Heathcott latest young player to come up big for Yankees in 2015

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

All things considered, last night’s win was the biggest of the season. The Yankees have been losing ground in the postseason race the last few weeks, so much so that the Rangers are as close to catching them for the first wildcard spot as the Yankees are to catching the Blue Jays in the AL East. They’re three games up on Texas and three games back of Toronto.

The Yankees were six outs away from being no-hit and one out away from an ugly 1-0 loss to last night. They instead rallied for a 4-1 win over the Rays, with the biggest blow coming from Slade Heathcott. He hit an opposite field (!) go-ahead three-run homer off Brad Boxberger in his first big league at-bat since May. It was huge. The Yankees need every win they can get right now.

Heathcott is just the latest young player to step up and help the Yankees this season. He’s not alone. Regulars like Didi Gregorius and Nathan Eovaldi have played huge roles after a rocky first few weeks in pinstripes. Others like Luis Severino and Greg Bird were called up in the second half to become regulars. John Ryan Murphy‘s been on the bench all season. And then there are guys like Heathcott, whose time with the team has been brief.

A total of 17 different players have been called up to make their MLB debut with the Yankees this year, and those 17 rookie players have combined for 1.5 WAR. That’s pretty good considering we’re talking about 178 plate appearances and 112 mostly low-leverage innings. The total performance doesn’t knock your socks off, but there are some big individual moments mixed in there that were pretty incredible. Signature moments, if you will.

Heathcott, obviously, hit his huge homer last night. Bird had his two-homer game against the Twins and also that go-ahead homer against the Orioles last week. Mason Williams went deep in his first big league game and had a two-double game against the Marlins. How many stellar defense plays did Ramon Flores make before he was traded away? I remember him saving a few runs in Oakland, like this one.

Severino stands out on the pitching side, clearly. He’s been pretty awesome aside from last Friday’s clunker. Others like Nick Rumbelow and Branden Pinder have chewed up some innings and occasionally gotten big outs when pressed into high-leverage work, and now James Pazos seems to be getting a chance in those situations. Caleb Cotham picked up the win last night and Diego Moreno had that brilliant, bullpen-saving outing in Texas.

It’s not just about the rookies though. Like I said, Gregorius and Eovaldi have become rather big parts of the team, and both are only 25. Chasen Shreve was a trusted high-leverage reliever for much of the summer and he just turned 25 not too long ago as well. Gregorius, Eovaldi, Shreve, Bird, and Severino have played the largest roles among the Yankees’ crop of 25 and under players this season, though they’re far from the only one who’ve contributed.

Make no mistake, the Yankees are still a veteran team who are where they are because of guys like Alex Rodriguez, Brian McCann, Brett Gardner, and Carlos Beltran. The veteran dudes were always going to have to carry this team, and they have so far. The Yankees did make an effort to get younger this offseason, at least in moderation, and right now most of those moves have paid dividends. Heathcott’s homer last night was the latest example.

2015 Midseason Review: The Non-LOOGYs

The Yankees overhauled their bullpen this offseason, so much so that just one reliever was on both the 2014 and 2015 Opening Day rosters. That, of course, was Dellin Betances. The Yankees had a new closer, a new long reliever, and a new middle innings crew to start this season, and they were heavy on left-handers for the first time in years. Two of those southpaws haven proven to be way more than the average Lefty One Out GuY.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Lefty They’ve Been Waiting For

By my count the Yankees made five trades involving bonafide MLB caliber players this past offseason, and the very first one sent Francisco Cervelli to the Pirates for lefty Justin Wilson. To date it has been a perfect win-win trade — the Pirates got a starting catcher to replace Russell Martin while the Yankees beefed up their bullpen and cleared the backup job for John Ryan Murphy. Both teams have to be pleased with the return halfway through the 2015 season.

Wilson came to New York with a reputation for throwing hard and not always throwing strikes, which is pretty much exactly what he’s done during his first three and a half months in pinstripes. His fastball has averaged 95.0 mph this season — only the inhuman Aroldis Chapman (99.6 mph!) has a higher average fastball velocity among lefty relievers — and he’s walked 10.9% of batters faced. Last year those numbers were 95.0 mph and 11.7%, respectively.

The walks are annoying, but Wilson excels at missing bats (24.8 K% in 2014 after 23.8 K% last year) and keeping the ball on the ground (50.0 GB% after 51.3 GB% last year). That’s a good combination. I’ll take my chances with a guy who misses bats and gets grounders, even if he walks a few too many. Wilson is also effective against righties, which is huge. Righties are hitting .159/.266/.246 (.240 wOBA) against him with a 26.6 K% and a 53.2 GB%. That’s after Wilson held righties to a .279 wOBA last year and a .258 wOBA the year before.

The success against righties is not new and Joe Girardi is aware of that — he’s used Wilson as a full-inning reliever for weeks now. That wasn’t the case in April because Wilson walked way too many righty batters out of the gate, but Andrew Miller‘s injury forced Girardi to use Wilson for full innings and he’s responded in a big way. He has a 1.23 ERA (2.76 FIP) with 27.2 K% and a manageable 8.6 BB% in 22 innings over the last two months. That works!

With all due respect to Boone Logan, who had some solid years for the Yankees, Wilson is the kind of left-handed reliever the club has been trying to acquire since Mike Stanton left as a free agent. Hard-throwing, strikeout and ground ball heavy, able to get righties out. No one’s perfect, he does walk too many, but otherwise Wilson has every quality you want in a late-inning reliever. He’s a legitimate setup man. He just happens to throw lefty.

Chasin’ Shreve

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The last of those five offseason trades brought the relatively unknown Chasen Shreve to the Yankees in January. I’m a total baseball nerd and even I hadn’t heard of Shreve at the time of the trade. The Yankees decided it was time to stop waiting for Manny Banuelos, so they turned him into Shreve and David Carpenter, the latter of whom flopped spectacularly in pinstripes.

Shreve was on the verge of getting pushed out of baseball last year when he reinvented himself as a hard(er) thrower, and while the extra velocity is nice, he’s emerged as a trusted reliever in New York because of his split-finger fastball. That’s the pitch that has allowed him to post a 2.02 ERA (3.27 FIP) with 26.8 K% in 35.2 innings this year, his first extended taste of big league action. Shreve doesn’t have great walk (9.4%) or ground ball (39.5%) numbers, but they haven’t hurt him yet.

Like Wilson, Shreve has been ultra-effective against right-handed hitters this season. Wilson does it with velocity, Shreve with the splitter. Righties have put up a .141/.224/.260 (.215 wOBA) batting line with a 23.3 K% against Shreve so far this year, and Girardi has regularly brought him into games to put out fires. Ten of his last 21 appearances have come mid-inning with men on base. Eight of those appearances have come with the score separated by no more than two runs. Shreve in inherited 15 runners in those eight games and one scored. One!

As Katie explained recently, Shreve’s splitter has been a difference-maker for him and the Yankees. There was a question of whether he would even make the team out of Spring Training — Shreve had a 4.76 ERA in camp and was especially yucky in late-March — and then once the season started, he really didn’t have a role. Well he did have a role, he was the last guy out of the bullpen, but Shreve continued to get outs and has become a critical part of the relief crew.

* * *

Both Wilson and Shreve pitched their way into the Circle of Trust™ in the first half thanks in large part to their work when Miller was sidelined. They both stepped up and assumed high-leverage innings, and the Yankees didn’t miss a beat. With Miller back, Wilson and Shreve will now be Girardi’s go-to middle innings weapons. That they both throw left-handed but can get right-handed hitters out is a bonus.

Appreciating Chasen Shreve and his nasty splitter

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

When the Yankees acquired Chasen Shreve this offseason, he was widely considered just another young, controllable power arm to provide depth possibly in the big leagues or at Triple-A. He wasn’t on either the Braves or the Yankees top-10 prospect lists this winter, and even after he won a spot in the bullpen out of spring training, it was expected he’d be just a mop-up guy behind the other more established relievers on the team.

Few people could have predicted Shreve’s breakout campaign and the elite numbers he’s put up in the first three months: 1.87 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and .165 batting average allowed in 33 2/3 innings.

Perhaps the most impressive part of his season is the work Shreve has done in the game’s most important and pressure-filled moments. He has faced 36 batters with runners in scoring position and allowed a total of four singles in those plate appearances. Of the 28 batters he’s matched up with in high-leverage situations, just three have gotten hits, each of them singles. He has inherited 17 runners when the score has been within three runs, and let just two of those guys score. There’s not much more you could ask for in a guy that has gradually risen in the bullpen pecking order and taken on the critical “fireman” role recently.

How could such an unheralded prospect with only a dozen major-league innings under his belt entering this season become such a valuable and trusted member of the Yankees bullpen?

The key has been the development of a nasty split-fingered fastball to complement his four-seamer and slider. It has allowed him shut down batters from both sides of the plate — righties have a .441 OPS against him — and made him into a go-to reliever regardless of the situation.

One of the reasons his splitter has been such a dominant pitch is its extreme downward movement. The splitter disappears down out of the zone as it approaches the plate, generating a ton of stupid-looking whiffs and even more worm-burning grounders. Among the 30 guys who have thrown at least 100 splitters this year, only four have gotten more drop on those pitches than Shreve.

Remember this strikeout to escape a bases-loaded jam against the Angels last month? Erick Aybar is still having nightmares…

ezgif.com-crop (4)

Because of that diving action, he’s able to consistently locate his splitter below the knees, where batters have virtually no chance of getting any good wood on the pitch. He’s thrown a ridiculous 90 percent (135 of 152) of his splitters in the lower third of the zone or below this season. Here’s what that looks like, in heatmap-form:

Chasen Shreve

Another reason for the success he’s had this season is the 9-mph separation he’s now getting between his splitter and four-seam fastball, after ramping up the velocity on his heater last season when he debuted with the Braves. The improvement in his fastball has made his splitter so much more effective, because the two pitches are basically indistinguishable at their release points, but couldn’t look more different to the batter when they cross the plate.

Let the numbers speak for themselves:

shreve splitter

To say the pitch is unhittable would hardly be an understatement. He has thrown 152 split-fingered fastballs and just one of those pitches resulted in a hit: on April 10, Hanley Ramirez lined a hanging first-pitch splitter to left field for a single. That’s it. Among pitchers that have thrown 100-or-more splitters this season. none have allowed a lower batting average (.029) or slugging percentage (.029) than Mr. Shreve.

Not only is the pitch unhittable, but it’s also nearly untouchable. Batters have come up empty on more than half their swings against the pitch, and his whiff percentage of 53 percent is the highest among anybody that’s thrown at least 10 splitters this year.

When they do manage to put it into play, it’s gone nowhere: one line drive, one fly ball, three infield pop-ups, and 12 grounders. He has the highest pop-up rate, lowest line drive rate, second-lowest fly ball rate and fourth-highest ground ball rate on split-fingered fastballs in the majors this season (min. 100 pitches).

Is that good? Um … yes.

When Andrew Miller returns from the disabled list, the Yankees will have arguably the deepest bullpen in the league, capable of shutting down any lineup in baseball. And the one of the most important pieces of the puzzle — the glue that holds the ‘pen together, the bridge to Betances/Miller — just might be Mr. Chasen Shreve.

From low-leverage reliever to critical bullpen arm in just a few months’ time, he is now fully enshrined in Girardi’s Circle of Trust™. It’s hard to imagine the Yankees would be in first place on July 7 without the lanky southpaw from Las Vegas and his filthy split-fingered fastball.

Poll: Fitting Masahiro Tanaka back onto the roster

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Tomorrow afternoon the Yankees will welcome arguably their best pitcher and inarguably one of their most important players back from the DL, as Masahiro Tanaka returns to the rotation after missing a month with wrist tendinitis and a minor forearm strain. Tanaka will be limited to 80 pitches after making just two Triple-A rehab starts, but, at this point, 80 pitches from Tanaka is preferable to none. That goes without saying.

Joe Girardi has already said Chris Capuano will move into the bullpen to make room for Tanaka in the rotation, which isn’t surprising. Adam Warren has been too good his last four starts to remove him from the rotation. They owe it to themselves to see if he can be a cheap, reliable starter going forward. The Yankees do still have to fit Tanaka on the 25-man roster, and there are several ways they can do that. They have two candidates to bump down to Triple-A and three candidates they could drop from the roster all together. Here’s a quick overview of said options.

Option No. 1: Demote Lindgren

These are presented in no particular order, but this seems like a natural place to start since Jacob Lindgren is the low man on the pitching staff totem pole. He’s been in the big leagues for about a week now and has allowed six of 15 batters faced to reach base (.400 OBP). Lindgren may be the team’s top bullpen prospect, but bullpen prospects usually have to wow in order to stick around. Had Lindgren dominated those first 15 batters, the decision to send him around would be much tougher. For now, he’s the low man in terms of service time and that guy tends to get demoted whenever a spot is needed.

Option No. 2: Demote Shreve

Shreve has arguably been the team’s third best reliever this season, pitching to a 2.49 ERA (3.14 FIP) in 21.2 innings. He’s struck out 23 of 84 batters faced (27.4%), and heading into last night’s game he’d held right-handed batters to a .162/.212/.286 batting line thanks to his splitter. Shreve is no lefty specialist. The Yankees would be crazy to send him down, except they did it once already this year, when they needed a fresh arm in April. (Of course Shreve had not yet shown he was a bullpen weapon at that point.) Shreve is too valuable to send to Triple-A, even temporarily, but he has options and doesn’t have the prospect pedigree of Lindgren, which could work against him.

Option No. 3: Designate Carpenter

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

We’re now almost one-third of the way through the 2015 season, and thus far David Carpenter has a 4.91 ERA (5.33 FIP) in 18.1 innings. Girardi has been using Carpenter often in an effort to get him back on track — he’s appeared in eight of the team’s last 16 games — but it just hasn’t happened. On one hand, Carpenter has been the team’s least effective middle reliever. On the other, he was pretty damn good with the Braves the last two years (2.63 ERA and 2.88 FIP) and is under team control through 2017 as an arbitration-eligible player, and you’d hate to give that up after only 18.1 bad innings. Then again, what good are those years of control if he stinks? This is a player who’s in his sixth organization already. If nothing else, Carpenter has pitched his way into fringe roster territory and any discussion about designating him for assignment isn’t undeserved. (Carpenter is out of minor league options and can’t go to Triple-A without passing through waivers, and even though he’s been bad this year, he’d get claimed in a heartbeat.)

Option No. 4: Designate Rogers

The Yankees very clearly like something about his Esmil Rogers — to his credit, he does have good stuff and his arm seems resilient — and he started the season well, allowing just four earned runs in his first 16.1 innings. He’s since allowed 13 earned runs in his last 14.2 innings, so his ERA (4.94) and FIP (4.77) suddenly resemble his 2012-14 marks (4.91 and 4.35, respectively). Every team needs a long man and Esmil usually isn’t deciding games, he’s just mopping them up, but the Yankees have some other long man options who could be better, include Capuano.

Option No. 5: Designate Capuano

Capuano has pitched to a 6.39 ERA (4.20 FIP) in three starts since coming back from his quad injury and he does have experience in a relief role, but cutting ties with Capuano all together is possible if the Yankees think he’s done. They already have four lefties in the bullpen and might not want to add another. Then again, Capuano can start, and rotation depth probably isn’t something the Yankees should be giving away at this point. Plus his $5M salary could be factor. Everyone else in this post is making peanuts. Money has a way of buying extra time on the roster.

* * *

It goes without saying that Warren, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, Nathan Eovaldi, Andrew Miller, and Dellin Betances are locked into their roster spots, and I think the Justin Wilson is more safe than not as well. Those other five pitching staff slots are not as safe and any one of the five could wind up going to make room for Tanaka. Lindgren or Shreve could find themselves in Triple-A or one of Rogers, Carpenter, or Capuano could find themselves out of the organization entirely. What’s the best way to get Tanaka back onto the roster?

How should the Yankees clear a roster spot for Tanaka?

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.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

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)
(Presswire)
(Presswire)

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.

Game 14: Bounce Back

Some guy did a back flip before the first pitch last night. (Leon Halip/Getty)
Some guy did a back flip before the first pitch last night. (Leon Halip/Getty)

The Yankees dropped a very winnable game in last night’s series opener against the Tigers. Winnable because of CC Sabathia, mostly. You’re not going to beat this Detroit team scoring just one run most nights. Oh well, nothing they can do about it now. The Yankees just have to turn the page and try to get back on track tonight. They have won five of their last eight games, after all. Things are going okay.

Nathan Eovaldi is making his third start in pinstripes tonight and he’s looking to build on his last start, when he fanned nine in only five innings. Of course, three runs and eleven base-runners in five innings kinda stinks, so he needs to improve on that too. If Eovaldi keeps missing bats, the number of runs and base-runners should eventually come down. Here is the Tigers’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. RF Chris Young
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. SS Stephen Drew
  9. 2B Gregorio PetitKyle Lobstein is pretty much exactly the kind of lefty I think Didi Gregorius should be left in the lineup to face, but I guess Joe Girardi disagrees

    RHP Nathan Eovaldi

The weather in Detroit tonight is a lot like last night: rainy, cold, and windy. It rained earlier this afternoon but is supposed to stop before game time. There might be some drizzle during the game though. First pitch is scheduled for 7:08pm ET and can be seen on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Roster Move: The Yankees have recalled Chasen Shreve and optioned Branden Pinder to Triple-A, the team announced. Shreve was sent down following the 19-inning game and his ten days in the minors are up. Welcome back, Chasen.