Throwing Strikes Key For Bullpen

New York Yankees Rafael SorianoThe Yankees managed to lose a game last night where they handed a 4-0 lead to their bullpen in the 8th inning. It’s a particularly bad loss, as the Yankees managed to squander a great CC Sabathia start and use the majority of their bullpen. Now they have an overtaxed bullpen with Freddy Garcia going tonight. That is less than ideal.

Now we can certainly second guess Girardi’s decisions, but that is a little overblown I think. Yes, Sabathia could have gone longer, but why tax your ace in April when you have a deep bullpen? Personally I would have gone to David Robertson in the 8th, but going to Rafael Soriano instead isn’t the craziest idea. The biggest problem with the decision is that it made Girardi understandably hesitant to pull him and burn another reliever, which he had to do anyways. If Robertson had entered the game at the start of the inning, he would probably have been on a much shorter leash.

Nitpicking aside however, the real issue is Girardi’s excuse that “Soriano is the 8th inning guy.” How literally are we supposed to take this? I am skeptical that Soriano is going to pitch the 8th in every single game, so what does that really mean? I know it’s just one of those things that managers say, but it also helps explain why Soriano would be left in to struggle. Girardi clearly has committed to Soriano enough that he will give him every opportunity to extract himself from trouble, but does he really deserve the Mariano Rivera treatment?

I was never a huge fan of the Soriano signing to begin with and I still just don’t see how the signing works out for the Yankees, but hopefully this is just a small blip and Soriano has a productive year.

What was frustrating about all the Yankee relievers though is their inability to consistently throw strikes. People are (rightfully) amazed at the work of Mariano Rivera and his devastating cutter, but he also pounds the strike zone and doesn’t beat himself. The same can’t be said for other relievers.

Soriano walked 3 batters and only 16 of his 32 pitches were strikes. 7 of Robertson’s 11 pitches were strikes and 7 of Boone Logan‘s 12 pitches were strikes, but those numbers are a bit deceptive. While Robertson looked pretty good, he still put himself in a bad situation against the free-swinging Delmon Young, falling behind in the count 3-1. Sure, Young’s hit was a blooper, but Robertson should have never put himself in the position where he had to pump fastballs over the plate to begin with. (Though to be honest, I think I would have called for the curve 3-2, considering Young’s general approach, but whatever.) Logan committed an even more unforgivable sin, by walking leadoff hitter Denard Span to start the 10th. As soon as Span got on, was there any doubt he’d score? I say this in all seriousness: with Span batting, aren’t you better grooving a fastball right down the middle than walking him? Lay it in there underhand if you have to, but you absolutely cannot walk him.

Despite the Twins’ efforts to bunt their way out of a rally (and if the Twins get down that bunt, there is a much better chance the Yankees win the game), they were able to setup 1st and 3rd with nobody out for Joe Mauer and Boone Logan’s best pitch of the evening was for naught, as Mauer was still able to drag a tough inside fastball past the drawn-in infield. Logan made a good pitch, but the earlier walk came back to haunt him. (Slightly related note here – I’m not sure Boone Logan is any good. He had a decent run in the beginning/middle of last year, but he has my early vote for bullpen arm most likely to not be around come September. Luis Ayala doesn’t count because he’s just an injury replacement.)

Baseball can seem pretty simple sometimes: throw strikes and good things happen. Rivera threw 10 of his 13 pitches for strikes. The night before, Rivera did not throw a ball outside the strikezone until the 4th (and final) batter he faced. I know it’s not really fair to compare anyone to Rivera, but it seems to me that his ability to throw strikes is just an critical to his consistency as how difficult his pitches are to hit. So while it might not be reasonable to expect other relievers to learn crazy 90+ mph cutters, it is reasonable for them to improve at throwing strikes and that should be their focus. Throw strikes – and if they can’t, Girardi should find someone who can.