didn't execute on a 1-2 pitch with 2 outs yesterday and served up a home run ball to the short porch. In fairness to him, he should have been out of the inning already if Stephen Drew can turn a double play. But in double fairness to Joe, he wasn't the one who walked a batter or threw a meatball with 2 outs. He merely provided those young players the opportunities that they need and that almost everybody agreed they deserved.
So what's Joe supposed to do? He's trying to rebuild the bridge to his 2 studs and balance that with not running those studs into the ground to make up for the lack of bridge. It's not fair to criticize Joe for using guys like Carpenter and Rogers in key middle relief spots, say he needs to use different, better pitchers, then criticize him again when he does exactly that and it doesn't work out. It's also not fair to give him crap one week for using Betances too much and wring hands about Betances wearing down and then give him crap again for not using Betances in a usual Betances situation because he wants to give him some extra rest. You can't have it both ways, not when the bullpen is in the state of disarray that it currently is.
The loss of Miller is a huge blow to this group and will make the challenges of finding and building a better middle relief group and not over-working Betances even more challenging. But some reinforcements should be coming in soon in the forms of Chris Martin and possibly another Triple-A righty, and Ivan Nova's return later this month does make the "Adam Warren back to the bullpen" option easily do-able. Joe's doing the best he can in this situation - to even suggest that he's intentionally trying to lose games is ludicrous - and I think it's important to recognize and appreciate that. In a sense, he's giving us exactly what we've been asking for lately and we'd all be wise to remember that before we completely shred him for every bullpen move that doesn't work out.