Middle relief a real weakness early on

Bichette goes deep as Campos makes first start in 11 months
Cesar Cabral scheduled to pitch in a game on Friday
The less they need multiple innings out of guys like Shawn Kelley, the better. (Leon Halip/Getty)
The less they need multiple innings out of guys like Shawn Kelley, the better. (Getty)

Outside of a short stretch last summer when the team was dealing with injuries, the Yankees have always boasted a strong and deep bullpen during the Joe Girardi era. Part of that is Girardi’s willingness to spread the workload around and keep guys fresh, and part of it is the front office’s shift away from expensive free agent relievers (Rafael Soriano notwithstanding) in favor of an abundance of low cost arms who miss bats. It’s easier to dump a cheap bad reliever than it is an expensive one.

So far this season, with an assist to some short outings from the rotation, the middle of the Yankees bullpen looks like a real Achilles heel that could be exposed in close games. Yesterday’s three-reliever, eight-base runner, three-run, 3.2-inning effort was the latest clunker from a relief corps that has allowed 21 runs and 52 base runners in 25.2 innings during the first six games. I think it goes without saying that the numbers are even worse when you remove Mariano Rivera and David Robertson from the equation.

The Yankees have already made one bullpen adjustment this year, shifting David Phelps into a full-time relief role in place of Cody Eppley, who has been getting knocked around since camp opened. Adam Warren‘s presence as the long-man — he allowed one run in 5.1 innings in relief six days ago, his only appearance of the year so far — potentially frees up Phelps for middle relief, where he could even be a multi-inning guy. That sounds wonderful in theory, but Girardi has been running things for six years now and outside of 2009 Al Aceves, he’s shown little inclination towards using a reliever in that way.

The good news is the Yankees have proven to be very adept at rebuilding bullpens on the fly. They’ve done it pretty much every year during the Girardi era — the bullpen at the start of the season has never looked like the one they’ve taken into the postseason. Pieces like Shawn Kelley, Warren, and Phelps can go to the minors without having to clear waivers while Boone Logan and Joba Chamberlain have earned a little more rope. Joba can be maddening as hell, but there’s no doubt he can be one of the three best relievers on the team when he’s not pitching like a knucklehead.

Among the bullpen options in Triple-A are righties Mark Montgomery, Preston Claiborne, Jim Miller, and Sam Demel as well as southpaws Juan Cedeno and Josh Spence. None of those guys are on the 40-man roster, so something would have to give to get them in the big league bullpen. I don’t think Vidal Nuno or Brett Marshall should be ruled out as bullpen options either (especially the former), and you could argue the same is true for Dellin Betances. Point is, there are some internal options to cycle through before a trade(s) becomes necessary.

It would be nice if the Yankees had David Aardsma or (the currently injured) Clay Rapada still available, but the 40-man roster crunch was rather severe and it was either going to be a pair of 30-something relievers or a pair of 20-something kids (Melky Mesa? Corban Joseph? Zoilo Almonte?) who might be able to help the team in the long-ish term. I’m not sure they made the wrong decision there despite the obvious bullpen need. Considering both Aardsma and Rapada cleared waivers despite mid-six-figure salaries, it’s clear other teams didn’t value them highly either.

The season is still young and it’s not time to press the bullpen panic button just yet, but it’s clear the middle relief guys need to do a better job going forward. In fact, the best possible thing that could happen to the bullpen right now is the rotation finding its groove and providing more length going forward. I think Kelley specifically would benefit a ton from being a true one-inning guy rather than being counted on for multiple innings every time out because the starter struggled to get through five. The pitching staff as a whole has underperformed in the last week, but middle relief tends to be much easier to adjust on the fly than the rotation or late-inning relievers. It’s just a question of how long until some adjustments are made.

Bichette goes deep as Campos makes first start in 11 months
Cesar Cabral scheduled to pitch in a game on Friday
  • CountryClub

    As you mentioned in the article, Cash and Girardi always figure out the pen. This doesn’t really worry me.

    • Jersey Joe

      I feel exactly the same way.

      I know 3-4 is nothing to get excited about, but I like the direction that this team is headed in. If we can take 3 out of 4 in this series at a minimum, then I think we can get some momentum going forward.

  • OldYanksFan

    I don’t know much about Shawn Kelley, but looking at BRef, he looks like a guy with a decent K rate, but is VERY Homer prone…. far too much for a RP. He seems like a Phil Hughes type… has the potential, but can’t quite get it together.

    I don’t know how much rope he will get, but it seems like he should be swapped out for Monty or Marshall.

    I know it’s early, but the guy has been killing us.
    Anyone got the scoop on Kelly?

    • Jersey Joe

      Too early to make too many changes. Wouldn’t get hasty with Marshall or Monty.

    • Vern Sneaker

      Agree about Marshall but not sure at all I agree about Monty. I think he’s an upgrade over Kelley, and why not upgrade?

    • Robinson Tilapia

      I understand the parallel you’re trying to make with Hughes, even though it’s a reach to put the two in the same sentence.

      Marshall’s profile is supposed to be one of a workhorse-type starter, and I’d rather keep him that way. Nuno would certainly be interesting.

      I was dead set against the Aardsma release, but how things have gone since, as Mike pointed out, certainly are starting to change my opinion on that.

      Way too early to tell on Kelley, but the preence of both Phelps and Warren does offer flexibility with the bullpen.

      As for Montgomery, I think he’s going to be a stud as well, but I’d caution against thinking he’s going to be a savior, or even the solution, from day one. He’ll get his shot. Whether it’s now or July, I really can’t say I care much.

      It’s mix and match every season, even when you think it’s not going to be. I’d be interested as well in seeing if Spence, Miller, or Ceden can be this year’s surprise.

    • Bob Buttons

      SSS. Take a deep breath and relax. Everything will work better 50 games later.

  • BaltimoreYankee

    “the bullpen at the start of the season has never looked like the one they’ve taken into the postseason”

    I don’t think that will be an issue this year.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      I bet you’re wrong on that.

    • MannyGeee

      I see what you did there. Veeeeeery sneaky.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        Ah, fuck. I missed that.

        Sneaky indeed.

  • JohnC

    I agree. They have reinforcements down in AAA if needed like MOntgomery, Claiborne and Cedeno. Still wonder why they decided to make ROndon a starter. He looked so good in ST out of the pen.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Yup. Forgot to mention Rondon and Betances in my comment above. I guess they could always switch Rondon back. There’s something they see, I guess, but I wager he’d have been on a much faster track as a reliever.

    • Rick

      Have to let him completely fail as a starter. They know what they have in him as a reliever. If he can start though, he’s much more valuable.

    • pat

      Making a guy like Rondon a starter is basically a fast track to being a mid-late season callup. Builds up arm strength and allows them to get more innings to get more work in vs real hitters. They usually have all their big time relief prospects pitch on a regular schedule anyway. This has the dual purpose of what I mentioned before and as other have mentioned, exhausting the possibility that he could start.

  • LarryM Fl

    The team has a makeup of guys who can make contact which is not reliant on the HR. They can hit HRs just not exactly their approach. I prefer this makeup because it can wear pitchers down and keep the ball in play. Got to love both Vernon and Robbie going to the opposite field for hits yesterday.

    As far as the pitching it pisses me off to watch Joba need 28 pitches to finish off and inning. His physical talent is evident but he is still not a finished product. Kelly has two pitches and was hanging cement mixers of curves/sliders which were banged around he seems predictable with his pitch selection.

    For the most part I liked the game and seems as this team is starting to find itself. Ichiro looks a bit off but he can turn it around. Wells looks like he’s having some enjoyment out there. Go Yanks.

    • Kosmo

      I agree on Joba. Although it´s still early in the season to be too critical. Joba has 3 plus pitches none of which he can locate with any degree of consistency. He walks Marson a late inning replacement, nibbling with sliders on the outside corner. Just throw goddamn 94-95 mph fastballs over the plate.

  • trr

    I like Montgomery; hope we see him in the Bronx soon. Very soon.

    • Kosmo

      me too !

    • Jim Is Bored

      I think he’ll be up before the ASB.

  • zs190

    They haven’t pitched well but it’s such a tiny sample and given inherent volatility with relievers, it’s not enough to worry me yet especially given the track record for these guys.

    There is no doubt Rapada is hurt and can’t help right now so there is no regret with him. I don’t know what’s wrong with Aardsma but not only did 29 teams pass on him in waivers, they still haven’t signed him now that he’s a FA. I’m inclined to think that there’s just something wrong with him that we don’t know about.

  • Long-Past-His-Day-Rod

    “…potentially frees up Phelps for middle relief, where he could even be a multi-inning guy. That sounds wonderful in theory, but Girardi has been running things for six years now and outside of 2009 Al Aceves, he’s shown little inclination towards using a reliever in that way.”

    Yet Girardi’s rationale for cutting Aardsma was that he couldn’t offer multiple innings of work out of the pen. Does not compute.

    Not a criticism of you, Mike, but that seems like an odd statement from Joe when he, as you pointed out, tends to not use guys for multiple innings unless the game is a blowout and he needs innings eaten. I’d take a single inning of Aardsma over 2+ shitty innings of Kelley.

    • CountryClub

      Well, it’s possible that they just didn’t like what they were seeing out of Aardsma and they used that as an excuse. They wouldn’t want to come out and say we dont think his stuff is good enough. That would be a dick move.

      Has anybody picked him up yet?

      • Long-Past-His-Day-Rod

        That’s certainly possible, and moreso probable I suppose since nobody has picked him up yet.

        I thought he was throwing pretty well in ST though, guess they saw something they didn’t like.

  • Nickel

    Because of the team’s philosophy of bullpen-building in the Girardi era, I am not worried about this. If it continues to be a problem, they’ll continue to swap out parts from anywhere they can until they get the combination that works.

    • Nickel

      Unless it’s my imagination, I feel like Girardi-era bullpens have a propensity for starting slowly and then righting the ship after about a month or so.

  • Eddard

    It starts with the starters getting deep in ballgames. Only Andy had a good outing his first go around and Hiroki was knocked out early. CC went deep, we had a big lead yesterday which gives the middle relief breathing room. Starters need to settle in and so do relievers. Give them time.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Relievers certainly need their rest. I can’t imagine anyone’s crying overuse right now, though.

  • hogsmog

    Not that they should, but is there any reason they can’t just resign Aardsma.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      No reason at all.

    • Bob Buttons

      Maybe Aardsma don’t want to be back.

  • Travis L.

    Does anyone have any idea what happened to Chase Whitley? He isn’t on any of the active rosters in the minors and he would have been a decent option for the MLB pen.

    • Jim Is Bored

      In the minors preview Mike said he hasn’t been assigned to any rosters yet, but would likely be at AAA once he was, so I’m guessing a minor injury or personal issue of some kind.

    • trr

      not sure – I don’t remember reading that he was released or injured.

  • MannyGeee

    I would imagine Aardsy is waiting for a major league opportunity to present itself, but i could see him taking a minor league contract with us as opposed to another team…

    • Robinson Tilapia

      If no one else wants him, then why not, other than we seem to like his name more than people seem to like what he’s curently throwing. That’s still worth a second shot on an MiLB.

  • http://www.twitter.com/matt__harris Matt :: Sec110

    not necessarily a panic reaction, but dump Kelly for Ardsma, and put him in the 7th. Joba then gets less valuable innings, and that (at least for now) is for the better.

    I also think they are on thin ice with Logan. He’s just a ticking timebomb of an arm injury. Another lefty would be nice.

    That being said, the bullpen is a fluid/developing situation, and as previously mentioned, Cash/Girardi seem to figure it out.

    • Jersey Joe

      I agree with everything you said. As for the lefty situation; I’m really not sure why they dropped Rapada.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        Shoulder may have kept him out for a while. 40-man crunch. Was atrocious for Baltimore prior to last season and isn’t exactly an up and coming young pup. Enough lefties in the org to absorb the small blow.

        • Jim Is Bored

          Was atrocious for Baltimore **against righties, and in 16 innings**

          They used him miserably.

          He has a career 3.01 FIP against lefties. He’s definitely useful when used correctly.

  • JLC 776

    Like a lot of people have said, middle relief should not be a big worry. It will get figured out and, I truly believe, will become an advantage.

    I’m just glad that it can be argued that the middle relief hasn’t cost us any games due to the shitty offense. Both parts have been weak so far, but I think both will become better quickly. Hopefully the whole team isn’t feast or famine for the whole year (I think this was true last year for the most part) and eventually they can become somewhat competitive regardless of who’s hot and who’s cold.

  • trr

    Not sure why they don’t re-sign Aardsma to a minor league contract.
    If he did, I’m sure the opportunity to pitch at the ML level later this year would present itself….

    • Robinson Tilapia

      No one else has either.

      We all believe he can do better as time goes on, but multiple people who know more than us seem to see something they don’t like.

      That being said, sure, give him an MiLB with an opt-out at some point. Who cares.

  • cid

    Enough about David Aardsma! David Aardsma is a very effective reliever when he is throwing 94-95mph. David Aardsma is not a very effective reliever when he is throwing 89-91mph like he was in SP. His arm did not come back and every team knows this which is why he is still out there. The Yanks took a chance that his velocity would come back. It didn’t.

    You are smarter than this Mike.

  • vicki

    “21 runs and 52 base runners in 25.2 innings.” yuck.

    • vicki

      most infuriating of all: 5.61 bb/9.

  • http://riveravenueblues linda weglarz

    Everyone just be patient……I bet there will be an announcement tomorrow April 11th about David Aardsma’s new team…..the team that sign’s him gets more than a Pitcher, or Baseball player…..he’s one of the really good guys in professional sports.. I’m not his Mother nor his wife.