The Yankee bullpen has been a strength throughout the season, but one of the members that contributed heavily to its success in 2017 has largely been missing in action this year. Tommy Kahnle has spent the majority of the season down in Scranton after being placed on the disabled list back in April following an ineffective six appearances. He has bounced back into the bullpen twice this season, appearing in just three more games prior to his latest outing on Thursday.
Bullpen volatility is a common problem for many rosters, but Kahnle’s case seems a bit perplexing. His fastball velocity dropped over three mph before his stint on the DL, yet he managed to rack up 39 strikeouts in 26.2 innings in the minors. He’s cut down on walks, yet is allowing a hit per inning. He’s getting some of the results he needs to warrant a promotion, but still has some issues that might make Aaron Boone and company leery of using him against Major League batters.
His recent history encapsulates all of this. In his last five innings at Scranton, he allowed five runs and eight hits, but struck out six batters. Despite the inconsistent line, Kahnle has been called up twice this month, due to the over usage of pitchers lately. The Yankees even briefly considering going to external options, but opted instead to go back to Kahnle. It’s been that far of a fall from grace for the centerpiece of the 2017 trade with the White Sox.
Is a situation like this redeemable? Can Kahnle salvage what has been a lost season for him up to this point? It’s an interesting question to consider, especially given where Kahnle was at this point in time last season. August was a cruel month to Kahnle then, as he pitched to a 5.23 ERA and allowed 13 hits in only 10.1 innings. That proved to be the mountain that Kahnle climbed before a stellar September and October, where he surrendered just one run in ten innings.
The only thing that separates the two scenarios is whether Kahnle can find his old velocity, and Thursday seemed to be an indication that he’s close. Though not quite equal to his 2017 velocity, in recent months Kahnle’s speed has jumped back up. FanGraphs pinned Kahnle’s fastball on Thursday at roughly 97 mph, where he sat prior to the injury. Having full command of his fastball at the proper speed unlocks so much potential for Kahnle, and his services could be significant for a bullpen that has had to lean heavily on its relievers of late.