ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Yankees rode their bullpen to a hot start this season, now they desperately need to find a way to maintain it. In just the last week they have lost Chad Green for the season to Tommy John surgery and Aroldis Chapman (Achilles) and Jonathan Loaisiga (shoulder) to the 10-day injury list.
That’s a huge hit to what has been a key part of the Yankees’ ability to put up the best record in baseball, 31-13, heading into Thursday night’s series opener against the Rays at Tropicana Field. The bullpen, which has the fourth-best ERA in the American League (3.09), will be tested in the coming weeks by injuries and opponents.
Like the rest of baseball, however, the Yankees knew that after a lockout-shortened spring training there would likely be injuries to pitchers. They knew pitching depth would play a major factor in the 2022 season. The Bombers said they were confident in the quality of their depth, particularly with young arms heading into this season.
Now, we get to see if they planned well.
Already they have seen some of those young arms come through in big spots.
JP Sears was a rotation-saver on Wednesday. The lefty made an impressive and much-needed spot start and spared the bullpen. Aside from two appearances where he got into some trouble, Ron Marinaccio has given the Yankees five scoreless innings. That includes two scoreless in Wednesday night’s win over the Orioles. He could develop into more of a swingman for the Yankees as the need arises.
Clay Holmes gave the Yankees a taste of his potential after they traded for him at the deadline last year. He has shown that he is more than able to step into the role of regular reliever and dominate hitters. The sinker-ball specialist not only has the longest active scoreless innings streak in the majors right now, he has a ridiculous 81.4% groundball rate. He can hold down the ninth inning, or any high-leverage inning, while Chapman is gone. That was a role that Loaisiga had been penciled in for coming into the season, but whether it was shoulder issues or the league adjusting to him after last year’s breakout season, he wasn’t up to the task before going on the IL.
Green, who struggled to start this season, was a reliable swingman out of the bullpen who could give the Yankees multiple innings or just one high-leverage frame against the toughest part of the opposing lineup.
Michael King has been solid in that same kind of role, despite some recent struggles. The right-hander who has almost replicated Corey Kluber’s slurve at its best his has a 35.8 % strikeout rate, among the top 3 % in the big leagues right now. With the idea he will eventually go back to starting, King has mostly been used in a multi-inning role.
So could Clarke Schmidt, who showed that he is much more prepared to pitch in the big leagues this season in his limited appearances. The right-hander has allowed only one earned run over 13 innings this season for an 0.69 ERA. He has a 20.4% strikeout percentage and a career-low 8.2 walk percentage.
The Yankees also still have some veterans in the bullpen that could step up and take advantage of the opportunities.
Miguel Castro, who the Bombers acquired from the Mets during spring training, could help fill the void Green left, but they have been reluctant to use him too much. Castro is in the bottom seven percentile in walk percentage in the big leagues, walking 14.5% of the batters he’s faced.
On the left side, the Yankees still have Wandy Peralta, who has a 1.80 ERA over 15 innings pitched, and Lucas Luetge, who has a 25% strikeout rate.