There’s a whole lot to love about the Yankees bullpen. Call it the “bully” like David Cone or somehow the “ballpit” like Nick Jonas, whichever way you slice it, the Yankees have the consensus top relief core in baseball. The ‘pen sports a 2.13 ERA and a 70 OPS+ against in 2023, both tops in MLB.
Gerrit Cole, Nestor Cortes, Domingo Germán, Clarke Schmidt, and Jhony Brito is certainly not the early-season starting rotation Yankees’ fans envisioned, and the patchwork starting staff has huge ramifications for the bullpen’s workload. Brito especially was emergency depth coming into this season, and the alarm bells ring even louder now that Carlos Rodón faces a protracted recovery after suffering a setback.
The Yankees sorely needed the bullpen to step up, and step up they have. Relievers have eaten 72 innings to the starters’ 89, a perhaps unsustainable ratio over 162 games but necessary at the moment. There are some workhorses up to the task past the plexiglass in right-center field, though. Who could forget Wandy Peralta’s five-games-in-a-row, pure grit performance during the ALDS against the Guardians cumulating in clinching the series? He asserted himself as a go-to bullpen arm in 2022, and his playoff performance cemented his reputation as nails in the clutch.
Peralta came into the season with the added pressure of being the only lefty option out of the ‘pen for Aaron Boone. So far, he’s filling the role splendidly. Wandy’s Statcast page through his first seven appearances is chef’s kiss:
Also of note is the significant jump his velocity made, from 78th percentile in 2022 to the 90th this year, a pretty drastic and uncommon improvement. For a lefty with a hard sinker and sharp changeup, the location spray from Peralta’s outing on Wednesday night is picture-perfect. His strikes are in difficult spots to barrel up, especially with the sinking action he features.
Peralta took the mound in the seventh inning Wednesday night with runners on first and second and coolly neutralized Shohei Ohtani in the biggest spot of the night.
The pitch sequencing in this at-bat shows that Peralta and catcher Jose Trevino had a solid game plan for one of the best hitters on the planet. Peralta pounded Ohtani in, enticing him to indulge in a pull-happy swing with the short porch in mind. The tendency to (rarely) pull off inside pitches with his head is perhaps Ohtani’s only small flaw as a hitter, and Peralta capitalized on it, executing the sequence Trevino called to perfection.
After starting Ohtani with two hard sinkers in, Peralta missed with a waste pitch slider and another sinker. On 2-2, Wandy turned over a changeup that faded off the inside corner for the strikeout. Because of the first two pitches, Ohtani initially read sinker inner third, his hips flew open, and he whiffed badly with a swing that would fit in at Wimbledon.
Wandy came back out for the eighth and, naturally, struck out Mike Trout to lead the inning off and induced an Anthony Rendon flyout.
After starting 1-1 on Hunter Renfroe, Trevino tripled up on the changeup call, a risky proposition against a power hitter. Renfroe leaned out over the plate and smashed a single. Good hitters make adjustments — they will invariably guess right sometimes. But when you keep the ball on the edges of the zone like Peralta does, a power hitter can be turned into a singles hitter. Peralta contained the formidable Renfroe to a single on a pitch he jumped on, but some bad luck would follow.
After Renfroe advanced to second, Gio Urshela took a nine iron swing for a preposterously lucky two-out RBI single. Going back to his Yankees days Urshela has a penchant for these bat-control RISP hits, and Peralta once again was burned on a quality pitch.
Coughing up the tying run in the eighth is a hard pill to swallow with the quality of Peralta’s pitches, but his strong showing early this year bodes well for the Yankees moving forward. Like Ron Marinaccio, he has viable weapons to get both lefties and righties out, a precious commodity in a bullpen arm. The Yankees would promptly walk off the Angels in the 10th and pick up Peralta in the way winning teammates do.
Peralta’s steady improvement during his time in pinstripes speaks volumes about his makeup. If there was any doubt, he’s now a fixture among Aaron Boone’s prestigious “circle of trust.”