I was distraught when Luis Severino was removed from the 2017 AL Wild-Card Game. It was only the first inning and the Yankees were trailing 3-0 with just one out and runners on second and third. The season was on the brink of elimination and a base hit would most likely end it before the Yankees ever came to bat in the game.
Joe Girardi raced to the mound as if he tried the Stadium chili fries and needed to get back to the clubhouse. He immediately took the ball from Severino and called on Chad Green, and for a moment I felt a sense of relief.
Green had been the Yankees’ best reliever that season in his transition to the bullpen. In 69 innings, he allowed a measly 34 hits while striking out 103 to only 17 walks. I still trusted David Robertson as much as anyone in the worst of jams and I still believed in Dellin Betances despite his end-of-the-season decline, but this spot was perfect for Green. Green rewarded Girardi’s decision to go to the bullpen for 26 outs by getting out of the inning with the score still 3-0.
Three nights later in Cleveland, Girardi once again called on Green in Game 2 of the ALDS. This time Green entered with the Yankees leading 8-3 in sixth inning and a runner on first with two outs. Sabathia was only at 77 pitches and the bottom of the order was coming up for the Indians, but Girardi went to his bullpen for the last 11 outs of the game. Green had thrown 41 pitches in the wild-card game, and I knew something was off with Green from the very first batter.
Green had trouble putting away the easy-to-put-away Austin Jackson, as Jackson was able to foul away two two-strike pitches before flying out to right field on the seventh pitch of the at-bat. Then against the light-hitting catcher Yan Gomes, Green ran into the same problem, as Gomes fouled away three two-strike pitches before doubling to left on a line drive, also on the seventh pitch of the at-bat. With runners on second and third and one out, Green got ahead of 9-hitter Lonnie Chisenhall 0-2 on two foul tips, but Chisenhall was able to foul off four straight two-strike pitches before being hit by a pitch. Green had thrown 21 pitches to the Indians’ 7, 8 and 9 hitters and had been unable to get a single swing-and-miss.
Chisenhall had foul-tipped the first two pitches to fall behind 0-2, which was almost a bit of foreshadowing as the seventh pitch of the at-bat hadn’t hit him, but rather had been tipped off the bat and into Gary Sanchez’s glove. It should have been the third out of the inning, but home plate umpire Dan Iassogna missed the call and Girardi missed his chance to challenge the call for reasons I will never understand even with Sanchez repeatedly telling his manager the ball hit the bat. The bases were now loaded and the lineup was turning over. I felt like I was going to be sick and when Girardi decided to stay with Green to face Francisco Lindor I could feel my stomach rumbling.
Lindor took Green’s first pitch for a ball, and the second pitch — Green’s 23rd of the inning — he took for a ride. Matt Vasgersian screamed, “LINDOR WITH A SWING AND A DRIVE … AND IT’S GONE!” while Sanchez watched Lindor round the bases in disbelief. The Yankees still led 8-7, but no one thought the Yankees were going to hold on to win the game. Certainly not me.
The Yankees lost Game 2 before improbably winning three straight to win the series and shock the top-seeded Indians, though Green wouldn’t pitch in Games 3, 4 or 5. He did look more like his regular-season self in the ALCS against the Astros, allowing one earned run in his three appearances and stranding two inherited runners in Game 6.
But in 2018, even with his overall solid season (94 strikeouts in 75 2/3 innings with a 2.50 ERA), he wasn’t as dominant as he had been in 2017. His hits per nine innings rose from 4.4 to 7.6, he allowed more than double his home run total from the year before (four to nine) and his strikeouts per nine innings dropped from 13.4 to 11.2. He was still very good, but he was no longer unhittable, and while I trusted him more than Jonathan Holder, Luis Cessa, Tommy Kahnle or A.J. Cole (not that being more trustworthy than any of those four means much), I didn’t trust him nearly the way I did the year before. In the ALDS, he allowed one earned run in 3 2/3 innings on four hits and three walks, but didn’t strike out any of the 18 batters he faced, and it was clear something was off with him.
This season the slow decline for Green since the end of the 2017 regular season has taken another step in the wrong direction. A much larger step. He has allowed at least one earned run in six of his 10 appearances, giving up a crooked number in four of those. In four his last six outings, he has taken a loss against the Astros (0.2 IP, 2 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 0 K), put a game out of reach against the White Sox (0.1 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 2 HR), nearly ruined Easter Sunday against the Royals (0.0 IP, 2 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 0 K) and almost blew a six-run lead against the Angels (0.1 IP, 3 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 1 HR).
Green’s line for the season: 7.2 IP, 15 H, 14 R, 14 ER, 4 BB, 7 K, 4 HR, 16.43 ERA, 2.477 WHIP.
The 14 earned runs he’s allowed this season matches his total from 2017 when he made 40 appearances and pitched 69 innings.
With the current state of the Yankees lineup, the team needs to be able to rely on their starting pitching and the bullpen to win games. The starting pitching has lived up to expectations for the last week, but the bullpen continues to be an inconsistent problem, and Green is the biggest problem of all.
His high-leverage appearances have been taken away from him and in an attempt to get him right, Aaron Boone brought him in with a six-run lead on Tuesday night in Anaheim. After recording the final out of the seventh inning, Green loaded the bases with no outs in the eighth before giving up a grand slam. After not getting a single swinging strike on Sunday on 12 pitches, he did manage to get two in his 18 pitches on Tuesday, but in neither game did he record a strikeout, something he hasn’t done now in six of his 10 outings.
Thankfully, the Yankees will get Gary Sanchez back on Wednesday, but they will still be without Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Didi Gregorius, Miguel Andujar and Aaron Hicks. The Yankees have to play near-perfect baseball with their current roster and make any run they’re able to score stand up to win games and keep pace with the Rays in the division until their regulars return.
I understand success for relievers is year to year, but this isn’t that. Even if Green had declined in performance from 2017 to 2018, it was a small decline. This is his performance falling off a cliff. In the last two weeks alone, he has broken open a 3-3 game for a loss, put a one-run deficit out of reach, helped blow a five-run lead and nearly blew a six-run lead. Right now, the only situation for Green is mop-up duty, in a game it would take a miracle for the Yankees to come back and win, and only being able to pitch in such a situation isn’t worthy of a roster spot.
I expect Green to become the latest Yankee to land on the injured list, whether or not he’s really injured. He needs time to figure it out and the Yankees can no longer afford to let him figure it out at the major league level.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!