The Yankees' four high-leverage relievers will get a ton of press and rightfully so, but the group asked to pitch in middle innings will have to do its part in what could turn out to be a very heavily used eight-pack of pitchers in 2019.
Right-handers Chad Green and Jonathan Holder plus whoever wins the battle for the final two spots in the bullpen will be expected to be ready to pitch in multiple situations and for varying lengths in their appearances. There is both upside and uncertainty among the last four relievers that will break camp with the Yankees.
Green might be more involved in high-leverage innings as he has been the last couple of seasons. The Yankees would likely prefer to utilize Green in lengthier appearances (think four to six outs), bringing in the 27-year-old to polish off a rocky inning from a starter and then cover some or all of the next frame.
Green has been a strong performer for the Yankees over the last two seasons, pitching to a 1.83 ERA in 2017 and 2.50 in 2018. However, he has to work on his slider as teams have become very accustomed to his four-seam fastball (thrown 86.6 percent of the time according to Baseball Savant). Batters found ways to get to the righty last season, barreling loads of balls and having a hard hit average that landed in the bottom three percent of the league. Improvement here is especially important since Green is expected to put out fires, not throw gas on them.
Holder, 25, is looking to build on his first season in which he remained with the Yankees for a majority of the season. Upon his return from his only trip to Triple-A in early April, Holder manufactured a remarkable stretch of 27.2 innings in which he allowed just three unearned runs. From that point, Holder continued to produce quality innings.
Holder will seemingly continue to be utilized in very similar situations as Green, though if both are fresh the latter is more likely to get first crack at holding down the opposition. Holder should also see plenty of outings in which he will have to lock down four or more outs. Holder made 15 such appearances in 2018, including 10 that went at least two innings.
Based on experience and a strong spring thus far, it appears right-hander Tommy Kahnle has a good shot at one of the remaining two bullpen spots. After an excellent 2017 season, Kahnle, 29, sputtered in 2018 leaving him in Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre for about half of the season. Kahnle's fastball is jumping once again, which provides him an advantage over others left in spring camp as the Yankees favor high velocity pitchers.
The Yankees do not necessarily need another lefty in the bullpen with southpaws Aroldis Chapman and Zack Britton on board. Additionally, righties Dellin Betances, Adam Ottavino, Green, Holder and Kahnle are generally quite able to get left-handers out.
However, if the Yankees desire carrying a situational lefty they have Stephen Tarpley, Rex Brothers and Philip Diehl competing this spring. After a solid finish to the 2018 season with the Yankees, Tarpley is off to a very strong spring start (zero runs allowed in six innings). While Brothers and Diehl have also thrown well, only Tarpley is on the 40-man roster, giving him a leg up on claiming a lefty spot should trends continue.
It appeared early in spring training that the Yankees wanted to carry a true long man to round out the bullpen. Unfortunately, the club's first two choices for that role -- Luis Cessa and Domingo German -- are now both being considered for rotation spots with Luis Severino out with rotator cuff inflammation and CC Sabathia recuperating from clean out surgery of his right knee and an angioplasty procedure. There doesn't seem to be many options for a long man at this stage in the spring, meaning Kahnle and Tarpley could be the final two pitchers in the pen when the Yanks open the season on March 28.
Once the regular season begins Green and Holder will be provided plenty of rope and the hope is that they will continue to grow. As for the remaining two spots, those might be held by Kahnle and Tarpley early on, but could easily turn into a revolving group of pitchers where rotation needs and performance dictates who occupies them.