Some believe that Yankees manager Joe Girardi's strength lay with his manipulation of the bullpen. Others contend that Girardi doesn't have a clue when it comes to reading the tea leaves, rather relying too strictly to analytics. At this moment, I'm sitting on the fence, but surprisingly leaning in favor of Girardi's current seemingly-manic decisions.
As a playoff berth continues to look like a strong possibility for the Yankees, Girardi is managing his bullpen with what feels like reckless abandon one day and fierce competitiveness the next. This isn't exactly surprising to me, as Girardi's use of the bullpen this season has been erratic, often bordering on defying logic.
Girardi has always struggled to open a wide net for his trusted circle of relief pitchers, but with expanded rosters, he's become even more closed off to the slew of arms in his bullpen. With Adam Warren on the shelf, Girardi's trust is in four, maybe five relievers.
Big leads, bring in Green
Twice in the same week, Girardi looked to Chad Green to "lock down" Yankees' leads of eight runs. Sure, there was a rally in place, but is Girardi so worried about losing these mammoth leads? Of course he is, because it has been an issue for the Yankees this season.
While it is fair to understand and even sympathize with Girardi's plight, at some point he's going to need to steer clear of an extended appearance with Green. Won't he? Using Green to put out a serious fire in the fifth inning with a big lead is comprehensible at this point in the season, but keeping him in there as the lead is extended takes him out of the next two games.
Green is incredibly valuable, so much so that wearing him down now will extremely inhibit the Yankees' chances to move on should they reach the postseason.
Robertson in the fifth?
In Monday night's contest, the Yankees held a four-run lead with one out and two men on in the fourth inning. With Green resting from his most recent lengthy effort, Girardi turned to David Robertson, the reliever he -- and fans -- trust more than the remaining hurlers he had at his disposal.
Robertson has long been considered a magician on the mound in pressure situations, thus the nickname "Houdini." The moniker could be overplayed a bit because some of the time the pressure is brought on by Robertson himself. That was not the case Monday as Robertson picked up the pieces CC Sabathia left behind, striking out both batters he faced in the fifth inning. He then went on to the record six more outs. The outing marked Robertson's longest appearance in 557 career games.
Again, the aggressive approach may seem early by regular season standards, but Girardi is clearly working in playoff mode now -- and the team has bought in. What's alarming is Girardi trying to maneuver two relievers through continuously extended and high-pressured situations. Doing so essentially leaves arguably his two best -- or most consistent -- relievers unavailable for up to two days in some cases.
The Yankees will likely be playing many close games across the next 19 contests, meaning having Green and Robertson at his disposal on almost a daily basis will be more beneficial that hoping they can be used every few days.
Open the circle…even a little?
Warren's injury certainly shrunk Girardi's circle of trust to Green, Robertson, Dellin Betances, Aroldis Chapman, and maybe Tommy Kahnle. At some point, will Girardi have any choice but to test Kahnle in one of these middle-inning, high-pressure situations? Moreover, is there another reliever in the pen who has the ability to win Girardi over during the season's final three weeks?
Sadly, I'm not sure there is that person after Kahnle. Chasen Shreve? I don't think so, and Girardi won't back off keeping Shreve for strict lefty-on-lefty situations.
If this were Triple-A, Girardi might turn to Ben Heller or Giovanni Gallegos, who have dominated at the level this season. However, each has struggled at times while in the majors, to the extent that Girardi will only go to them in games well out of hand.
Relievers with great stuff who are used as mop up relievers,can be frustrating. The mistake was not providing pressure situations to Heller or Gallegos (or another reliever in the system) often enough in the big leagues so that they would be used to the difference in competition when it matters. At the moment, there isn't enough time to get to the comfort level Girardi would require.
I've voiced my opinion here and on Twitter where it concerns Girardi's incredibly erratic season managing the bullpen. I've been critical of the timing of his use of the bullpen one day and the lack of vision to turn to it the next. I've complained about pushing relievers to the brink with unusual usage patterns and utilizing others in crucial situations for too long.
With the team scraping for a playoff berth, perhaps a division championship, I'm more willing to throw my previous stances out the window. I'll ride Girardi's panic moments and limited trust in hopes that if it works through the remainder of the regular season, the relievers will have enough in the tank to drag the rest of the team through a lengthy playoff run.
The other options simply aren't there, because Girardi failed to build them when he had the chance.