NEW YORK — Yankees pitching coach Matt Blake knows the team’s starters need to go deep into games to save the bullpen. Entering Wednesday’s action, right-hander Gerrit Cole was the only member of the rotation to give the Yanks quality starts this season, while the rest of the starters have a combined 6.06 ERA. Outside of Cole, left-hander Jordan Montgomery was the only starter to give them at least six innings.
It’s still early in the season, but the Yankees can’t continue to overuse their bullpen, which has been money in the bank. Yanks relievers have a 1.84 ERA entering Wednesday’s game — the best mark in the American League. Relievers such as Nick Nelson, Lucas Luetge and Jonathan Loaisiga have protected the more traditional one-inning guys like closer Aroldis Chapman.
When asked how he plans to build up Corey Kluber, Jameson Taillon and Montgomery, while not relying so heavily on the ‘pen, Blake said it’s a delicate balance.
“It’s something we talked a lot about in the preseason as an organization of how we want to prioritize these innings,” Blake said. “Obviously, we have a lot of question marks just in general about the durability of the rotation given the last couple of years.
“The onus was to protect the pitch count early on. On the back side of it, you don’t want to overexpose the bullpen. It’s a long season for them too. Early on, some starters held to some pitch counts was by design, and there were some long innings involved there. We have probably gotten the bullpen more work than ideally we would like, but it’s something we are well aware of. As the turns keep coming around, the [starters] will keep getting built up and we’ll pull back on some of the innings.”
Major League Baseball and the Atlantic League announced that the latter will move the pitching rubber back 12 inches to 61 feet, 6 inches. There is a feeling that will provide batters with more time to react to pitches.
The expectation is that more reaction time will help batters make contact more frequently, putting more balls into play and creating more game action.
At first, Yankees manager Aaron Boone was taken aback and wondered if that move would throw off the best pitchers in the world if the rule was put in place in the Majors. However, he is willing to see how it works out.
“That seems pretty drastic, but again, sometimes the craziest of ideas end up having some traction to them,” Boone said. “I think it’s important that you try these things out when you are trying to consider different things in a league, where you can kind of take some information and see how it works out.
“I think it’s good that Major League Baseball is trying a number of these things out — to see what it looks like, gather information about it and look for ways to continue to move the game forward.”
DJ LeMahieu was not in Wednesday’s lineup against the Blue Jays, but Boone said it was just a day off with a matinee game after a night game.
Brett Gardner was originally not in the starting lineup, either, but he was inserted into the No. 3 spot after the Blue Jays made a late pitching change and decided right-hander T.J. Zeuch would start. Boone wanted another lefty hitter in the lineup to face him.