Andy Martino, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Early on Thursday, Aaron Boone and pitching coach Larry Rothschild checked in with their relievers, telling them how they might be used that afternoon against the Orioles.
The message for Adam Ottavino was to be ready for the sixth or seventh inning. The Yankees call these "lanes," a term the team uses for the basic game situation and part of an opposing lineup that best suits each reliever's repertoire. In a well-executed game, Boone is able to utilize each reliever in his ideal lane.
For example, had the Orioles knocked out Masahiro Tanaka early, it would have been Chad Green's lane to give the team length for a few early-to-midgame innings.
"A lot of teams have set guys for individual innings, but we have so many guys who are good that it's going to change in day-to-day basis to optimize our usage," Ottavino explained after the Yankees' 7-2 Opening Day win over Baltimore.
"So there might have to be daily conversations. But Boonie, one of his big qualities is communication."
In this case, the manager's prognostication was spot-on, too.
"They told me seventh inning, maybe one out in the sixth, and that's exactly how it went," Ottavino said. "Don't know how they figured that one out, but it's perfect."
With two out in the sixth, Tanaka hung a splitter at 87 miles per hour -- 3-4 mph faster than he wanted it -- and right in the middle of the plate. Trey Mancini drove it to deep center field for a run-scoring double.
The game had suddenly presented Boone with Ottavino's lane. The manager summoned his new toy, who signed as a free agent last winter, and got the result he wanted: Extreme movement on Ottavino's pitches, and four key outs.
Welcome to the Bronx, Otto. pic.twitter.com/mc8AsmMgzm- New York Yankees (@Yankees) March 28, 2019
Zack Britton followed, and though he struggled with his command more than he had in Spring Training, he showed the Yankees why they can expect an even better version of him than the one they acquired via trade last July.
Then, Britton was still recovering from Achilles surgery. His legs barked on and off all summer and fall, and sometimes he would lose the strike zone. This year, further removed from his injury, he seems sharper.
"Today he actually struggled a little bit with his command, he's been crisper than that this spring," Boone said, noting that Britton's ability to right himself during the inning pointed to that improvement.
"But yeah, I think we're dealing with a guy beyond a serious injury … he's always one pitch away, and he's eventually going to generate some weak contact."
A scout in attendance confirmed this, saying Britton, "Threw all fastballs and had good sink."
Good sink is all Britton needs to be a dominant force in his own lane, which will often be the eighth inning or thereabouts.
Aroldis Chapman followed in the ninth - despite the Yankees' increasingly progressive pen usage, they will continue to use Chapman as a traditional closer -- and was the only spot of mild concern for a bullpen that otherwise clicked.
"Chapman not high velocity there," the same scout texted. "Something wrong?"
Officially, Chapman is healthy and he still got the outs, albeit with a 97-mph fastball and not 100-plus. His fastball does seem like something to watch as April progresses.
Dellin Betances' shoulder impingement, which does not seem like a long-term injury, left the Yankees' pen short on Thursday, but he was hardly missed. Through analytics-driven pregame planning, communication, and the deployment of high-end personnel, the team's strength was evident in the opener.
If the Yanks are going to win their first championship since 2009, it will likely be on the strength of that bullpen - which, when Betances returns, looks even deeper and better than last year's group.