By Jon Lane
How good the Yankees bullpen turns out is obviously to be determined, but on paper it’s deep and offers a strong support system for Mariano Rivera. Behind Rivera are two locks, Damaso Marte and Brian Bruney. Figure on either Alfredo Aceves or Dan Giese making the team as a long reliever and the underbelly being determined among a group of candidates.
The sure things
Marte wasn’t the reliable set-up man he was in Pittsburgh. His ability to strike out a batter per inning is neutralized by his 4.04 BB per 9 IP walk rate. I’d prefer him as a LOOGY and to see Phil Coke emerge as the second left-hander who can pitch multiple innings and get key outs late in games.
Bruney has meant business since reporting to camp last season 25 pounds lighter, but his 2008 campaign was interrupted when he injured his right foot trying to cover first base on April 22 in Chicago. Although it was the same injury that put Chien-Ming Wang out of commission, Bruney not only defied the odds and returned on August 1, he was brilliant, pitching to a 1.83 ERA with 33 strikeouts and 18 hits allowed in 34 1/3 innings. Any concerns over Joba Chamberlain starting should be assuaged by Bruney’s presence.
The underbelly candidates
Edwar Ramirez has tendinitis in his right shoulder and will be examined today by Dr. Allen Miller. I’m not sold on him anyway. Yesterday I mentioned there’s no middle ground with him; once opposing hitters figured out how to read his change-up, Ramirez was unable to adjust. He’s either real good or real bad, as indicated my these monthly splits once he became one of Joe Girardi’s key relievers:
May: 1-0, 0.77 ERA, 8 H, 5 BB, 10 K, 11 2/3 IP
June: 0-0, 7.36 ERA, 10 H, 6 BB, 13 K, 11 IP
July: 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 0 H, 3 BB, 16 K, 11.1 IP
August: 2-1, 6.94 ERA, 15 H, 4 BB, 13 K, 11 2/3 IP
September: 0-1, 8.44 ERA, 8 H, 5 BB, 6 K, 5 1/3 IP
Coke was a pleasant surprise last year, holding opponents to a .160 batting average while allowing one earned run in 14 2/3 innings. He whetted the Yankees’ appetites to where he was considered a candidate to start before the team re-signed Andy Pettitte. I’m excited to see a lot more of Coke, 26, who showed me in a small sampling of work and through brief discussions he’s emotionally equipped to handle pressure situations.
Jose Veras is lights out when he’s on his game, but like Ramirez was vulnerable to the gopher ball (7 HRs in 57 2/3 innings) and issued 4.53 walks per nine innings pitched.
David Robertson will get a longer look for as long as Ramirez is on the shelf, but ultimately may fall victim to a numbers game. He turns 24 in April and may not be ready for significant innings, so more seasoning in Triple-A can only help.
The super sleeper
Mark Melancon earned a ton of press in today’s papers and for good reason. Despite the bevy of righty relievers vying for roster spots, Melancon showed off his electric stuff throwing 30 pitches during Sunday’s session, even getting Derek Jeter to whiff on a couple and breaking Robinson Cano’s bat. He is already being projected as the next Chamberlain in an eighth-inning role and perhaps Rivera’s successor in two years.
Melancon, the Yankees’ ninth-round pick (284th overall) in 2006, went 6-0 with a 1.81 ERA in 19 outings at Scranton – this after missing all of 2007 due to Tommy John surgery. He’s probably ticketed for Scranton in April, but Girardi said he’s “in the mix” and you could see him with the big club sooner rather than later, especially if the Yankees are looking for another Joba-like spark to their bullpen.