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Bullpen Keeping Bombers In The Fight

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You’d probably think that a baseball team’s losing its young, hot right-handed starting pitcher and three-quarters of what was being touted as the best bullpen in baseball would hurt any chances it has of staying in contention. But after a rare sweep of the A’s in Oakland, capped by a 2-0 shutout Sunday, the Yankees are now 26-21, just 2 ½ games behind the Orioles and Rays.

The Yankees’ starting pitching is still dismal — 11th out of 14 teams in ERA. But the stat that may escape you at first glance, as it’s been escaping me for the last week or so, is bullpen ERA. We haven’t been looking at the Yankees relievers because many of us just assumed that when Dave Robertson went out with a strained left oblique the Yanks were finished. C’mon, that’s what I thought, and I know you did, too.

We all forgot what Girardi’s main reputation is for: putting relief staffs together.

So far, the 5-arm combination of Rafael Soriano (performing very well
in his new role as closer, saving his 5th game Sunday against Oakland
and protecting the win for Hiroki Kuroda), Cory Wade, Cody Eppley, Boone
Logan, and Clay Rapada have combined for 73 games and 64 innings and a
collective ERA of 2.92. Overall, the Yanks’ bullpen is 4th best in the
league.

More than just their overall effectiveness, the relievers are
effective because of the way Girardi uses them: Wade and Eppley are
righties, Logan and Rapada are southpaws, and the Yankees can, in the
words of Girardi, “do more mixing and matching against hitters’
weaknesses.”

The real bargain-basement buy for the Yankees is Eppley, who was
picked up on waivers after getting released by — of all teams — the
Texas Rangers, who have been known in the past couple of seasons to
squeeze every last ounce of value from their pitchers. But after Eppley
posted and 8.00 ERA in 10 games last season, the Rangers gave up.

The secret of his revival seems to be that he’s returned to pitching
with a sweeping side-arm motion that for some reason he had abandoned
(as he told some reporters at Yankee Stadium last week after a Yankees
win in which he earned a “hold,” “I stopped throwing the side-arm
pitches because I thought I might make it as a starter. I lost two
things: the fast off my fastball and the sink off my sinker.” Both have
returned since he started throwing those pitches with a sidearm motion.

Watch below as he wipes out a Red Sox batter — while wearing a vintage 1912 New
York Highlanders uniform to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Fenway
Park.

So far this season, in 19 games he’s pitched 21.2 innings with a 2.08 ERA, same as Soriano.

There was some thought given to trying Wade in the rotation, but
everyone pretty much agreed that his side-arm pitches wouldn’t have the
same effectiveness against left-handed batters as right-handed. So, at
least for the time being, the Yankees are the only team in the major
leagues with a matching set of right-handed and left-handed side-armers
with Clay Rapada the specialist against lefty hitters.

The Yankees may just be one puzzle piece away – maybe a return to by
Joba Chamberlain – from having the best bullpen in the majors.

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