Yankees want bullpen auditions for their remaining schedule


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Friday night’s Yankees win saw five home runs. Among those who hit homers were Aaron Hicks and Red Sox No. 99 Alex Verdugo. But fans were expecting to see a home run from another Aaron and No. 99. He was Aaron Judge.

Even though Judge has made hitting a home run look easy in 2022, it is actually not easy. He hit his 60th home run of this season against the Pirates on September 20. But his record-tying 61st home run is yet to come, as the slugger extended his homer-less game to straight four on Friday.

Judge has been to the plate 18 times in four games, but he hasn’t added to his 60 homers. Each time he swings, there is a growing murmur of excitement, chants of “M-V-P,” a dead silence as the pitch is thrown, and exhales that are a mix of nervous energy and excitement.

The pressure to break Roger Maris’ American League and Yankees record of 61 home runs has put a historical lens on every pitch, bringing with it analysis and emotion. But in the real world, the most important factor in whether the Yankees make history as a team is not Judge, but the fact that Boone is still thinking about what to do with his bullpen 151 games into the season. With 11 games left, the Yankees are still trying out relief pitchers. They have to make tough decisions. One could get here as early as Sunday.

After the Yankees overcame the Red Sox 7-5, the manager told:

“A lot of things have to line up to go deep, even for the best of the best.”

Miguel Castro finished his rehab assignment at Triple-A on Friday with a scoreless inning. If the Yankees do not see a postseason role for the righty, he will be a free agent after the season and they do not intend to re-sign him.

They could consider Ron Marinaccio, Clarke Schmidt, or Lou Trivino as options. However, all are in contention for postseason roles. So is Lucas Luetge, who could be released in theory.

This brings us to Aroldis Chapman. The Yankees are at least thinking about whether or not to designate him for assignment. Basically, the question is whether they think they can fix his delivery and confidence in the last few weeks of the season, and even if they do, whether they trust him enough with his inconsistent performances and control to put him on the postseason roster. Because if he doesn’t, he too will be a free agent at the end of the season, and there are no plans for a reunion.

No one from the Yankees wanted to talk about this in public. But it is one of the things they are confronting. On Thursday, the LA Dodgers removed Craig Kimbrel, even though it was late in the season and he didn’t have a clear plan to deploy him. Chapman is among the finest relievers. Jansen is still the Braves’ closer, even though Raisel Iglesias has been called for the job. The fact that the Dodgers, the best team in the majors, and the Braves, the reigning champions, both have problems with their bullpens shows that the Yankees are not alone.

Still, the Yankees have lost the lead in four of their last five games after the sixth inning. (One was by Gerrit Cole, which brings up another worry.) They have always won. They have 16 walk-off wins, which is five more than any other team and the same number as the Yankees. In the last six years, they have had at least 13 walk-off wins and have played in and won five World Series. They also have 10 walk-off losses, which is the most since 1988 and ties them for the most in MLB.

They are called the Cardiac Yankees, and their pen hurts their fans’ hearts. Unlike the past, this no more qualifies to become a strikeout pen. The Yankees bullpens of 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2021 have the highest strikeout percentages ever. In 2022, this one (24.3 percent) is 12th among the majors.

This is a groundball team (No. 1 in the majors). The ball is going to be played. The Yankees’ defense has been great, but pitching coach Matt Blake said:

“We don’t have many pure strikeout players. It’s more like managing contacts. In the end, you want to keep people from getting on base and from hitting the ball hard, and if the ball is put in play in the ninth inning, it can sometimes be a problem. I hope you guys aren’t walking, too.”

Zack Britton walked three batters in his first game following his return, where he pitched at five. His pace and movement were good. Can he improve with more control before the playoffs? In the ninth inning, Scott Effross’s first game after coming off the IL, the bases were full because of a hit on a 0-2 pitch, a hit by pitch, and a walk. But he got away.

Both Boone and Blake are preparing for a more uncertain future. Clay Holmes and Jonathan Loaisiga will be responsible for the final six outs, and Effross and Wandy Peralta, who will be returning from the injured list for the final series, will serve as the primary late-inning pieces. But nothing has been decided.

According to Boone:

“It’s an opportunity for somebody to grab a more significant role moving forward.”

There are 11 matches left. Eleven games for Judge to hit his historic homers and for the Yankees to try to write a postseason script.

But, can the Yankees resolve the bullpen problem? Do they need bullpen auditions before the postseason?

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