It’s a hard time to think of positive things to talk about with respect to the second-half Yankees, but one thing that fans can all take comfort in is the bullpen. Once again a top-five unit in the game, it’s seen rebounds from Jonathan Loáisiga and Clay Holmes. Combine them with the emergence of rookie Ron Marinaccio as a real weapon in high leverage spots, and the ‘pen can be counted on to keep the game close, even as the offense struggled to find its footing.
This is going to become more important in the next couple weeks, as the Yankees grapple with how to balance their starters’ inning counts with the need to actually lock up the division and prepare for the postseason. Fortunately, the return of Zack Britton and Scott Effross will give the club additional options down the stretch.
Per Sunday’s YES broadcast, Effross should be ready to throw a full bullpen by the end of the week, and we’ve already seen what he can do late in games with his slider. In addition to Effross, the Yankees can also expect to welcome Zack Britton back to the major league roster by the middle of the month, after last week’s setback-but-not-a-setback in a rehab outing. He has now made three appearances with Low-A Tampa and is nearing the conclusion of his comeback trail from Tommy John surgery.
What these two bring to the roster is obviously the ability to throw high-leverage innings down the stretch — I’d rather see either man get work over Greg Weissert or Ryan Weber, especially if the division lead continues to shrink — but also the ability to be more flexible with the starting rotation.
This comes in tandem with the expected return of Nestor Cortes this week against the Twins, and Luis Severino by the midpoint of September. Despite a two-month absence, Sevy’s still thrown more innings this season than he has since 2018, and Cortes has nearly 40 more frames under his belt than his previous career-high. Not all innings are created equal, and Nestor has certainly had fewer high-stress innings than most pitchers, because he’s been better than most pitchers, but we knew that the Yankees were going to need ways to manage both guys’ workloads in the season’s final month, even with their IL stints limiting their final totals.
If we figure that the big three in that pen are Holmes, Loáisiga, and Marinaccio (plus some Lou Trivino and Wandy Peralta here and there), then the Yankees gain even more flexibility. Effross has shown the ability to get critical outs with both the Cubs and the Yankees — I’m not holding one wayward home run against him in 8.1 innings — leaving both him and Marinaccio as fireman options, the first guy out when Severino throws four innings and leaves with multiple runners on.
I’m not sure what you can expect from Britton after so much time off, but I think he provides a better depth option than Weissert and Weber. He hasn’t thrown more than one inning in an appearance since May of 2019, but his track record obviously gives him the edge over either of the W’s. If Britton’s sinker is anything like it once was, then he’s a guy who could absolutely come in to get a double-play ball in any pivotal moment.
The two relievers are likely to play different roles for the team upon their return. Part of this is a function of the amount of time off, part of it the most recent evidence of each guy’s talent level. Still, the Yankees need an injection of flexibility to help manage both Cortes and Severino, and the continued success of the bullpen is both expected and welcome for a team in as much turmoil as this one.