Before a single pitch was thrown this season, the Yankees bullpen was viewed as one of the best in baseball. They had signed top closer Rafael Soriano as the set-up man to future Hall-of-Fame closer Mariano Rivera. They added veteran lefty specialist Pedro Feliciano and had Joba Chamberlain and Nate Robertson to man the seventh and even sixth innings. The Yanks were going to cover up their starting pitching deficiencies by being able to shorten the game.
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Now the only members of the bullpen left standing are Rivera and Robertson. Soriano was a bust and has been on the disabled list since May 17 with right elbow inflammation. Feliciano didn’t even make it out of spring training before he landed on the DL with a partially torn capsule in his left shoulder, and Joba recently under went season-ending Tommy John surgery.
In the wake of all these injuries, Brian Cashman has been able to fashion a bullpen out of spit and glue with a bunch of guys even the most die-hard baseball fans couldn’t pick out of a lineup: Luis Ayala, Hector Noesi and Cory Wade. For the moment, it seems to be working.
When Wade came into his first game as a Yankee — an extra innings affair against Texas — he pitched two one-two-three innings of relief, including fanning Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton. His performance had one Yankee fan commenting on Twitter, “That’s two more one-two-three innings than Soriano has.”
Wade, by the way, was a promising young rookie with the Dodgers in 2008 but struggled the following year after being a tad over-worked by then-manager Joe Torre. He eventually underwent shoulder surgery (Scott Proctor, anyone?) The Yankees signed Wade after he opted out of a minor league deal with the Rays.
Noesi, 24, signed with the Yanks as an international free agent in 2004 and could eventually be a starting option. He has posted a 1.50 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP after 18 innings of work. Veteran righty Ayala has a 1.19 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP after 22.2 innings. He hadn’t pitched in the majors since 2009 and the Bombers inked him to a minor league deal back in February.
To date, Wade and Noesi have earned manager Joe Girardi’s trust. “Wade is a guy that I know I can use in the back end,” said Girardi. “I know that, just because he’s done it before. Noesi was the one that I talked to, I told him … I will use you for distance too, but your role’s going to change a little bit, so don’t be surprised.”
The reality of bullpens is that even those that look good on paper can implode. Between injuries and ineffectiveness, they are usually a work in progress. But over the years Cashman has proved to be creative in getting the ball to Rivera, mixing in a combo of rookie arms and cheap free agent signings. He was quite vocal in letting the baseball world know Soriano’s bloated contract was something he played no part in. It will be interesting to see what happens if the tempestuous Soriano gets healthy enough to pitch again, especially if some of the fill-ins perform well.
But that’s all conjecture for another day. For now, it doesn’t matter if the Yankee bullpen has household names or not. It’s all about putting up zeros.