After Monday night's Yankee loss to Seattle, Joe Girardi took some flak for his decision to leave David Phelps in the game, even as he loaded the bases in a 2-2 tie in the seventh and ultimately surrendered the lead. The problem for Girardi is that even though Phelps was laboring after a strong first six innings, a lack of depth in the rotation and the pen - and an overall inability by Yankee pitchers not named Tanaka to last deep into games - has left him without the luxury of pulling his de facto number three starter with fewer than 100 pitches.
There isn't much the Yankees can do right now to improve their rotation. Phelps, Chase Whitley and Vidal Nuno are all still green as starters, Hiroki Kuroda has looked his age this year and the prognoses for eventual returns by Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia keep getting cloudier. The trade market won't heat up for another few weeks, so for the time being, lengthy outings by starting pitchers will remain a rare feat in the Bronx.
If they can't upgrade their starters maybe something can be done about a mixed-bag bullpen that's been taxed by the rotation woes. Despite his horrific outing Sunday, David Robertson's been solid at closer, and Dellin Betances and Adam Warren have been spectacular setting him up. Behind War-Bet-Son, though, things get shaky. Matt Thornton has done alright as a LOOGY, holding lefties to a .250/.333/.267 line, but he also turns the average right-handed hitter into Joe DiMaggio. Matt Daley, Preston Claiborne and Alfredo Aceves have combined for a 4.88 ERA and 1.40 WHIP in 48 innings pitched with Aceves in particular attaining Mitrean levels of ineptitude far too often. Shawn Kelley will be back next week, barring setbacks, and that should help, but the past two seasons have taught us the hard lesson that "barring setbacks" isn't a phrase to take lightly.
Without many relievers he can trust, and starters that scarcely get him more than eighteen outs, it's not hard to understand why Girardi has moved away from his usual conservative style of bullpen management and used Betances and Warren more often than he'd prefer. As of Monday night, the two righties ranked third and fifth in the majors respectively with 32.2 and 31.1 relief innings pitched. They're both on pace to toss more than 90 frames out of the pen, a mark that no Yankee has reached since the notoriously abused Scott Proctor threw 102.1 in 2006. Betances and Warren are converted starters, and their workloads have been necessary to keep the Yankees afloat, but if it continues, it'll be tough for them to keep their effectiveness later in the season and beyond.
The Yankees have relievers at Triple-A who could potentially help. Right-handed 23-year-old Mark Montgomery has been the organization's top bullpen prospect for the past few years, and after a down 2013, he's regained some of his prestige, posting a 2.59 ERA, a hit-per-nine rate of 5.5 and a K-rate of 10.4 for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre thus far. Unfortunately, he's also got a walk rate of 6.3, which isn't exactly what you'd want to see trotting into a tight game, especially with runners on base.
Scranton's best reliever has been 25-year-old Suffolk County native Danny Burawa, who's wowed to the tune of a 1.53 ERA, a 1.13 WHIP and an 11.7 K-rate through 17.2 innings this year and hasn't allowed a home run since May 23rd of 2013. He, too, cedes a few too many walks, but Daley and Claiborne haven't exactly shown off pinpoint control either, as both share walk rates over 4.0, and a little wildness is still more attractive than Aceves throwing batting practice.
It's worth mentioning Pat Venditte who everyone knows as the switch-pitcher who's been knocking around the Yankee farm system since being drafted way back in 2007. He's probably the longest bet of this trio to get a shot in the Majors, but the 28-year-old has been largely untouchable in 29.2 innings split between Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and Double-A Trenton this year (0.61 ERA, 0.71 WHIP and 10.9 K-rate). His stuff has never really been considered big league level, but desperate times...
None of these guys are currently on the Yankees' 40-man roster, but that shouldn't be too hard to work around. Aceves, Daley and Claiborne are all likely to clear waivers if DFA'd, and if some team scoops one up, more power to ‘em. The middle of bullpens isn't usually a place that boasts much quality, but with everything else that's tormenting the Yankees this year, those roles have suddenly become much more important. The bullpen has been the one area where Yankee player development has actually been a successful program, so there's no reason they shouldn't keep looking for more of the same. With a staff hampered by injuries and an offense that's not good enough to outscore bad pitching, it's time for an all-hands-on-deck approach in the Yankee organization. Montgomery and Burawa look like some of the better options they've got.