Archive for Brian Bruney
For the Yankees, life is good. They’ve gotten contributions from all ends in the six games since the break, and have taken all six contests. The latest came earlier this afternoon in the series finale against the Orioles. The Yankees sent out A.J. Burnett, hoping he’d replicate the success he’d had leading up to the break. They were not disappointed.
Burnett scattered six hits and three walks over seven innings of work, tossing 104 pitches and getting 68 over for strikes. That’s a bit more than we’re used to seeing from Burnett. He ran into trouble a couple of times, both on out of the ordinary plays. In the third Nick Swisher dropped a fly ball led to a first and third, none out situation, and then a second and third, one out situation. Swisher got his redemption, though, running down a line drive by Ty Wiggington to end the frame.
The jam in the seventh didn’t end so painlessly. Robert Andino, the Orioles No. 9 hitter, bounced one sky high in front of the plate. By the time it came down neither Posada nor Burnett had a chance to make a play. Adam Jones later doubled, and Nick Markakis knocked in the Os first run with a sac fly. The Yanks were out of the inning when Aubrey Huff hacked at strike three in the dirt, but it bounced away from Posada and Jones scored. That’s quite a painful way to surrender two runs.
The action picked up again in the ninth. Phil Hughes had pitched the eighth, but the Yankees tacked on a run in the bottom, so Brian Bruney came in to close things out. It was his first appearance since July 10, and we’re all familiar with his struggles of late. Things looked good, as he struck out Andino, on three pitches, and Roberts, on a two-two count.
Then Adam Jones homered on the first pitch he saw. Okay. Forgivable. Adam Jones is good, and that was probably a poorly placed pitch. But when Nick Markakis followed two pitches later, that was enough. Girardi made the slow walk to the mound, summoning Rivera for the one-out save. Rivera completed striking out the side, and the Yanks picked up another victory.
We often hear about the Yankees struggling against rookie pitchers they’ve yet to see — in fact, I think it’s brought up in some capacity every time, win or lose. Today they not only got to Jason Berken, but they got to him early. It helped that Brian Roberts bobbled a Robinson Cano bouncer with the bases loaded, but when the frame was over the Yanks had jumped out to a 4-0 lead. That would be enough for Burnett to cruise through the rest of the game.
It’s tough coming up with new things to say after all these wins. The Yankees played well. They hit with runners in scoring position: 7 for 15. They got some timely pitching and made some good defensive plays (even if they were making up for previous blunders). It was an all-around great effort, as it has been since the break (and before). Teams that play like this will win ball games. That’s what they tell me.
It’s back to work tomorrow. A’s are in town for a four-game set. CC Sabathia gets to open things up. Until then, treat this as your open thread. But treat it gently.
At 51-37, with the third best record in baseball, leading the Wild Card and just three games back in the AL East, the Yankees had a fine first half. Yet it was a tumultuous three months, wrought with streaks and injuries and strange trends, causing mass panic at times among Yankees fans. Over the extended All-Star Break, we’ll go over each position to see what went right, what went wrong, and how things look for the second half. First up we looked at the starting pitching, now it’s time to take a look at the relievers.
The 2008 bullpen was one of the best in the business – ranking second in baseball in both FIP (3.82) and K/9 (8.66) – and the relief corps was expected to approximate that performance in 2009. The cast of characters was essentially unchanged, save a contract extension to southpaw Damaso Marte. Brian Bruney was set to join him as the primary bridge to Mariano Rivera, while rookie Phil Coke was primed to assume a key role. The rest of the pen was going to be filled out by a series of interchangeable parts, including Edwar Ramirez, Jose Veras, Jon Albaladejo, and David Robertson.
The results so far have been a mixed bag. The bullpen was dreadful in April, better in May, and flat out dominant in June. They currently rank second in the majors with a 1.26 WHIP (just one baserunner every 100 IP out of the league lead), yet their ERA (4.19) is just 22nd best in the game. The relievers have thrown the fourth-most innings in the American League, a number that has to come down to avoid a second half burnout. That burden falls on the starting rotation, however.
The bullpen’s revival is the result of the the massive turnover in personnel from April to June. Let’s touch on the major pieces.
Coming off a fairly major shoulder surgery, Mariano has been as fantastic as ever in 2009. Of course he did experience a rough go of it early after giving up some homers, but since May 21st he’s posted a 1.86 ERA and a 0.67 WHIP. Mo’s 14.33 K/BB is far and away the best in the game (next best is Scott Downs’ 8.06 mark) and the best of his Hall of Fame career. It took a little longer than usual, but Mo’s in midseason form and is as good as ever. He’s the least of the team’s concerns right now.
Brian Bruney & Damaso Marte
Bruney came out of the gate pitching like a man on a mission, out to prove all the B-Jobbers wrong about the lack of a solid 8th inning option. He struck out 12 and allowed just three hits over his first nine appearances, but went down with an elbow injury in late April. After being out for four weeks, Bruney lied about being healthy and came back too soon, ultimately landing himself back on the disabled list for another four weeks. He’s been nothing short of terrible since returning, allowing opponents to tattoo him for a .930 OPS. Right now, he’s a part of the problem and not the solution.
Marte’s season is just 5.1 ugly innings long, as a shoulder injury has shelved him since late April. When he was on the mound he was terrible, but how much of that is because of the injury we’ll never know. Currently rehabbing in Tampa, there’s still no timetable for his return.
Phil Coke & Phil Hughes
After a dynamite showing last September, Coke looked like he was poised to become the shutdown lefty reliever the Yanks have lacked for years. Coke’s overall numbers are rock solid, as are his splits against lefties, but his season has been a bit of a roller coaster ride. He was very good in April, pretty terrible in May, but fantastic since June rolled around. The only member of the bullpen to stick on the 25-man active roster all season besides Mariano Rivera, it’s no stretch to call Coke the Yanks’ second most reliable reliever of 2009.
The other half of Michael Kay’s stupid little Philthys Club, Hughes moved into the bullpen after Chien-Ming Wang appeared ready to become an effective starter once again, and has done nothing but dominate. His numbers out of the bullpen (18.1 IP, 0.65 WHIP, .379 OPS against) are better than Joba Chamberlain‘s first 18.1 innings of relief in 2007 (0.82 WHIP, .467 OPS against), more evidence that if you put a good starter in the bullpen he’d be a damn good reliever. There’s not much to say here, Phil Hughes the Reliever has been tremendous.
Al Aceves & David Robertson
The dramatic turnaround of the bullpen coincides with Aceves’ recall from the minor leagues. His 40 innings of stellar relief work have been just what the doctor ordered, as he’s pitched in every role and succeeded in every situation. Robertson has had his moments, mostly in low leverage spots, but he’s been an effective super-high strikeout arm that can go multiple innings if need be. He’s been pretty much everything you could want your fifth best reliever to be.
Jon Albaladejo, Edwar Ramirez, Brett Tomko & Jose Veras
Edwar and Veras were two stalwarts in last year’s pen, providing rock-solid middle relief all summer. This year was a different story, as the two combined to allow 28 runs and 70 baserunners in 43 IP. Edwar soon found himself back in Triple-A while Veras found himself with the Indians after being designated for assignment. Albaladejo has been up and down while Tomko was mostly down, but both guys have mostly acted as the last man out of the pen. Neither has been great nor horrible, they’re just kind of there.
The Up and Down Crew
Anthony Claggett was terrible in his one outing and doesn’t figure to be back up anytime soon. Stephen Jackson didn’t even manage to get into the game in his eight days on the big league roster before ending up in Pittsburgh. Mark Melancon has been meh in his limited showings. Zach Kroenke, Romulo Sanchez, Amaury Sanit and others are stashed away in the minors awaiting their turn.
Expectations for the second half
With the success the bullpen has experienced over the last month or so, it’s tough not to be optimistic about the second half. However, a key piece in Hughes or Aceves (or both if it comes to it) could be lost if their services are needed in the rotation. Don’t be surprised if the team seeks out another relief arm at this year’s trade deadline. Regardless, the Yankees will need the bullpen to do the job consistently in the second half if they plan on making the postseason.
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.
The winner of the “Bruney Bruney’s Off the DL and Someone Gets Sent Down or Released” Contest is none other than Jose Veras. After a few days of speculation, the Yankees went with the decision to DFA Jose Veras when they activated Bruney a few minutes ago. They now have 10 days to waive, trade or release him before he can become an unrestricted free agent. Our money’s on a trade.
For the Yankees, this decision seemingly came down to a choice between Veras and Brett Tomko. David Robertson has an option but has also been a part of the newly effective bullpen. While Tomko has hardly been spectacular, Veras has been worse, and the Yankees no longer trust him in any sort of medium- or high-leverage situations. Tomko will go when Damaso Marte is back. For now, Veras drew the short straw, and it’s hard to argue with that decision.
After Joba Chamberlain‘s short four-inning appearance yesterday, the Yankees went to Brett Tomko in an effort to piece together the game’s final 15 outs. Tomko promptly allowed the first five batters he faced to reach and was yanked when he walked another with two outs in the inning. Meanwhile, the Yankees announced that Brian Bruney would make a rehab appearance in Trenton today. It sounds as though Bruney will need just one appearance to be game-ready, and the Yanks may be able to activate him as soon as Tuesday. While the Yankees could option David Robertson back to Scranton, if Brett Tomko is still around come the Nationals series, I will be both surprised and annoyed.
The Yankees need bullpen help now. While Damaso Marte — recipient of a very ill-advised three-year deal this past winter — heads south for a visit with James Andrews, Burney is the best internal candidate. The right roster move at to complement his return from the DL will involve the departure of either Tomko or Jose Veras, and Bruney’s return should go a long way toward alleviating our late-inning concerns.
As June marches on, two injured Yankees are nearing their respective returns to the active roster. Ernie Palladino has updates on Xavier Nady and Brian Bruney. The Yanks’ right-handed set-up man plans to throw a bullpen session on Thursday in Boston. It will be his first try at tossing some breaking pitches since his return to the DL. If all goes well, he could be back in a week to ten days. Bruney’s return will spell the end of either David Robertson‘s, Phil Hughes‘ or Jose Veras’ time in the Bronx.
Nady, meanwhile, went 1 for 3 with a home run and a walk during an extended spring training game. He continued to throw, this time from 75 feet, and Joe Girardi said that Nady won’t return to the outfield until he can double that distance. It will be interesting to see how the Yanks handle Nady’s return. A few weeks ago, we looked forward to his replacing Swisher, but Nick has hit .419/.537/.839 over his last 42 plate appearances. Hideki Matsui is 0 for 18. Still, Nady’s return is probably two weeks away, and talk of lineup changes is premature.
Via Marc Carig, injured reliever Brian Bruney took what he called a “huge positive step” today, throwing 30 pitches in a bullpen session. He again reiterated that he feels no pain in his elbow. Bruney expects to throw a similar bullpen session when the team goes to Boston on Tuesday. Even though he hasn’t been able to do upper body work since the injury, Bruney says his arm strength is just fine, and that’s all that matters.
Marc Carig has updates on some injured Yanks: Brian Bruney threw 20 pitches yesterday and felt no pain in his elbow (so he says). He thinks he’s a week and a half, or possible less away. Damaso Marte threw 25 pitches from a mound in Tampa and has started to throw some breaking balls, but there is no timetable for his return. Xavier Nady played catch at 75 feet and played in another Extended Spring Training game, but like Marte there is no timetable for his return. Mo knows the Yanks could use all three now.
The news flashed at the bottom of my browser, courtesy of Bryan Hoch’s Twitter feed: “Bruney to see Dr. James Andrews Wednesday. When has that ever been good news?” Unless you’re John Smoltz, who apparently visits Dr. Andrews just because, it is most certainly bad news.
Bruney was again placed on the 15-day DL yesterday, just a week — and one appearance — after the Yankees activated him. The as-of-now unknown nature of the injury coupled with the Andrews visit does not bode well for the Yanks’ eighth-inning man. In fact, the team would do best to assume Bruney won’t pitch again this year and take it as a bonus if he does.
This is a shame, considering Bruney appeared poised for a steady spot in the eighth inning. With fellow setup man Damaso Marte also out, the Yanks have had to piece together relief outings for most of May. Thankfully the rotation has stepped up and has pitched deeper into games this month, thereby placing lesser burden on the pen. The starters can’t go seven or eight every time out, though, and when they exit, it might well be a close game. The Yanks are going to need a few arms who can put up a good share of scoreless innings and get the ball to Mo in the ninth.
Chances are they’ll evaluate or reevaluate in-house options before turning to other clubs for a potential deal. David Robertson is already on his way to Texas to take Bruney’s place, and he’ll get every shot to prove he can stay in the bigs. Mark Melancon is likely right behind him and will certainly get a look before the Yanks explore the market. Jon Albaladejo could get another shot, and then there are the guys already on the roster: Coke, Tomko, Veras, Aceves. The Yankees will take inventory of all these pitchers.
What they seek, though, is a reliable bridge to Mo. Among the aforementioned options, it’s unlikely they’ll see someone who can get it done consistently. Whether it’s due to wildness like Veras or inexperience like Melancon, the Yanks can’t bank on one or two of their current guys stepping into the primary setup role. Marte should be able to once he comes back, but even then the Yanks could use some help.
The only place to turn, then, is to the trade market (that is, unless you want to see what Mike Timlin can do, though I’m sure the Yanks front office does not). The Yanks probably won’t start seriously looking at the market for a few weeks, first because they want to evaluate the talent on hand, and second because few teams are willing to admit they’re out of it. This leads us to the biggest problem in finding a good reliever on the trade market.
The teams most willing to trade good players during the season are typically those who are out of contention. Those teams, unfortunately, tend to have a lot of crap in the bullpen. The Nationals, who have no chance of competing this year, basically fired their entire pen earlier this month. Even though they’d probably like to trade a vet or two for prospects, they don’t have a reliever the Yanks would covet. Even if they did, it’s improbable they’d part with such an arm. Ditto the Rockies. Unless they’re completely punting the season, they can’t afford to trade one of their only good bullpen arms.
Since it’s unlikely a contending team would dish a reliable bullpen arm, the Yanks have limited options. Here’s a short list of guys they could possibly target come late June or July. The price to acquire each, of course, remains up in the air. Suffice it to say that none will come cheap.
Chad Qualls. The D’Backs are 10.5 games behind the Dodgers right now and are playing like absolute crap. Felipe Lopez, Mark Reynolds, and Justin Upton are the only guys hitting anything right now. Their pitching isn’t much better, as the team blew a 7-0 lead yesterday to lose 9-7. Yet they have a few serviceable bullpen arms. Two of them they’d surely like to hang onto: 27-year-old Tony Pena and 25-year-old Juan Gutierrez. They’d probably trade Jon Rauch and his 6.27 ERA, but do the Yanks want him? He pitched well with Washington for the past few years, but has been terrible since the trade to Arizona. Maybe a change of scenery rejuvenates him.
Still, of that whole crop the Yankees would probably prefer Chad Qualls. He did blow the save yesterday, but before that he had a 3.32 ERA in 19 innings, striking out 22 to just four walks. He’s also a groundball guy, extremely so this year, though he’ll probably even out to his career average of 1.48. Not bad by any means, especially from a guy who strikes out nearly a batter an inning. Qualls won’t come cheap, not by any stretch. The Diamondbacks have plenty of needs, though, so perhaps the teams can match up yet.
Jose Valverde. The Astros are currently in last place, but as we learned last year owner Drayton McLane doesn’t like to give up on the season. Guys like Lance Berkman, Hunter Pence, and Roy Oswalt are positively untouchable, but if Houston continues its poor play they could certainly make some other players available. Valverde is a prime candidate because he’ll be a free agent after the season and will more than likely price himself beyond the Astros’ range. He’s made just eight appearances this year and is currently on the DL with a calf injury, which does set off a red flag. If he can come back and pitch like he did last year, or even in 2007, the Yanks might show some interest. First he has to come back and show he’s healthy, so the Yanks won’t even kick the tires until a much later date. The Astros will certainly listen, as they’d probably like to foist the remainder of his $8 million salary onto another team.
Russ Springer. He’s 40 and is sporting a 5.19 ERA. So why Springer? He’s been very good over the past three years. Yet at 40, he might be over the hill. His groundball percentage is down from the past few years, and his FIP is pretty much in line with his ERA. Perhaps he’d do better in the winning environment in New York. But something tells me the Yanks will go with what they’ve got rather than trade for Springer.
Huston Street. He went to Colorado in the Matt Holliday deal, and now he’s closing for a last place team. Not that he’s doing a bad job of it. He’s still just 25 years old, which is hard to believe considering he’s a college guy. The Rockies might have some longer term plans for Street, making it tougher to acquire him. Do the Yanks want to give up serious prospects for a guy like Street? Would he be worth a Zack McAllister? Probably not. It depends, I suppose, on how dire the bullpen situation becomes.
Looking at the lower-end teams, this is about it. What the Yanks seek is an upgrade over the guys they have, and a look through these limited bullpens provides few answers. Sure, they could look to a guy like John Grabow, but is he really a better option late in games than the guys the Yanks currently have on their roster? No. What they need is a clear upgrade, or else someone already on the team to step up. That won’t be an easy task, especially at this point in the season.
A final note: I beg of you, please, if this site means anything to you, please do not turn the comments section into a Joba to the bullpen argument. You might think that’s the best solution, and that’s fine, even though everyone knows that a starter is more valuable than a reliever. I implore you, though, to save it for another bullpen thread. We’ve had it a billion times before, and I just don’t want to wake up to the same old-same old in the comments. It’s old, it’s tired, Joba is doing quite well on his way to being a top-line starter, so please, let it be for now.