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Yankees Sequence of the Week: Michael King fools El Mago

With a wealth of success in the bullpen, could the Yankees consider giving him another shot at starting?

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Michael King against the Tigers Tuesday. Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees are in pure experimentation mode for the month of September. It’s the organization’s chance to answer questions about next year in a low stakes environment. After Jasson Domínguez’s debut, the experiment is going well. In a welcome change from most of 2022, rose-colored glasses are suddenly in stock for the young players making an impact.

The team also suddenly finds themselves short on projected starting pitching pending injuries and underperformance. Now as 2023 winds down, the outlook is Gerrit Cole, Carlos Rodón, and a bunch of question marks.

As Alex noted with an eye toward the future, Michael King turned some heads with his strong start in Detroit on August 29 and merits consideration for a starting role next year. He worked an efficient four innings on a limited pitch count, striking out five and walking none. In his longest outing since 2021, King was downright dominant.

He’s fantastic in the bullpen, but the Yankees have long suspected he has the repertoire to succeed as a starter. The Yankees haven’t had trouble finding relievers as diamonds in the rough, so allocating King’s services to the bullpen may be overkill, especially without five solid starters.

In Detroit, he was all over the strike zone: 61 pitches, 42 strikes. In King’s ill-fated six starts of 2021, he walked 12 in 24.2 innings pitched. His velocity has been an issue after the elbow fracture that sidelined him in July 2022, but in Detroit, he topped out at a sizzling 98.2 mph. Earlier this summer, we saw a lot of 93s and 94s. A fractured elbow is a scary injury; ultimately, the elbow bone ties all the ligaments together and necessitates a meticulous rehab process.

Let’s zoom in on one at-bat as a microcosm which flashes three of King’s offerings:

The first two pitches of the at-bat might look shabby, but consider how the four-seamer and sinker play off one another. Javier Báez took the first pitch, a sinker chasing him off the plate for ball one.

It’s an easy take for a righty — it starts middle-in and runs off the plate in right in front of Báez’s line of sight. Normally, this would be a faulty pitch and accomplish nothing but giving the hitter a 1-0 lead in the count. Instead, King uses it to his advantage.

The second pitch looks similar coming out of the hand, and even has a tad bit of arm-side run like the sinker. The difference is the four-seamer remains straight rather than fading vertically.

Báez picks it up as another sinker inside and gives up on it, the pitch lands for an easy strike, and King evens the count with pure deception compensating for the mediocre location.

Next, King breaks out the sweeper to put Báez on ice skates. It, too, starts around the inside half before veering off. The threat of the hard stuff inside means Báez must start his hands immediately, the sweeper sweeps, and his bat finds nothing but air.

Now King’s got him 1-2 and has shown his three best pitches. He tries something new here, a fastball up out of the zone, and gets fairly soft contact out to Aaron Judge for an easy flyout.

In Detroit, King controlled the strike zone in the way a starting pitcher must. A righty with an elite sweeper and an effective changeup is a great candidate for the back end of the rotation in 2024. It didn’t go well the first time, but he’s a completely different pitcher than the unseasoned rookie we saw a couple of years ago.

King is slated to toe the slab Sunday night in the series finale against the Astros. With a couple more solid starts under his belt, he could force his way into the 2024 rotation plans.