Yankees Have a Major Middle Relief Problem

Kirby Yates

That wasn’t exactly how you want to start the most important 11-game stretch in 23 seasons.  After scoring six runs in three games against the Tigers over the weekend, the Yankees scored 10 runs for just the fourth time all season and lost. But that’s not even the worst part. The worst part is that in five innings against Jorge De La Rosa, they didn’t score once. If you’re not aware, he was De La Rosa’s line entering the game: 31.2 IP, 42 H, 32 R, 31 ER, 15 BB, 39 K, 8 HR, 8.81 ERA, 1.800 WHIP. The Yankees couldn’t score against a pitcher who gives up one run per inning.

The good news is the loss was just one game on a five-game road trip in which the Yankees have to win at least three games, but preferably four. The bad news is they have little room for error for the next four games after Nathan Eovaldi reminded us all for the third straight start why the Dodgers and Marlins didn’t mind giving up on a young, cost-controlled starting pitching who throws 100 mph. But in talking about the big picture for the season, the Yankees are in trouble if they are unable to not only beat Jorge De La Rosa, but even score against the 35-year-old lefty.

After 64 games, we know what to expect from the Yankees’ offense: not much. When they score 10 runs, they should win. Any team should win with that much offense. But for as bad as Eovaldi was and he was bad, anyone not named Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller or Aroldis Chapman who comes out of the Yankees’ bullpen is a problem. Tuesday night was just the latest in a long line of middle relief failures.

Nick Goody can have a pass for last night since he was the only Yankees pitcher to not give up a run. He actually hasn’t given up a run in last three appearances (3 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 6 K), but before that, he had given up runs in back-to-back appearances (0.2 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1 HR) and in six of his last eight appearances (7.2 IP, 9 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 3 BB, 5 K, 2 HR). He hasn’t been great, but he’s been about what you expect out of a middle reliever and he has basically become Joe Girardi’s must trusted bullpen arm outside of the Big Three.

Kirby Yates has been awful in June and between his weird delivery and the fact that he wasn’t good for Tampa Bay last year, there’s not much to like about him. After an impressive May, he has become 2016’s version of David Carpenter, who dominated for a month last year before getting rocked in May and and designated for assignment in June. Yates has now allowed four earned runs in his last two appearances (1.1 IP, 3 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 1 K) and his numbers in six June appearances are get-sent-back-to-Scranton worthy: 4.1 IP, 8 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 4 BB, 5 K).

Richard Bleier came in for fifth career appearance, and after pitching 3 2/3 scoreless inning in his first four appearances, here’s how his night went in Colorado: single (allowed an inherited runner to score), single (allowed an inherited runner to score), groundout, single, double, triple (two runs scored), groundout, lineout (one run scored), groundout. Bleier has yet to strike out a hitter and the only reason he’s in the bullpen is for Girardi to have a left-handed option that isn’t Miller or Chapman since Girardi has to have a lefty to go to the way he had to have Clay Rapada and Billy Traber and Rich Hill (before he figured out how to pitch) and David Huff.

Those two were only the problem last night, but the problem has been season-long. Chasen Shreve started the year with 5 1/3 scoreless innings before giving up 11 earned runs and seven(!) home runs in his next 13 2/3 innings and he landed on the disabled list with a shoulder injury. Johnny Barbato looked like he might be the next big thing when he started the season with nine strikeouts in six scoreless innings, but he gave up eight runs in his next seven innings and got sent down. Phil Coke returned for a second go-around in the Bronx, pitched as badly as he had the first time seven years ago, and got designated for assignment. Branden Pinder made one appearance, it went about as well as his late-season appearances last year, and now he’s out with Tommy John surgery. Tyler Olson appeared in one game, sucked, got released and now he’s in the Royals organization. Anthony Swarzak is still on the 25-man roster, has made three appearances, and hasn’t been good, so it’s only a matter of time until he’s back in Scranton.

Outside of Shreve, all of those pitchers are right-handed and none of them are good (including Shreve half the time). The same way Preston Claiborne, Caleb Cotham, Nick Rumbelow and Danny Burawa couldn’t get the job done when they were with the Yankees, neither can anyone on the team now (aside from Goody sometimes) that isn’t Betances, Miller or Chapman.

Games in which the Yankees are hoping to hold a deficit for a chance to come back are blown open and games in which the Yankees have such a big enough lead that they can rest the Big Three suddenly result in one or more of them warming up in the bullpen. The only time the Yankees’ middle relief can be trusted is when the game is out of hand one way or the other. The Yankees can’t go through an entire season without any reliable middle relief if they want to contend for a playoff spot. But unless they find a way to beat the Rockies or Twins over the next two weeks it won’t matter anyway.