Bullpen or Pigpen? Yankees Split Series with Rays as Relievers Implode
When Mariano Rivera announced his retirement last year, sportscasters across the nation pointed out that the Yankees would soon find out what the other 29 major league teams already knew—bullpens can occasionally (often, for some) foul up a perfectly good game.
For the first time post-Mo, the Yankees truly felt the pain of being in a closer-by-committee situation on Friday night in Tampa. Up until the sixth inning, they seemed in complete control of the game, with the offense touching up Tampa starter Eric Bedard for four early runs and Hiroki Kuroda offering a solid if not dominating performance (three runs in 5 2/3 innings).
Prior to Friday night’s disaster, the bullpen of virtual no-names had been astounding, with an ERA of 0.00 in their seven previous games. With Rivera successor David Robertson on the disabled list, other pitchers like Adam Warren, Dellin Betances, and Sean Kelley had been stepping up to the mound, so to speak.
The Yankees took a 5-3 lead into the seventh inning. David Phelps allowed a single to Yunel Escobar, but recorded an out when Ryan Hanigan’s line drive up the middle ricocheted off Phelps’ right side and over to first baseman Kelly Johnson. Manager Joe Girardi then removed Phelps and opted for Matt Thornton. Phelps has had his troubles this season; in seven appearances, he holds a 5.40 ERA that includes three home runs surrendered in 8 1/3 innings pitched.
Escobar was subsequently thrown out by Derek Jeter on a ground ball by Sean Rodriguez, who then reached third on a base hit by Ben Zobrist. Thornton was replaced by Warren, and then the proverbial excrement hit the fan. (There’s really no nicer way of putting it.) Pinch hitter Desmond Jennings, who always seems to be a thorn in the Yankees’ side, laced a single to left field, allowing Rodriguez to score and Zobrist to advance to third. Next Evan Longoria walked, and then James Loney singled in another run. After that, Warren struck out Wil Myers, but the Yankees had already lost the lead; the Rays were up 6-5 in a game New York controlled practically all night.
And that was far from the worst of it. In the bottom of the eighth, Warren snagged two quick outs, only to give up a double to Hanigan and a homer to Rodriguez. Girardi then replaced Warren with Cesar Cabral, who had zero command of the entire ballpark, let alone the strike zone. He threw a wild pitch sandwiched between two singles, and then something truly bizarre happened. Cabral hit both Longoria and Loney with pitches before allowing a single to Myers. He then proceeded to hit Logan Forsythe with another pitch, earning the dubious honor of hitting three batters and getting ejected from the game without recording a single out. One thing led to another, and when all was said and done the Rays walked away with an 11-5 lead and won the game by the same score.
On Saturday the Yankees had a chance to redeem themselves, but this time they didn’t even get a decent outing from their starter. Ivan Nova surrendered four home runs in as many innings and capped the disappointing performance off with a trip to the disabled list with a partial UCL tear, an injury that very often leads to Tommy John surgery.
Things got even uglier after that. Matt Daley came in to replace Nova, and impressed no one by giving up six runs (four earned) in 1 1/3 innings pitched. Betances allowed a couple of inherited runners to score in his 1 2/3. Out of further options, Girardi sent backup infielder Dean Anna out to pitch the eighth. Anna had previous experience pitching batting practice in hitting clinics, so why not? At the end of the night the Yankees found themselves annihilated 16-1 and outscored 27-6 in the last two games by a lineup not known for scoring tons of runs.
Fortunately the Yankees were able to salvage a split with an extra-inning win on Sunday. Vidal Nuno, a fill-in starter because of last week’s rainout, was able to restore order with five shutout innings, and a host of relievers kept Tampa bats in check as the Yankees took the finale 5-1.
The ramifications of the Friday and Saturday debacles are evident in the Yankee pitching roster. Daley and Cabral were both designated for assignment, and Nova went on the 15- day DL. (Perhaps Nuno pumped up the volume on Sunday knowing full well that there’s a vacant spot in the rotation?) Preston Claiborne and Bryan Mitchell were both recalled, and the moves leave the Yankees with one fewer lefty in the pen. Robertson is expected to be reactivated on Tuesday, which is extremely welcome news.
This year the Yankee pitching has operated through trial and error. Though Girardi has experienced mostly success with his starting rotation, the bullpen situation has been a bit more dicey. More than ever, Yankee fans can appreciate how good they’ve had it for the past 20 years.
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