When the Yankees demoted Brian Bruney on August 8, 2007, to make room for Joba Chamberlain, the then-25-year-old reliever didn’t take it too well. He explicitly denied comment to reporters, and knocked over a chair on his way out the door. It was a childish maneuver, but something that didn’t catch many Yankees fans off-guard at the time. While as fans we don’t get an up-close look at these guys, it always seemed like Bruney had an attitude problem to go along with his lack of pitching control.
Bruney apparently had an epiphany that off-season and came into camp much slimmer in 2008. On top of that, he seemed to have chilled out — something that, I can say from experience, tends to happen when one progresses through one’s 20s. It started to show in his results. He pitched very well in April, allowing runs in only one of nine appearances. He was striking guys out at a good clip, and his walks, while still a bit high, were down for him. It looked like the Yankees decision to tender Bruney a contract over the winter was paying off.
Then came April 22. Bruney slipped while rushing to cover first base against the White Sox, and came up hobbling. The Yankees initially called it a sprain in his foot, but it ended up being an injury to the Lisfranc joint. Early word was that he’d need surgery and would miss the season. Not wanting to let his newfound persona — and relative accuracy — go to waste, Bruney opted for rest and rehab. He made it back on August 2, a month and a half after another Yankee suffered a similar injury.
His comeback was a smashing success. He allowed runs in just four of his 23 appearances, and none at all in September. His walks were still a bit high, but everything else seemed to be working. Bruney had so impressed the Yankees staff that the idea heading into the off-season was to anoint Bruney the eighth inning setup man for the 2009 season.
That, too, started off well. After a rocky appearance on Opening Day in Baltimore, Bruney was as dominant as can be. He pitched 7.2 innings in eight appearances, allowing just one run, striking out 12, and walking none. This is the same Brian Bruney who seemed to walk a batter an inning two years ago, and who still had some control issues in 2008. Yet only two walks in the month of April — both coming on Opening Day.
We all know what happened from there. Bruney had elbow discomfort which landed him on the DL. He came back for one game, pitched well, and hit the DL again. In his latest stint he’s pitched okay, not great, but not like the Bruney we’ve seen. While he’s allowed runs in three of his eight appearances, the seven walks he’s issued is a bit more of a concern. The Yankees seem concerned, too, as they’ve moved him out of the coveted eighth inning role in favor of Phil Hughes.
Bruney isn’t flipping chairs this time or denying reporters comment. To the contrary, he’s particularly zen-like, talking to reporters with confidence. Pete Caldera has some quotes from the reliever.
“I have lost the eighth inning job,” Bruney said before the game. “But I think the true character of a man comes out when things aren’t going well. I take it as a challenge upon myself…to be the guy people expect me to be.”
Bruney says he’s not concerned with being the 8th inning guy when there are big outs to get in the sixth and seventh, too. “I wouldn’t say losing the eighth was tough,” he said. “Winning games is all that matters.”
There are plenty of big outs to get in the seventh. Bruney’s been working to get back to form, and Caldera has word that he’s optimistic about a recent bullpen session. This is a complete 180 from where we saw Bruney just two years ago. That, and his early season dominance, have moved many fans into his corner.
There’s a good chance, with Al Aceves taking the mound today after having not started since he was at Scranton in April, that Bruney could face a few batters today. If he pitches poorly, I’d expect he’d get back to work trying to figure himself out. If he pitches well, I expect he’d get back to work and try to continue it. That’s what Brian Bruney makes me think these days. At this point, it’s hard not to pull for the guy.