While last night’s win was perhaps the best of the season (who am I kidding? It was easily the best), the reason the game went from comfortably ahead to excruciating nail biter was because the bullpen failed to do it’s job. Before we go any further, let me say I had no issue with Joe Girardi‘s bullpen usage. The only had so many bullets to use last night, and he used them when he saw fit. That’s not the problem. The problem is that the relievers just didn’t get the job done.
Boone Logan, brought in to pitch the 6th because three of the next four batters were either lefthanded or switch hitters, immediately threw three balls to the first batter he faced. Two pitches later, Victor Martinez was trotting around the bases because he wasn’t fooled by a fifth consecutive fastball in the 92-93 range. Logan then allowed an 0-2 single to David Ortiz, but escaped the inning on a double play and a ground out. The Yankees had just given themselves a little breathing room with a run in the bottom of the 5th, but the big lefty gave that run back.
Chan Ho Park, fresh off the disabled list, pitched a relatively uneventful 7th inning before getting smacked around in the 8th. He had to be bailed out by Damaso Marte, who then needed to be bailed out by Javier Vazquez in the 9th. Overall, Yankee relievers put eight men on base and allowed four runs in four innings of work yesterday, and the only strikeout came courtesy of Vazquez, the last out of the game recorded by Yankee pitchers. Phil Hughes finally had an off night, but the bullpen just wasn’t able to pick him up.
Part of the problem has been the availability of some pitchers recently. Both David Robertson and Joba Chamberlain were unavailable against the Red Sox on Monday after working hard over the weekend, and you have to figure that Marte and CHoP will be unavailable tonight after throwing a combined 56 pitches yesterday. “Our bullpen is a mess,” said Girardi after yesterday’s game, referring to being shorthanded, not necessarily the overall performance. Instead of being able to use the relievers he wants to use, Girardi’s stuck using guys he has to use. When you’re forced into doing that, well bad things tend to happen.
Yes, Al Aceves is injured and that’s created a huge hole in the bullpen. However, some of the other guys out there just aren’t getting it done. Logan is allowing batters to get on base 38.5% of the time. Robertson still isn’t right even though his last four appearances have been scoreless. Park, who I believe will be better as he gets a little further away from his injury, is still getting back in the groove of things. The long reliever situation has been an absolute mess since Sergio Mitre has been pressed into spot start duty.
Joba and Mariano Rivera have been more than fine in the 8th and 9th innings, so there’s no concern there. Even Sunday’s meltdown was the product of a ground ball single, a walk to the reigning AL MVP, a strikeout of the AL leader in wOBA, and a ball off Mark Teixeira‘s glove. How often is that going to happen? Answer: Not very. You just tip your cap to the Twins and forget about it.
But the Yankees don’t have to deal with the unreliability of Robertson and Logan if they don’t want to. Both players have minor league options remaining, and there are viable options in Triple-A Scranton to fill-in as they get themselves right. Mark Melancon is there just waiting for a legitimate shot, not just a call up to be used in mop-up duty before being sent down a week later. Romulo Sanchez impressed in his lone big league appearance of the season. Even Jon Albaladejo has been killing it this year. It would be tough for any two of those three to be any worse than Robertson and Logan have, so why not give them a shot? The team was quick to pull the trigger on a bullpen makeover in 2009, what’s the holdup in 2010?
Maybe part of it is loyalty. Robertson was an important part of the bullpen down the stretch and in the playoffs last year, so maybe the team feels he deserves the benefit of the doubt. I’m confident that he’ll get himself back on track in the time, but there comes a point where it’s not worth the detriment to the team. Logan doesn’t deserve that benefit of the doubt; frankly he’s been pitching exactly like he had been prior to joining the Yankees. He has a lot to do to earn his spot. Being young, cheap, lefthanded, and able to throw hard will keep getting you chances, I guess.
Pulling a trigger on a bullpen makeover isn’t an easy decision, especially when you’re talking about young and talented players who have the tools to succeed. Sending down Robertson or Logan isn’t the end of their Yankee careers, they could be back within a month if they buckle down and work on sorting themselves out in the minors. The Yankees have options, but right now they don’t appear interested in using them unless they have no other choice.
Miraculous comebacks like the one we witnessed last night aren’t always going to happen. The bullpen should be able to preserve leads, and right now the guys who enter the game prior to the 8th inning just aren’t getting the job done.