Part 18 of a series analyzing the New York Yankees
If MLB and the Players Association can find an avenue to get an abbreviated season underway, it won’t be the only short thing about what would be a very different game.
Should the five starters remaining relatively healthy, the Yankees won’t need Chad Green as an opener, which means the powerful bullpen will house another high-end arm.
Adding Green to Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, Adam Ottavino, Tommy Kahnle, Luis Cessa and Jonathan Loaisiga will provide Aaron Boone with a deep pen highlighted by interchangeable parts that will shorten games. Should a spot start be required, Cessa and Loaisiga can handle that.
With Boone and first-year pitching coach Matt Blake expected to limit each starter’s workload in a season that might begin in July, a deep pen could lead to the parade of relievers as soon as the fourth inning.
Of the bullpen six arms, only Chapman will have a highly defined role — the ninth inning. Cessa and Loaisiga can provide long relief or work later if others need a day off. Britton can close or pitch in the eighth and seventh. That leaves Ottavino, Kahnle and Green to work in front of Britton and Chapman, who converted 37 of 42 save chances a year ago.
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While former Rockies teammate DJ LeMahieu finished fourth in AL MVP voting and was a huge bargain (two years, $24 million), Ottavino’s first regular season (three years, $34 million) in pinstripes was more than solid but followed by a subpar October.
“With the Yankees, he can be a setup man depending on matchups,’’ an AL scout said of Ottavino, who posted a 1.90 ERA in a staff-high 73 appearances, struck out 88 in 66 ¹/₃ innings, allowed 47 hits and walked 40. In eight postseason games he had an 8.11 ERA and gave up a game-tying home run to Houston’s George Springer in the fifth inning of ALCS Game 2. The Astros evened the series, 1-1, on Carlos Correa’s homer in the 11th off J.A. Happ. “Other places he would be used [are] in the eighth inning or as a closer.’’
Ottavino pitched the eighth inning 21 times last year and posted a 3.71 ERA in 17 innings. He worked 24 innings in the seventh and had a 2.25 ERA. Twenty-five times Boone called on the Ottavino in the sixth and he delivered a 0.48 ERA in 25 frames.
According to the scout, Ottavino’s walks don’t hurt as much as they might another pitcher because his swing-and-miss stuff is so good he can strike out batters with pitches in the strike zone.
“His command is better than his control. He walks a lot of guys but gets them to swing at pitches in the zone. He strikes out guys in the zone and he doesn’t have to get guys to chase that hard slider,’’ the scout said.
One area Ottavino spent the offseason and spring training working on was holding runners. He stopped tapping his glove with the ball before he delivered the pitch. Ottavino said his time to the plate was reduced from a very slow 1.7 seconds to 1.3, which gives the catcher a chance to throw out a runner attempting to steal second. Last year, runners were successful 15 times in 16 stolen-base attempts with Ottavino on the mound.
If a shortened season happens, there will be a lot of adjusting for managers and coaches. But one area Boone probably won’t sweat is who follows the starters because of the talent and depth of his bullpen that has four relievers — Chapman, Britton, Green and Ottavino — with closer stuff.
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