Michael King stakes claim for Yankees’ rotation berth but Boone differs

Yankees pitcher Michael King

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Despite evolving into one of the premier multi-inning relievers in baseball, Yankees’ right-hander Michael King has held onto his aspiration of becoming a starter. He is willing to start given a chance, which looks likely considering how desperately the Yankees need to fill the void there. However, manager Aaron Boone differs in his assessment.

During the remaining two months of the regular season, with the Yankees’ starting rotation in disarray, Michael King might finally see a glimpse of his desire fulfilled, albeit partially.

Michael King himself pointed out that he had spent the majority of his career as a starter, subtly reminding the Yankees of his background in that role.

Last week, with the Yankees’ rotation facing depletion due to injuries and other factors, Michael King initiated a conversation with manager Aaron Boone. However, the manager wasn’t immediately convinced to use him as a starter, according to Michael King. However, the bullpen asset found himself on standby for Saturday’s opener at Loan Depot Park against the Miami Marlins. This marked the initial steps toward potentially transitioning into a regular every-fifth-day starter.

The outcomes weren’t optimal, as Michael King conceded two runs in two innings. Yet, the Yankees’ 3-1 loss could be largely attributed to Sandy Alcantara’s complete-game mastery against a less-than-stellar lineup.

When considered as a whole, the Yankees boast the finest bullpen in the league, boasting an impressive 3.17 ERA. King, in his 59 1/3 innings, holds an ERA of 2.88. Throughout this season, Michael King has proven to be among the premier pitchers in the league at minimizing hard contact, with his 26.8% hard-hit rate (as of Saturday) ranking as the sixth-lowest among all qualified pitchers.

Michael King’s return to starting

The Yankees opted for an opener strategy for the third consecutive game on Saturday, yet for Michael King, this marked a more substantial shift.

Given the bolstering of their bullpen contrasted with the weakening of their rotation over the past fortnight, the Yankees aimed to leverage Saturday’s game—where Michael King opened ahead of Jhony Brito—as a stepping stone for gradually increasing King’s workload during the remaining two months of the season.

Aug 12, 2023; Miami, Florida, USA; New York Yankees relief pitcher Michael King (34) throws a pitch against the Miami Marlins during the first inning at loanDepot Park.
Rich Storry / USA TODAY Sports

It’s important to note that this doesn’t entail a complete return to a starting role for Michael King, who has experience as a starter. The remaining timeframe of the season isn’t sufficient for the reliever to adequately transition back to a starter’s workload. Manager Aaron Boone highlighted that the Yankees might still require Michael King to emerge from the bullpen for high-pressure situations periodically.

Nevertheless, the Yankees are testing whether Michael King can progressively contribute more innings than the two or three typically seen in his relief appearances this season.

Boone explained on Saturday, ahead of the Yankees’ ongoing series against the Marlins at loanDepot Park, that they were considering the opportunity to extend King’s usage due to the injuries the team has faced.

Boone outlined that if Michael King’s performance and workload went positively, allowing him to contribute a few innings and around 40 pitches on Saturday, there’s a potential for him to be considered again in the rotation in the coming days. However, Boone acknowledged that complete build-up might not be feasible due to the team’s specific needs and circumstances, but they are aiming to explore this option.

Just a fortnight ago, the Yankees had reached a stage of confidence to deploy King in consecutive games, a milestone given his recovery from an elbow fracture in July of the previous year.

Michael King’s inclination to re-embrace a starting pitching role has been evident. Having functioned as a dedicated starter during his junior year at Boston College and throughout 2017-19 in the minor leagues, King had previously expressed his aspiration to eventually re-engage with a starting position.

Consequently, when Boone revealed the decision to him on Friday evening, the right-hander welcomed the news.

When the topic was raised, Michael King responded with excitement. He had expressed interest in returning to a starting role several times, including during spring training and a couple of instances this year. His value to the team has been undeniable.

Considering the bullpen reinforcements and ongoing rotation injuries, it appears reasonable to incorporate longer outings for him when possible. When questioned about the possibility of Michael King reaching a pitch count of approximately 60-70 by the season’s end, Boone responded with a conditional statement.

Boone mentioned that there might arise situations in the coming days where they would require King to handle critical moments in a game, such as extinguishing a potential problem or stepping up in significant scenarios based on the previous day’s usage. He emphasized the need to maintain a balanced approach, ensuring Michael King’s readiness for longer innings on specific occasions.

The Michael King strategy

The team’s approach regarding Michael King remains somewhat uncertain. As Boone pointed out, attempting to transition him into a starting role at this juncture of the season is likely impractical. Moreover, there’s a potential requirement for Michael King’s relief services in the upcoming three to four days.

Boone indicated that they would maintain the option of employing the (opener) strategy, aiming to gradually increase King’s workload when opportunities arise, allowing him to handle additional innings.


On Saturday, Michael King pitched a total of 41 pitches (approaching his 45-pitch limit), and he particularly lamented the fastball that was hit by the .366-hitting Luis Arraez for a two-run homer in the first inning.

Michael King expressed his willingness to adapt to any task the team requires and give his utmost effort, while also noting that he often believes he can contribute with extended innings.

Earlier this spring, there was a concern due to King’s recovery from an elbow fracture in July 2022, which limited his workload. However, the pitcher is now confident that he can quickly ramp up his capacity if required, thanks to his expanded repertoire compared to his earlier years as a starter in 2020 and 2021.

Furthermore, with recent additions like Jonathan Loaisiga, Tommy Kahnle, and Keynan Middleton strengthening the bullpen, Michael King pointed out that there’s a surplus in the bullpen and a shortage of starting pitching due to the injuries. He is prepared to step up and contribute as needed.

“I have no idea what’s going to happen in the future (as a starter),’’ Michael King said. “But I definitely like doing it.’’

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