On the bullpen workloadBy
It’s no secret that Joe Girardi and the Yankees have leaned on their bullpen heavily these last two months, as the division lead was squandered away and games became increasingly important. The late-game quartet of Rafael Soriano, David Robertson, Boone Logan, and Joba Chamberlain have been at the forefront of the increased bullpen workload, as they form what amounts to the Circle of Trust™. Every manager has those guys, but Girardi has been pressed into using his more than he probably would like of late.
Joel Sherman noted today that Wednesday’s win over the Twins was the first time at least one of those four relievers did not appear in a game since August 14th, when Hiroki Kuroda two-hit the Rangers. That was 38 games ago. Since that date, Logan (22) and Robertson (21) have appeared in more than half of the team’s games. Soriano (17) and Joba (15) have had it a little easier. Looking at September only, Logan ranks second in baseball with 16 appearances. Robertson is third (14). Only former Yankee Randy Choate (17) has made more pitching appearances this month.
Robertson has made four sets of back-to-back-to-back appearances since Kuroda’s complete game, the first four back-to-back-to-back appearances of his career. That blew my mind. Had he not missed more than a month with an oblique strain, Robertson would be sitting on 70+ appearances and 70+ innings on the season. Both would be career highs. Logan, on the other hand, leads the AL with 77 appearances, three more than anyone who spent the entire season in the junior circuit. This is a guy who hadn’t appeared in more than 65 games since 2007. He seems to be worn down and his performance has suffered down the stretch.
These next seven games are imperative and Girardi shouldn’t hold back on his top relievers until the Yankees clinch something, preferably the AL East. The good news is that CC Sabathia is starting to look more like himself, which means more innings-eating appearances like what he gave the team yesterday. Andy Pettitte has stretched his pitch count up to 88 and should be good for 100 or so next time. David Phelps and his ability to go multiple innings is now in the bullpen to help lighten the load, and we’ve already seen Girardi be willing to use him in higher-leverage seventh inning appearances. I’d like to see him go two innings at a time, but even the one inning helps.
With the AL East magic number down to six, the Yankees could be wearing the division crown by the time they return home to face the Red Sox next week. That would give them three precious days to rest the four core relievers before the season ends, but of course clinching that soon will require some help. At this point of the schedule, the proverbial bullpen damage has already been done. Maybe the late-inning guys can get an extra day or two or rest before the end of the season, but the workload already is what it is. The goal right now remains winning the division and if that means these guys have to throw a bunch of innings in the next week, so be it.