The Yankees had to know the day was coming -- Aroldis Chapman is finally on the disabled list.
After battling knee tendinitis for several weeks, the pain became too much for Chapman and it was clearly affecting his ability to rear back to gain velocity in his abbreviated appearance Tuesday night.
The Yankees may have entered the season with what was considered the preeminent bullpen in the game, but without Chapman, the relief crew will be tested. Chapman, who has converted 31 of 33 save chances, owns a 2.11 ERA and has 84 strikeouts in 47 innings, is having the type of season the Yankees expected when they signed him to his five-year, $86 million contract. This isn't a situation in which the Yankees simply slide someone into the closer role and keep up the pace.
Beyond which of the potential closers to employ on a given night, Yankees manager Aaron Boone will have to structure a new bullpen methodology to use as the club works toward the postseason...
Boone's bullpen management abilities have been criticized since the beginning of the season and they have become more and more magnified as the year has progressed due to similar decision-making processes which have led to repeat results. Boone will be tested further as he and pitching coach Larry Rothschild determine who is best to close out games.
Boone benefits in that each of the three potential closers (covered below) do not need to be pitching the ninth inning to be productive. Boone and Rothschild must be prepared with extensive game plans drawn out for potential scenarios on a daily basis. There will be moments in the seventh inning of a close game where Zach Britton will be the best option and others in which David Robertson is needed in the sixth inning, but the next day either one could be called on to close. Even Dellin Betances, who might simply pitch better in the eighth inning, will have to close out the ninth because Britton and Robertson have already been used.
Behind the three closer options, the Yankees will require strong efforts from relievers like Chad Green and Tommy Kahnle. If Green and Kahnle can uphold their end, it will provide Boone the chance to minimize the opportunity to overwork the closer options and flip their usage patterns when needed.
The hot hand
Betances regained his mojo once he began to trust his fastball again, which has accentuated the filthiness of his knuckle-curveball. In 36.1 innings since May 12, Betances has spun a 0.74 ERA with 61 strikeouts. He has allowed a run in just three appearances out of 36 during the span. With such a sterling stretch, it might seem as if Betances is the obvious choice to pitch the ninth inning. However, there is something to be said about Betances' comfort level as an eighth inning reliever and how his composure might change with a shift in responsibilities.
The new arm
The Yankees may very well have made the trade for Britton understanding that Chapman's knee would eventually require an extended stay on the DL. The catch with Britton is that he had not performed up to the level of his best days in Baltimore and his production has wavered since his arrival in New York. Notwithstanding Britton's experience as a lockdown closer, Boone could utilize him in a situation that suits the left-hander better than being the Yanks' final option to close out games.
The old guard
Robertson provided a certain boost to the Yankees in the 2017 stretch run to the postseason and he might be relied upon again with Chapman out. One concern with slotting Robertson directly into the closer role is that he is battling some shoulder discomfort, which the Yankees are going to need to closely monitor. Robertson is having a solid season - 3.11 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 69 K in 55 IP -- which has been filled with long stretches of success and some dramatic lapses. Robertson's "Houdini" reputation as a pitcher that creates trouble he magically wiggles out of precedes him, but is that the situation the Yankees want to put themselves into?
If there is a time for Boone to get a firm grip on running the bullpen, it would be now. Boone has the benefit of a deep squad of relievers, but he'll have to work through multiple configurations to figure out which work best with the relievers' strengths.