[UPDATE: Looks like somebody in the Yankee offices reads Pinstripe Alley. Peter Abraham reports this afternoon that Alfredo Aceves has replaced Anthony Claggett on the roster, finally giving the Yankees a long reliever. Maybe this will help the bullpen settle into roles.]
As loyal New York Yankees fans, we know that the bullpen has been a disaster area thus far. What can be done about it? Should the Yanks ask for a federal bullpen bailout? Act like Al Pacino in 'Scent of a Woman' and threaten to 'TAKE A FLAMETHROWA TO THIS PLACE?'
The reality is, of course, there will be no bailout. Pacino was 'too old, too tired' to take a flamethrower to the auditorium at Baird. The Yanks can't do it, either, since they don't exactly have a pot full of ready replacements.
So, what can be done about the Yankee bullpen -- which received another blow Sunday when veteran left-hander Damaso Marte went on the disabled list with a shoulder injury? As a group, the bullpen's 6.69 ERA is the second-worst in all of baseball.
I think it would be instructive to break down what has gone wrong. Maybe then we can come up with some ideas on how to fix it.
Marte joins Brian Bruney on the sidelines, meaning the two guys were supposed to be the primary bridge to Mariano Rivera are now out. Marte (0-1, 15.19 ERA) has finally admitted that he has not been right all season. In retrospect, it should have been obvious Marte was hurt. He's too good to pitch so badly. We have the WBC to thank for Marte's injury. Peter Abraham reports that it appears there is no way Bruney will be ready to pitch anywhere close to May 10 when he is eligible to come of the DL.
The Wanger's three disastrous starts, in which he totaled just six innings and compiled a 34.50 ERA, had all sorts of ramifications for the bullpen. It left too many innings for the relievers to pitch, and for days after Wang's starts Manager Joe Girardi was just looking for guys rested enough to pitch rather than trying to put pitchers in roles.
Yes, injuries have hurt the bullpen. And, yes, Wang's problems did not help. Girardi, though, has made a mess of things through the first 24 games. The young left-hander Phil Coke said recently that the lack of clarified roles has hurt the bullpen's performance ('kudos' to RAB).
“Even though [the bullpen atmosphere is] loose, you can see it in people’s eyes. As soon as that phone rings, it goes dead silent.”
“We’re getting used in such a different fashion every time we step on the field,” said Coke, who admits that in several instances this season, he and his colleagues may have been caught mentally unprepared. “We’ve got to be ready to go from the first inning.”
Coke, a rookie, probably should have kept his mouth shut. Fact is, though, he is right. Girardi, who was lauded for his handling of the relievers last season, has made a mess of it this season. He is managing like a guy feeling the pressure of needing to make the playoffs to keep his job, which he is. How many times this year has he started mixing and matching way too early, and wound up almost running out of pitchers before he could get to Rivera? Better starting pitching will help, but Girardi also needs to stop being so jumpy, let his relievers settle into their jobs, and let guys pitch to more than one or two hitters at a time.
The Yankees headed into the season thinking their bullpen depth would be a strength. Yet, it has contributed mightily to the Yankees' major-league worst 5.93 ERA. Edwar Ramirez (5.40 ERA) and Jose Veras (8.03) are way off last season's performances, and Jonathan Albaledejo's 7.30 ERA isn't helping, either.
Lack of a long man
The Yankees keep shuffling David Robertson, Anthony Claggett and Steven Jackson back and forth from Scranton. On top of that they are carrying an absurd 13 pitchers and constantly asking guys like Veras, Albaledejo or someone else to pitch more innings than they are accustomed to. Why isn't Alfredo Aceves, who showed last season he can pitch at the big-league level, in this bullpen? He can help more than Claggett or Jackson. If not Aceves, why not -- gulp! -- Brett Tomko? Yes, he's terrible, but you can use him once a week for 3-4 innings in a lost cause, and if he gets knocked around, so what? He's a veteran, hell be happy to have a job. Just let him take the beating and save the rest of the 'pen.
So, what can be done, other than getting a bona-fide long man at the back of the bullpen? Here's my plan.
- First and foremost, let's settle the 7th and 8th innings. Until Marte and Bruney come back, those innings should belong almost exclusively to Coke and Melancon -- with a little help probably from Albaledejo. If Melancon can't become what the Yankees think he will be -- and quickly -- they simply don't have a dependable righty set-up guy until Bruney returns.
- Stop giving David Robertson the Joe Torre treatment. Girardi is treating Robertson the way he treated Chris Britton last season. In other words, he is using the young right-hander only as an absolute last resort. That's not fair to him, and it isn't helping the Yankees. Veras and Ramirez have been terrible, so how about letting Robertson have a shot at some of those innings to see what he can do? It sure as hell can't hurt.
- Let 'em pitch, Joe! I am getting tired of seeing Girardi's Tony Larussa act, only letting his relievers pitch to one or two hitters at a time -- even in the 5th or 6th innings. That screams desperation, and lack of confidence, and has on more than one occasion this season left Girardi out of moves by the 8th inning.
- Try somebody else! Unfortunately, most of the bullets the Yankees have at their disposal have already been summoned from Scranton. Claggett is in the Bronx now, but I don't have much faith after his 1.2 inning, 8-run performance a couple of weeks ago. Aceves and, maybe, Tomko, are about all that is left in the minor-league system when it comes to guys who might help.
GM Brian Cashman said the other day that the Yankees were just going to have to figure it out with the guys they have. That, pretty much, appears to be right. Of course, Shawn Chacon and Armando Benitez are pitching in the Independent League.