I’m proud of Joe Girardi. I don’t say that often, actually I don’t think I’ve ever said it, but I’m proud of him for at least today and it’s because of how he used the bullpen in the Yankees’ first win of 2015.
Sure, I would be even more proud of him if he started using this lineup every game:
1. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
2. Brett Gardner, LF
3. Alex Rodriguez, DH
4. Brian McCann, C
5. Mark Teixeira, 1B
6. Carlos Beltran, RF
7. Chase Headley, 3B
8. Stephen Drew, 2B
9. Didi Gregorius, SS
But since I know that won’t happen (and the No. 1 reason it won’t happen is because Girardi will likely think his lineup is a winning combination even though the Yankees are 1-1 and not 0-2 because of a bloop double, two hit by pitches, a wild pitch and a double-play ball off a glove), I have to be happy with what I get.
Before the season started, I talked with Chad Jennings of The Journal News and we talked about how it would make the most sense for the 2015 Yankees to not have a closer (it would actually make the most sense for every team to not have a closer). The Yankees are better suited to use Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller in any inning and at any time rather than forcing them to have set innings and in Game 2 of the season we got our first look at what Girardi will do in the late innings of a close game. We joked that Girardi isn’t likely to be the guy that revolutionizes the game of baseball by not having a closer and by using his elite back-end arms in any situation, but then Girardi did just that. (I also talked with former Yankees reliever and setup man Steve Karsay about having set bullpen roles and he talked about relievers wanting to know when they will be used.)
Everyone assumed Betances would be the closer to start the season, but on Wednesday night with Russell Martin, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion due up, Girardi went to the right-handed Betances for the eighth inning. Two walks, a single, an error, an unearned run and 31 pitches later, the inning was over with the Blue Jays extending their lead to 3-1, but Girardi proved he isn’t scared of changing the way he manages games late.
If that had been a game in June or July, we probably wouldn’t have seen Betances in that spot, but with the Yankees’ offense having trouble scoring runs (two runs in 16 innings when Betances came in) and Girardi desperately not wanting to lose the first two games of the season at home, he went with his assumed closer in the eighth inning of a game the Yankees were trailing by one run and didn’t manage for a stat or a save situation. Sitting in the Stadium I felt a sense of pride overcome me that I imagine is the same feeling a parent has when their child speaks or walks or ties their own shoes for the first time.
Andrew Miller was dominant in the ninth, getting two ground outs and a strikeout for the save in his first appearance as a Yankee and proving the Yankees’ bullpen is the team’s strength and really the only reliable aspect of the entire team. Add in Chris Martin’s scoreless sixth inning and the bullpen’s line through two game is: 8 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 5 BB, 7 K. And if Justin Wilson didn’t do his best Shawn Kelley impression and walk the bases loaded on Opening Day and if Betances had any sort of control on his breaking balls then those numbers would look even better.
When asked about the end of the game, Miller (who impressed me with how intelligent and well-spoken he was in spring training) said, “They’re going to look at the lineup card and try to determine who has what portion of the lineup.”
The logic behind that idea made almost too much sense and I had to read it a few times.
“So it’s just however it falls,” Miller said. “If it had fallen that the eighth inning had been that 6 through 1 section, it would have been me in the eighth and Dellin would have gone out and closed the game.”
It really was a beautiful thing on Wednesday night. Using your best right-handed reliever in a non-save situation to keep a game close, not knowing that you will even come back, because the lineup at the time was right-handed heavy (the Blue Jays don’t even have a left-handed, non-switch hitter on their team)? I almost started crying in my seat the Stadium at the sight of it and they wouldn’t have been winter-weather, freezing-rain, cold-wind induced tears. They would have been tears of joy. Thankfully, I kept it together in front of the other 8,000 people at the game.
The season is only two games old and I would have thought I would be writing the latest Joe Girardi Show column questioning his decisions in the first week of the season rather than praising him for them. I’m not about to say that Giradi is in the clear from criticism because I know the second I do he will name Miller the closer, but for now, I’m on Joe’s side when it comes to the bullpen. Now about that lineup …