Are Cory Wade's Struggles an Ominous Sign for the Yankees' Bullpen?

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 29: Russell Martin #55 stands with Cory Wade #53 of the New York Yankees as he gets pulled against the Chicago White Sox on June 29, 2012 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Corey Wade's 58th and final pitch in last night's game was a flat change-up that Adam Dunn lined into the right field corner. The only thing remarkable about the pitch was that it didn't wind up 20 rows deep in the bleachers. As it was, the hit by Dunn plated the White Sox' 14th run in what was an ill-fated game for the Yankees from the start.

In more ways than one, Wade took one for the team last night. Not only did the right hander's ERA balloon to almost six runs per game, but he also threw the most pitches of his career. In fact, the right hander, who is only two years removed from shoulder surgery, had already tied his career high of 42 pitches when he took the mound for his third inning in the top of the ninth. Pushed beyond his limit, Wade wound up throwing 16 more pitches and surrendering four additional runs, capping off a horrendous June in which he allowed at least one run in seven of his 12 outings. That's not exactly how you spell relief.

No June Swoon for the Yankees Bullpen
Junebullpen_medium

Note: Includes data from June 1 to June 29.
Source: fangraphs.com

Even with Wade's recent struggles, the Yankees' bullpen has been one of its greatest strength in June, just as it has been all season. Entering last night, the team's relievers had compiled an ERA of 3.34 during the month, and all but Wade were below that baseline. However, with the workload piling up, you have wonder if Wade is the canary in the coal mine.

Every key Yankees' reliever but David Robertson is currently on pace to log their most innings since at least 2009. Also, if their current workload persists, Clay Rapada, Boone Logan, Cory Wade, and Cody Eppley would all come close to, or in some cases blow by, their career highs. Considering how limited the track record is for each of those pitchers, it's reasonable to doubt whether they will be able to hold up under such frequent usage, especially during the dog days of the pennant race. Also, because the current bullpen construction contains two specialist-type relievers in Rapada and Eppley, the Yankees can ill afford to have any of their relievers experience a hiccup, or worse, suffer an injury. Although Joe Girardi has been able to create a delicate balance with his unheralded bullpen, any disruption would likely have a significant ripple effect.

Recent Workload of Yankees' Relievers

Bullpenprorate_medium

Note: 2012 innings pro-rated and rounded to nearest 1/3.
Source: baseball-reference.com

With the recent injuries to C.C. Sabathia and Andy Pettitte, the burden on the bullpen is only going to increase. Each time through the rotation, Joe Girardi could count on his two work horses to take the game into the seventh or eighth inning, but now, he can't make that assumption. Because Freddy Garcia, Adam Warren, and whomever else the Yankees use in spot start duty aren't likely to match the quantity (not to mention quality) of innings provided by the two left handers, everyone else on the pitching staff will have to pick up the slack. Can an already overworked bullpen handle an increased load? If last night was any indication, the Yankees are going to find out sooner than later.

When Sabathia and Pettitte went down, the initial reaction was to wonder which starting pitchers the Yankees might pursue in a trade. However, in the short term, the Yankees greatest need might be another reliever. Ideally, David Phelps would serve as the safety valve, but chances are he'll wind up in the starting rotation. So, with Joba Chamberlain still several weeks away from a rehab stint and David Aardsma experiencing a setback on his road to recovery, reinforcements may have to come by way of a trade. In the meantime, the Yankees have to hope to Sabathia heels quickly and the rest of the rotation continues to pitch well because, if Cory Wade's recent performance is any indication, the team may not be able to rely so heavily upon its relievers in the second half.

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