When it comes to the bullpen, the Yankees have found an ability to create excellence from pretty much any Tom, Dick or Marinaccio.
Pitching coach Matt Blake remembers coming out of the 2019 season and an ALCS loss to the Astros in which the Yankees had a circle of bullpen trust around Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton and Chad Green. There was a recognition, however, that more would be needed in the modern game. Much more.
Lo and behold (emphasis on Lo, the nickname for the ascendant Jonathan Loaisiga), the Yankees’ play ricocheted last year from good to bad. What was consistent, though, was the excellence of a bullpen that kept growing in reliable options.
Loaisiga developed from injury-touched and inconsistent to become arguably the AL’s best reliever. Lucas Luetge, who hadn’t pitched in the majors since 2015, evolved into durable and dependable. Wandy Peralta and Clay Holmes (especially Holmes) went from obscurity, to stalwart.
The offense was surprisingly meek last year, making the Yankees unable to break away from opponents. So the only route to 92 wins and a wild card was if the bullpen was top-five-in-the-majors good and deep enough to win so many tense, close contests.
It isn’t as if the importance has dropped off in 2022. Not with just 3 ¹ / ₂ weeks of spring training, which meant starters would not be stretched out to begin the year. April, at minimum, is going to reveal who has trustworthy bullpen arms and who doesn’t.
“It’s certainly been one of the overwhelming strengths that his team has had now for a while and we certainly feel like it has a chance to be that this year,” manager Aaron Boone said. “Obviously knowing in this month of April where you know, you’re going to have to lean on them for them to go out and pitch the way they have the first two nights here to kind of set the tone against a really good offensive team , you know, they’re capable of that. But it’s good to see them be as sharp as they have been. ”
That good offensive team is the Red Sox. There are several reasons the Yankees have gone 2-0 to begin this season against Boston after losing their first seven against their rivals last year. That includes Anthony Rizzo and Giancarlo Stanton homering in each game. But more than anything the Yankees have broken out well because of their bullpen depth and skill.
“The nice thing is that there is a plethora of arms we feel comfortable [will] go out and throw strikes as a starting point, ”Blake said. “And they have stuff that’s capable of getting good major league hitters out. So just looking at the way we’ve mixed and matched the first two days, there’s just a lot of different looks we can give you whether it’s from the third inning to the ninth inning, and I think we feel confident with a lot of these guys pitching leverage situations. ”
The Yankees’ starters so far, Gerrit Cole and Luis Severino, combined to pitch seven innings and surrender five runs in the two games. The Yankees used six relievers to throw six no-hit innings Saturday in a 4-2 triumph after they used seven relievers Friday in a 6-5, 11-inning win. The combined line was 13 innings, five hits and one earned run.
“I feel like we can run with eight guys in [leverage situations]”Blake said.
Yet on Saturday, the key reliever was not one of the eight. Ron Marinaccio would not even be on this team if rosters had not been expanded to 28 for the first three weeks and the Yankees hadn’t decided to go with arm overkill and 16 pitchers.
The Yankees seem to be building a bit of an organizational arms factory, identifying and enhancing strengths of pitchers while further sprucing repertoires. A 19th-round draft pick in 2017, Marinaccio came on the radar strongly last year because his elite changeup was playing and suddenly he had more fastball, an emerging breaking ball and a sense of fearlessness.
Now here he was in a moment that was as much movie script as the second game of a long season. Marinaccio grew up in Toms River, NJ, as a Yankees fan. He had about 100 friends and family at the park Saturday, including his mom, dad and fiancée. The opponent was the Red Sox. It is the stuff of backyards and dreams.
Severino was making his first start in 907 days, since losing Game 3 of the 2019 ALCS – against Cole. Severino was both rusty and encouraging in his three-plus innings. His velocity and delivery looked fine. He just appeared still to be in spring training, which was understandable for him more than anyone because of the inactivity.
He left with the Yankees down 2-0 after Alex Verdugo, who hit a two-run homer earlier, doubled to lead off the fourth. Marinaccio entered and walked Trevor Story on four pitches. The righty then threw ball one to Bobby Dalbec. Two on. No out. The game was at a pivotal point, with Boston up 2-0 already.
Rizzo came in from first base to tell the debuting rookie to take a deep breath. Kyle Higashioka joined them and reminded Marinaccio he was here before 46,000-plus because he had earned the right to be a major leaguer. The catcher told Marinaccio to throw a slider on the next pitch. He did. He got his first strikeout in The Show, then his first strikeout. Then a groundout, then another strikeout. He believes he heard his father’s distinct voice while he headed off the mound to congratulations in the home dugout.
The tenor of the game had changed. Rizzo hit his second two-run homer in two games to tie the score in the bottom of the fourth. Stanton demolished a two-run shot in the sixth for a Yankees lead.
Marinaccio began a baton pass to Miguel Castro, Luetge, Green, Holmes and then Chapman. Verdugo’s double off Severino was the last Boston hit. The Yankees improved to 2-0.
That’s because they spell RELIEF with a relentless amount of quality options.