Righty reliever option off the board: Cubs sign Rafael Soriano

(Rich Lam/Getty)
(Rich Lam/Getty)

A right-handed bullpen option has come off the board. The Cubs signed Rafael Soriano to a minor league contract earlier today, the team announced. James Wagner says Soriano will get the pro-rated portion of a $4.1M base salary plus $4M in bonuses based on appearances and games finished. I’m guessing he’ll pitch in a few minor league games before joining Chicago’s bullpen, where they’ve had a bit of a revolving door at closer of late.

Soriano fired Scott Boras a week or two ago and was scheduled to throw for scouts later this week, but apparently the Cubs were aggressive and decided to make an offer before other teams got a look at him. Every team would take Soriano on a minor league contract, but Soriano has a say too, and he presumably felt Chicago was his best opportunity. Plus he played for manager Joe Maddon with the Rays, so there’s some familiarity there.

Late last week Brian Cashman said the Yankees want to add a right-handed reliever — “I do need to find a right-handed arm for the bullpen here at some point,” said the GM — to their five-lefty bullpen, and earlier today they signed righty Sergio Santos to a minor league contract, basically just to see if he has anything left. I expect them to cycle through internal options (Nick Rumbelow? Branden Pinder? Jose Ramirez?) and scrap heap guys like Santos before making any sort of trade.

The lack of right-handed relievers isn’t a major problem right now because those lefties can get righties out. Still, it would be nice to add some balance down the road. The Yankees were never connected to Soriano, but he was speculated as a bullpen target simply because he’s a righty and was available for nothing but money. Then again, the Yankees know him firsthand and might not have been interest in a reunion. Either way, expect the search for the righty reliever to continue.

Cashman: “I do need to find a right-handed arm for the bullpen”


This should come as no surprise. During an MLB Network radio interview late last week (audio link), Brian Cashman confirmed the Yankees are indeed looking for another right-handed reliever. They’re currently carrying two righties (Dellin Betances, Esmil Rogers) and five lefties (Andrew Miller, Justin Wilson, Chasen Shreve, Jacob Lindgren, Chris Capuano) in the bullpen, which is unusual, if nothing else.

“We lined up a lot of moves this winter to give ourselves a really deep bullpen, some of which have really paid dividends” said the GM. “Others, recently with the designation of David Carpenter, haven’t. So, I need to probably find a right-handed arm. Not probably, I do need to find a right-handed arm for the bullpen here at some point. We have Miller, Betances, Wilson, Shreve, Lindgren, Capuano and Esmil Rogers as the long man.

“Really, outside of Dellin Betances there’s only one right-handed arm out there and he’s the long man, so I’ve got a number of lefties out there in Wilson and Shreve and Lindgren that all can get righties out. At least that’s the benefit of those guys, so it’s not as much of a pressing issued, but I certainly would love to get an arm that Carpenter I think is, but it’s just not here in New York.”

The five-lefty bullpen isn’t necessarily a problem right now because, at the very least, four of those lefties can get righties out. The only real question mark is Lindgren, a rookie with only a handful of weeks in the show who is not yet in the Circle of Trust™. But still, it would be nice to have a more balanced bullpen, especially since the Yankees have series coming up with the righty heavy Nationals, Marlins, Tigers, and Astros.

The Triple-A options are plentiful — Jose Ramirez, Branden Pinder, Danny Burawa, and Bryan Mitchell are all on the 40-man roster — but it’s unlikely any of those guys would jump right into any kind of high (or even medium) leverage role. The Yankees need a righty for the seventh inning, basically. What Adam Warren — or heck, even Shawn Kelley — was last season. That was the role Carpenter was supposed to fill.

It is worth noting right-hander Nick Rumbelow has started working longer stints in Triple-A — he’s thrown at least two innings and 26+ pitches in four of his last five appearances — which is what the Yankees had Lindgren do before he was called up. Rumbelow has a 4.03 ERA (3.00 FIP) with a 27.1 K% this year after pitching to a 2.62 ERA (2.05 FIP) with a 34.0 K% at four levels last year, and he really impressed in Spring Training. That doesn’t mean he is coming up, but Rumbelow has to be considered a bullpen candidate for now.

Pretty much no team is ready to sell at the moment — I’m sure the Phillies would trade Jonathan Papelbon today, but nah — so the trade market is thin. Free agent Rafael Soriano will throw for scouts on Thursday according to his new representatives at Octagon. He recently fired Scott Boras and is now working out for scouts, so you know he’s itching to get back to work. As I said last week, there’s no downside to signing Soriano if he comes cheap and is willing to accept a setup role. If he helps, great. If he stinks, you cut him and wind up right back where you started.

Right now, the lack of another right-handed reliever is not really hurting the Yankees. It’s an inconvenience more than a major flaw. The middle relief has settled down of late mostly because Shreve has assumed more responsibility, so the Yankees aren’t desperate either. Cashman’s right though. They will need another righty reliever at some point this summer. Maybe Rumbelow can be that guy, maybe it’ll be Soriano. Either way, I don’t expect the five-lefty ‘pen to last forever.

Bullpen and defense, supposed strengths, must improve for Yankees going forward

Uh, guys? (Presswire)
Uh, guys? (Presswire)

Yesterday’s blowout win notwithstanding, the Yankees are in the middle of a really bad stretch, having lost ten of their last 12 games. A stretch that awful features bad everything — bad pitching, bad hitting, bad defense, bad base-running, bad everything. More than one-quarter of the way through the season, we’re still left wondering what exactly the Yankees do well other than hit homers.

During the offseason the Yankees focused on improving their team defense — specifically the infield — as well as the bullpen, essentially trying to copy the model the Royals used to surprise the world a year ago. On paper it all made sense. We saw firsthand how good Chase Headley and Stephen Drew are in the field last year, and Didi Gregorius came with a strong defensive reputation, plus the team brought in power relievers by the bushel. The pieces were there, in theory.

So far this season neither the bullpen nor the defense have been strengths. Far from it, really, and this latest stretch of awful play has made it plainly obvious. The bullpen as a whole has a 3.23 ERA (3.51 FIP) compared to the 3.54 ERA (3.71 FIP) league average, but the relief crew is top heavy — Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller have been fantastic, combining for a 0.42 ERA (1.62 FIP) in 43.1 innings. The Yankees have a lot of problems. Those two aren’t among them.

The rest of the bullpen, however, has a combined 4.36 ERA (4.02 FIP) in 107.1 innings, which is just turrible. David Carpenter has been a massive disappointment and is beyond untrustworthy after allowing at least one run in six of his last eight appearances. I feel like Justin Wilson has been better than his 5.79 ERA (3.22 FIP), but what I feel doesn’t matter, those runs are scoring. Esmil Rogers leads all MLB relievers with 29 innings and has allowed 14 runs in his last 12.2 innings. Yikes.

The Yankees made minimal bullpen changes through the first 45 games, doing nothing more than shuffling fresh arms in and out of the last spot as necessary until calling up Jacob Lindgren on Sunday. Lindgren might actually be a solution to the middle relief problem, but that remains to be seen, and besides, he is just one reliever. Carpenter hasn’t given anyone a reason to think improvement is coming and Wilson’s career-long strike-throwing problem suggests he’ll never be truly reliable.

The non-Miller/Betances portion of the bullpen has been a major eyesore, though we all understood that was a possibility this year. Bullpens are like that. Relievers are so unpredictable. The defense though? Those issues were completely unexpected. Headley’s had trouble throwing and getting caught in between hops on more than a few occasions, so while he hasn’t been a total disaster, he hasn’t been as good as the Yankees have needed him to be defensively.


Gregorius’ defensive problems are almost entirely related to decision making. He clearly doesn’t lack physical tools — Didi has a quick first step, good range, and an effortless rocket of an arm — but he has a knack for really poor decisions, whether it’s trying to flip the ball behind his back the other day or taking his time underhanding the ball on that potential double play in Detroit. The bad decisions seem to come at inopportune times too. I suppose the good news is that this is ostensibly correctable, but it hasn’t been corrected yet.

Drew has been fine at second base — the other second basemen, Jose Pirela specifically, have not — and of course Carlos Beltran has been a total negative in right field. Beltran actively hurts the team with his defense. He’s worse than a zero in the field. Even Brian McCann has not been up to snuff, mostly because he’s struggled to keep balls in the dirt in front of him. Only the Blue Jays have allowed more passed pitches (wild pitches plus passed balls) than the Yankees this year and Toronto has a full-time knuckleballer on the staff.

Outside of benching Beltran (never gonna happen), the Yankees don’t have any ways to improve their defense. Even doing something drastic like, say, sending Gregorius to Triple-A, just shifts the defensive problem to second base, where Pirela or Rob Refsnyder would take over with Drew moving to short. The Yankees can’t do much more than wait for Headley and Didi to correct their issues. I’m far more confident in Headley doing it than Gregorius, but that’s just me.

The bullpen is another matter because the Yankees don’t have to wait for anything. Carpenter has been given time yet has shown no improvement, so we’re at the point were finding someone else has to be considered. Rogers is the very definition of replacement level but the long man isn’t really deciding games. He’s just soaking up outs. Still, it’s a sore spot and if a better option comes along, so be it. Maybe Chris Capuano is the answer when Ivan Nova or Masahiro Tanaka gets healthy. Who knows.

The Yankees have bullpen options in the minors. Lindgren was just one. Bryan Mitchell — another long man candidate — and Nick Rumbelow are two of the most notable, though Danny Burawa and Tyler Webb should be considered options as well. Chris Martin is inching closer to a return from his elbow issue and that may also solidify things. He showed flashes of being useful earlier in the season and didn’t lose effectiveness until his elbow started barking.

Right now, the middle of the bullpen and defense has been disappointments, massive ones compared to expectations coming into the season. They were supposed to be strengths and they’ve been anything but. This recent 2-10 strength is the result of the defense giving opponents extra outs and the middle relievers either blowing leads or failing to keep games close. Those are things that are not supposed to happen and yet it’s happened game after game.

The Yankees were going to have a hard enough time contending this season, even if the bullpen and defense were performing as advertised. Now that they’ve developed into a problem, well, something like ten losses in the span of a dozen games happens. This stuff is fixable, at least I think it is, and it’s not going to fix itself overnight. For now the Yankees just need to see things start to improve and move in the right direction to remain competitive.

Three small, easy moves the Yankees can make to improve the margins of the roster

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

Even with last night’s disappointing come-from-ahead loss to the Blue Jays, the Yankees have won 13 of their last 17 games, and they’ve played well in just about all phases of the game. Not truly great but good enough. They’re getting just enough offense and just enough starting pitching to support a strong team defense and a dominant bullpen.

The Yankees are not without their flaws, of course. The bottom of the order is mostly unproductive, like half the roster is at risk of physically breaking down in any given game, and some of the spare part players are providing little help. Garrett Jones failing to make that scoop in the eighth inning last night is a prime example. It was a tough play but one that has to be made.

The trade deadline is still several weeks away and the Yankees are unlikely to make a major roster move anytime soon. By major I mean adding a new everyday player to the lineup or a new starter to the rotation. (Chris Capuano is two weeks away from returning. That’s about as big as it’ll get until July.) The Yankees do have the ability to make some small upgrades to the margins of the roster though, and they don’t even have to go outside the organization to do it. Here are three that jump to mind.

Swap Petit For Pirela

This one is really straight forward. The Yankees were planning to call up Jose Pirela last Wednesday before Masahiro Tanaka got hurt and threw a wrench into things. Tanaka’s injury allowed the team to recall Gregorio Petit one day after sending him down and extend Pirela’s rehab assignment, which was actually a good thing because Pirela himself told Dan Pfeiffer he didn’t feel his swing was all the way back just yet.

Pirela went 0-for-11 with three strikeouts in his first three rehab games before the Tanaka injury and has gone 12-for-22 (.545) with five doubles, one homer, two walks, and no strikeouts in five games since. I suppose that doesn’t necessarily mean he feels his swing is back to where it needs to be, but yeah. It sure seems like Pirela back on track after missing close to a month with the concussion.

For whatever reason Joe Girardi considers Petit a legitimate platoon option — he pinch-hit with two outs in the ninth inning last night! — but he’s not that type of player. Petit’s not much of a hitter at all. He’s been in pro ball since 2003 and has never really hit. No reason expect it to happen now unless he’s made a sacrifice to the BABIP gods. Pirela’s defense is not on par with Petit’s but his offense figures to be so far superior.

Petit surprisingly has an option left and that’s good. He’s worth stashing in Triple-A as middle infield depth since Brendan Ryan can’t even rehab one injury without hurting something else. This is a very simple move. Send down Petit, activate Pirela off the disabled list, and platoon him with Stephen Drew at second. It doesn’t get much easier than that.

Swap Shreve Or Martin For Lindgren

Lindgren. (Presswire)
Lindgren. (Presswire)

I am going to die on the Jacob Lindgren hill this summer, aren’t I? New York’s top draft pick last year has struck out 14 of 50 batters faced in Triple-A and 24 of the 30 balls he’s allowed to be put in play have been ground balls. His career numbers are even better — 40.3% strikeouts and 80.6% grounders in 35 innings. Total domination from a quick moving college reliever.

The Yankees have played a lot of close games lately and both Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller have been worked hard. Betances pitched for the sixth time in the last nine games last night and Miller has appeared in five of nine. This is just one of those stretches where they’ve been needed a lot — at some point later this season they’ll go five or six days between appearances, that’s baseball — so anything the Yankees can do to make their lives easier, they should.

Last night Girardi turned to Chris Martin in the eighth inning and that didn’t work — he got one out and allowed two hits. That’s after nearly allowing a homer to Mookie Betts over the weekend. Furthermore, Chasen Shreve seems to be the quintessential “last guy in the bullpen.” He’s pitched in either mop-up spots or extra innings. These two have done nice work overall this year, but I’ve said this before and I’ll say this again: you don’t let guys like that block someone like Lindgren.

The Yankees didn’t select Lindgren with their top pick last year because they think he’s a middle reliever. They believe he’s an impact reliever, and there’s no such thing as too many impact relievers. Betances and Miller are unbelievable. Betances, Miller, and Lindgren might be even better. Or it might not! At some point you have to find out, right? Lindgren’s a possible late-inning weapon. Martin and Shreve are the bullpen flavors of the week. Send down one, call up Lindgren, and let’s see what he’s got to offer.


Give Carpenter More Responsibility

This David Carpenter thing is crazy, isn’t it? It certainly appears Girardi does not trust him, possibly because of that big meltdown in Baltimore a few weeks ago. Carpenter threw one pitch in the Red Sox series and that was only because the bullpen was short-handed and Girardi had no choice to use him. Carpenter’s thrown six innings in the last 22 games and 3.2 of those six innings came with the Yankees up by at least six runs.

Games like last night are pretty much the exact situation I had in mind when the Yankees acquired Carpenter. Starter goes seven innings, one of Miller or Betances isn’t available, so Carpenter is the guy to pick up the slack. That’s basically what he did for the Braves the last two years, when he had a 2.63 ERA (2.88 FIP) in 126.2 innings. Isn’t that the kind of pitcher who deserves a longer leash than one meltdown before being banished to the far corner of the bullpen?

Girardi is usually really good with his bullpen usage and decisions, I mean really really good, yet Carpenter has fallen out of favor for whatever reason. I really don’t understand it. With Betances and Miller overworked, this is the time to show a little more faith in the right-hander in high-leverage spots. At least more faith than Martin. Carpenter’s pitched in late-inning situations before and he’s capable of doing it again. He just needs the opportunity. There’s no reason to hide him.

* * *

These aren’t major moves and no, they’re unlikely to have a big impact. They are potential upgrades though, potential upgrades with minimal downside. Swap Petit for Pirela and work Lindgren and Carpenter into the late-inning mix ahead of Martin and Shreve. Nothing crazy here. These are three easy-to-make moves — really two moves and one role change — and three possible upgrades that could help the Yankees sustain this recent hot stretch a little longer.

Bullpen roles becoming clear just three weeks into 2015

Unofficially officially the closer. (Presswire)
Unofficially officially the closer. (Presswire)

It’s really fun when something goes exactly according to plan in baseball. Almost nothing goes as planned in this game, so on those rare occasions when things work out as intended, it’s cause for celebration. And so far this year, the Yankees’ bullpen is worth celebrating. The relief crew has been every bit as good as advertised coming into the new season.

With David Robertson leaving as a free agent and the Yankees not having a Proven Closer™ on the roster heading into Spring Training, we really had no idea how the bullpen would shake out. We had a pretty good idea who the team’s seven relievers would be — well, we had a good idea who four would be (five before Adam Warren was needed in the rotation) and who was in the running for the other three — we just didn’t know who would slot into what role. Three weeks into 2015, those roles are becoming clear.

Closer: Andrew Miller

For a number of reasons, the co-closers experiment never did get off the ground. It sounded great in theory, but Dellin Betances‘ sudden (and thankfully temporary) reversion to pre-2014 Dellin in Spring Training threw a wrench into things. For the first week, week and a half of the regular season, Betances had no idea where the ball was going and wasn’t exactly trustworthy in big spots.

That opened the door to the full-time ninth inning work for Miller. He got his first save in the second game of the season thanks to what appeared to be a matchup situation — Joe Girardi went to Betances to face the right-handed meat of the Blue Jays lineup (Russell Martin, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Josh Donaldson) in the eighth inning and Miller got the final three outs against lesser hitters in the ninth. That’s all it took. His foot was in the door.

Closer is maybe the most unique job in baseball. Once a player has some success closing out games in the ninth inning, managers tend to stick with that guy going forward. Miller nailed down that first save, did it again five days later, and again four days after that, and boom. He is now very clearly the closer, recording eight of New York’s nine saves on the young season. Miller is the closer even if Girardi won’t admit it just yet.

“I still believe they both can do the job,” said the manager to Chad Jennings following Monday’s game. “It gives me a lot of options. It’s working the way we’re doing it. … (The plan is) just to stick with what we’re doing. I’m sure at some point one of them may be down and the other guy may have to do something else. Maybe they pitch a couple days in a row and I want to give one of them a day off. I still believe they’re really interchangeable.”

1996 Mariano/2014 Dellin: Dellin Betances

Boy this guy is some kind of luxury, isn’t he? Things got a little dicey for Betances at the end of Spring Training and the start of the regular season, but he’s turned it around and is back to being a multi-inning force at the end of games. It’s one thing to have a really great setup man like, say, Wade Davis or what the Yankees had with Robertson all those years. It’s another to have a guy who can do it for four or five outs fairly regularly.

Now, I don’t think we’ll Betances throw 90 innings again this season, that’s just not something a reliever can do year after year after year these days, but I definitely think we’ll see him get four or five outs on occasion. Heck, we’ve seen it already. Girardi used Betances to get five outs against the Rays eleven days ago then again to get four outs against the Tigers last week. It’s not necessarily something he should do every single time out, but Dellin gives Girardi the flexibility to pitch multiple innings if necessary.

With Miller locked into the closer’s job for the time being, Betances will remain in basically the same role he had last year, as Girardi’s go-to setup weapon. He’s settled into that role the last two weeks or so. The co-closers idea was fun. This works too. Dellin’s role is high-leverage outs-getter. That’s the most important thing.

Stop with the Coldplay jokes. (Presswire)
Stop with the Coldplay jokes. (Presswire)

Reliever Girardi Likes More Than We Realized: Chris Martin

So, Chris Martin. He had just an okay Spring Training, but Girardi and Brian Cashman and everyone else kept talking about how much they liked him, and now here he is at the end of April leading the Yankees with 12 relief appearances. I guess they weren’t joking around.

Martin started the year as the designated “only when losing” reliever — his first six appearances came with the Yankees trailing — but he’s gradually worked his way up the pecking order. Girardi used him for five outs in a two-run game Sunday night and then in a save situation when Miller was unavailable Tuesday. Considering the results (11 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 13 K), it’s hard to blame Girardi for giving Martin some more responsibility.

Previous members of the “Reliever Girardi Likes More Than We Realized” club include David Huff, Cody Eppley, Cory Wade, Luis Ayala, Sergio Mitre, and Brian Bruney. Martin was a scrap heap pickup — the Yankees got him in a cash trade with the Rockies after he’d been designated for assignment — who has already justified the minimal investment. He’s already worked his way into some important innings.

Reliever Girardi Doesn’t Seem To Trust: David Carpenter

Doesn’t it seem like Girardi still doesn’t fully trust Carpenter? He went to Martin for the save on Tuesday night instead of the more experienced Carpenter, then gave a weird answer when asked why he went Martin over Carpenter after the game. He basically said he was saving Carpenter for extra innings. Trust him in extra innings but not a save situation? Okay then.

Anyway, Girardi used Carpenter to get the final out of the seventh inning with a two-run lead Sunday night, then for a full inning in a tie game yesterday, but three of his four appearances prior to that came with the Yankees up by at least six runs. Two of them were with the Yankees up by nine runs. (Aside: Hooray for talking about the Yankees being up nine runs on occasion!)

Of those four appearances, the one Carpenter made with the score closer than six runs was the meltdown in Baltimore. Girardi brought him into the the sixth inning of a game the Yankees were leading by one, then Carpenter allowed three runs on two hits and a walk in one-third of an inning. Perhaps that blowup knocked the righty out of the Circle of Trust™ for the time being. That sure appears to be the case.

Lefty Specialist: Justin Wilson

One of the reasons Wilson was so interesting when he came over from the Pirates was his lack of a platoon split — from 2013-14 he held right-handed and left-handed batters to identical .268 wOBAs. And yet, Girardi has used Wilson as a left-on-left matchup reliever exclusively for nearly two weeks now. Here’s a real quick rundown of his recent appearances:

  • April 17th: Faced one batter, the lefty hitting Kevin Kiermaier. (strikeout looking)
  • April 19th: Brought in to face one batter, the lefty hitting David DeJesus, who was replaced by pinch-hitter Logan Forsythe. (fly out)
  • April 22nd: Faced five batters (two lefties, three righties) with the Yankees up six runs and then nine runs. Girardi was just counting down outs.
  • April 23rd: Brought in to face one batter, the lefty hitting Alex Avila, who was replaced by pinch-hitter James McCann. (ground out)
  • April 26th: Faced one batter, the lefty hitting Curtis Granderson. (pop-up)
  • April 27th: Faced three batters, two lefties (James Loney and Kiermaier) sandwiched around one righty (Brandon Guyer).
  • April 29th: Faced one batter, the lefty hitting Kiermaier. (line out)

So Girardi hasn’t been completely opposed to using Wilson against right-handers lately, but more often than not he’s been brought in for pure matchup work and not to throw a full inning. It could be that he has fallen out of the Circle of Trust™ — Wilson was charged with two runs in that Baltimore meltdown — and is now working his way back into favor.

Of course, Wilson’s strike-throwing issues are likely playing a role here as well. He’s always had a below-average walk rate — Wilson walked three of the first five and four of the first 13 batters he faced this year, and he’s walked five of 18 righties faced with only two strikeouts — and his early-season control issues may have scared Girardi off a bit. I can’t blame him. For now, Wilson is the middle innings lefty specialist and not someone we figure to see in real high-leverage spots anytime soon.

Long Man: Esmil Rogers

Coming into the regular season, this was the only bullpen role we could easily predict. We all knew Rogers was going to be the long man — he got stretched out as a starter in camp but Warren beat him out for the fifth starter’s job convincingly — and by and large he’s done a nice job. He’s got a 2.35 ERA (3.53 FIP) with 16 strikeouts and three walks in 15.1 innings. What more do you want from a long man? Rogers is a necessary evil — everyone seems to hate him but a veteran long man Girardi can run into the ground to spare the more important arms is a nice thing to have. Not all innings are pretty. Esmil’s hear to pick up the ugly ones.

The Last Spot: Chasen Shreve & Co.

As always, the last spot in the bullpen has been a revolving door early on in 2015. Shreve has held it down for the most part but he’s already been optioned once in favor of a fresh arm(s). Kyle Davies, Matt Tracy, Joel De La Cruz, and Branden Pinder have all seen big league time this year. Trust me, it won’t be the last time Shreve is sent down for a fresh arm this year.

Bullpens have to be flexible — what’s the point of having all those guys sitting and waiting in Triple-A if there’s no way to get them on the roster when they’re needed? — and this last spot gives the Yankees that flexibility. Shreve is good! But sometimes the furniture needs to be rearranged, and as the low man on the bullpen totem pole, he goes down to Triple-A when needed. If Shreve pitches well and Martin hits the skids at some point, it could be Martin who winds up in the minors whenever a fresh body is needed next. That’s just the way it goes.

* * *

For all the talk about the co-closers system coming into the season, Girardi has made it pretty clear over the years that he likes having relievers in set roles. He doesn’t need to say it, it shows in the way he uses his bullpen. Girardi has always had a set closer and preferred to have a set eighth inning guy as well. He’s even had a set seventh inning guy at times. The various relievers have settled into those various roles these last few weeks, and I’m sure that makes Girardi happy. It’s easier to manage when you already know who is going to pitch in what situation. At the beginning of the season, that wasn’t always clear. Now it is.

Yankees will soon reach a crossroads with Jacob Lindgren in Triple-A


With the exception of last Wednesday’s massive meltdown in Baltimore, the Yankees’ bullpen has been a major strength so far this season. They own a collective 2.13 ERA (3.32 FIP) in 55 innings with a very good strikeout rate (26.5%) and a below-average walk rate (10.9%) that should come down once Dellin Betances and Justin Wilson get over their early-season strike-throwing issues. Hopefully get over them, anyway.

New York’s bullpen has thrown a ton of innings this season, fourth most in MLB thanks in part to that 19-inning game, so they’ve worked a lot and answered the bell. On the list of problems with the team, the relief crew is very far down right now. That said, there is always room for improvement, and when you rely on the bullpen as much as these Yankees, fielding the strongest possible bullpen seems like a no-brainer.

At some point very soon, the Yankees are going to reach a crossroads with Jacob Lindgren, their top bullpen prospect who is currently wasting bullets in Triple-A. And that’s basically what he’s doing. Wasting bullets. Lindgren has struck out 42.1% of batters faced with an 84% ground ball rate in 32.2 innings since signing last year. He’s faced 36 batters in Triple-A this year — eleven have struck out and 19 others hit the ball on the ground. Exactly 80% of the batters he’s faced as a pro have either struck out or hit a grounder. Total domination.

Given how quickly he’s risen up the ladder and how much success he’s had in pro ball, I’m not sure what’s left for Lindgren to learn in the minors. He’s never going to be a control artist because there’s some funk in his delivery, so sitting around and waiting for his walk rate (career 12.1%) to come down seems like a waste since it might never happen. Lindgren’s not a starter who has to work on turning over a lineup three times or a position player who needs to iron out his approach at the plate or improve defensively. He’s a one inning, air it our reliever who isn’t being challenged.

Part of Lindgren’s appeal out of the draft was his ability to move quickly, which he has. He’s knocking on the door of the show nine months out of college. The Yankees have downplayed his MLB readiness since last year but that’s not really uncommon. Lots of teams try to pump the breaks on their recent draft picks. Here’s what scouting director Damon Oppenheimer told Anthony McCarron after drafting Lindgren with the team’s top pick last summer:

“I kind of leave those decisions for other people. My job’s just to bring the talent into the system. But we just think as a group that he does have the capability of moving through the system hopefully quickly. Whether he’s good enough to go pitch in the big leagues right away, somebody else will make that decision. But he’s obviously advanced. He’s obviously gotten out really good hitters. There’s some history with guys doing this, but there’s also some history with guys getting to the big leagues as relievers too quick and it doesn’t last. We’d like to get impact and longevity from him, not just something that’s real quick.”

Development isn’t always nice and linear. Even David Robertson, another strikeout and ground ball heavy reliever, went up and down a few times before sticking for good. Chances are Lindgren will do the same, and those trips up and down are a learning experience. Right now Lindgren doesn’t seem to be learning all that much in Triple-A, but he will learn in the big leagues because he will be challenged, at which point he may have to go back to Triple-A to make adjustments. The sooner he comes up, the sooner the sticks for good, even if he rides the bus a few times before it happens.

The Yankees have moved Lindgren through the minors much quickly than any of their other recent reliever draft picks. J.B. Cox, another high-end college reliever selected in the second round (2005), spent his entire first full pro season with Double-A Trenton. Lindgren started his first full season in Triple-A. He did the Double-A thing late last year. The team hasn’t been shy promoting him. It would be ridiculous if Lindgren was still in High-A or even Double-A. He’s not though. He’s right on the doorstep.

I think the Yankees are planning to call Lindgren up very soon because they’ve moved him aggressively. Maybe it’ll even happen this weekend. Fitting him on the roster won’t be difficult — I like Chris Martin, but you don’t let a soon-to-be 29-year-old who was designated for assignment in the offseason stand in the way of a bonafide end game bullpen prospect, Martin can go to Triple-A for a few weeks — and even if the Yankees were playing the service time game, Lindgren’s free agency has already been pushed back a year. (Relievers are so volatile that planning six and seven years into the future with them seems totally pointless, but I digress.)

Given his overwhelming minor league dominance to date, every pitch Lindgren throws in Triple-A is a wasted bullet. It’s a pitch he should be throwing in MLB. I’ve been saying that since the spring. The Yankees are rapidly approaching a crossroads with Lindgren if they haven’t gotten there already — he needs to come up to be challenged so he can take the next step in his development. The bullpen has been very strong and I understand not wanting to fix something that isn’t broken, but this isn’t an attempt to fix anything. It’s a necessary step to continue Lindgren’s development that also has the potential make that all important bullpen even stronger.

Yankeemetrics: April 13-15 (Orioles)

Stephen Drew, grand slam. Not a joke. (Photo credit: NY Daily News)
Stephen Drew, grand slam. Not a joke. (Photo credit: NY Daily News)

Going streaking
The Yankees started their 10-game road trip with a 6-5 win over Orioles at Camden Yards, fueled by a three-homer outburst that gave them an AL-best 12 longballs through the first seven games. It’s just the seventh time in franchise history they’ve hit at least a dozen homers this early into the season, and the first time since 2011.

Stephen Drew was the unlikely hero for the Yankees, delivering the big blow with a pinch-hit grand slam in the seventh inning to turn a 4-2 deficit into a 6-4 lead. How rare was Drew’s homer? The only other Yankee in the past 75 years with a two-out, go-ahead pinch-hit grand slam was Johnny Blanchard on July 21, 1961 vs. the Red Sox. Prior to Drew, the last Yankee with a pinch-hit slam in the month of April was Bobby Murcer on April 9, 1981 against the Rangers.

Michael Pineda got the win despite a shaky outing in which he was pulled in the seventh inning after giving up five runs on nine hits. It was the first time as a Yankee he had allowed more than two runs in a start on the road. Pineda’s streak of seven consecutive road starts giving up two-or-fewer runs was the longest to begin a Yankee career over the last 100 seasons.

Sabathia’s least favorite road trip
So much for winning streaks. The Yankees lost the middle game of their three-game set vs. the Orioles, 4-3, as CC Sabathia was knocked around for four runs on seven hits in seven innings. This is the first time in his 15-year career that he’s started a season with two losses in his first two outings.

Sabathia, who once dominated the O’s in Baltimore (10-1, 2.73 ERA in first 12 starts at Camden Yards), fell to 0-5 in his last seven road starts against the Orioles. The only Yankee pitcher with a longer road losing streak against the Orioles in Baltimore is Stan Bahnsen, who lost six straight decisions from 1968-71.

Mark Teixeira tried to rally the Yankees with an RBI double in the sixth inning. Prior to that hit, Teixeira was hitless in 14 at-bats against Orioles starter Miguel Gonzalez. That was his second-worst 0-fer vs. any pitcher in his career, behind only an 0-for-16 mark against Freddy Garcia. #WeirdBaseball.

Alex Rodriguez had a chance to tie the game when he pinch hit for Drew with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning and the Yankees down 4-3, but grounded out for the final out. That dropped A-Rod‘s career line as a pinch hitter to 1-for-19, including the postseason. The lone hit was a 10th-inning single in a win over the Rays on August 25, 2013.

It’s just one game, right…
The Yankees relief corps entered the rubber game against the Orioles as one of the best bullpens in the AL, ranking second in ERA and third in batting average allowed. But they imploded on Wednesday night and blew a 3-2 lead in spectacular fashion, giving up nearly as many earned runs (5) in the sixth inning alone as they had in the first eight games combined (7). That paved the way for an eventual 7-5 loss, dropping the Yankees to 3-6 on the season, their worst nine-game start since 1991.

A-Rod provided one of the offensive highlights for the Yankees, hitting a deep bomb to left field for his 656th career home run (four away from Willie and potential $6 million bonus!) and 32nd at Camden Yards. That’s 10 more homers at the ballpark in Baltimore than any other visiting player.

The Yankees tagged Orioles pitcher Bud Norris for three runs in five innings but he ended up with a no-decision when the Orioles rallied to take the lead in the sixth inning. Norris remained perfect (4-0) in five career games against the Yankees, becoming just one of five Orioles pitchers (since the team moved to Baltimore in 1954) to go unbeaten in his first five major-league starts against New York. The others are Hoyt Wilhelm, Tom Phoebus, Rudy May, and Bob Milacki.