When Spring Training began it seemed like a cast of thousands competing for what seemed like three open spots in the New York Yankees’ bullpen.
The season opener against Toronto is now three weeks away, and while decisions have yet to be made the picture is beginning to clarify.
Barring injury, Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Pettitte, Phil Hughes, Mike Mussina and Ian Kennedy will comprise the rotation. Mariano Rivera, Joba Chamberlain, Kyle Farnsworth and LaTroy Hawkins are guaranteed bullpen slots.
The Yankees have said they will go with 12 pitchers since they only have two off days scheduled in April. The leaves those aforementioned three slots.
Manager Joe Girardi has expressed a preference for a left-hander and a long man among those aforementioned three slots. So, let’s break it down.
This is a competition between journeyman Billy Traber, unknown Heath Phillips and holdover Sean Henn. My money is on Traber, who has three hitless innings and four strikeouts thus far. Last season with Washington, Traber, 28, held left-handed hitters to just a .210 batting average. Phillips also has yet to allow a run in 3.1 innings. Henn has been given lots of chances by the Yankees, including last season (7.12 ERA in 29 games) and it’s time to move on.
With the heavy schedule in April, and the innings limits on Hughes, Kennedy and Chamberlain, a reliever who can go 3-4 innings at a time will be crucial. Enter Jeff Karstens. He has been lights out in camp, giving up just one run in 5 innings. The Yankees were high on Karstens last year, but a broken leg derailed him. This is his job to lose right now. If he does lose it, the $46 million dollar man, Kei Igawa, might grab it. Darrell Rasner (15.00 ERA) in 3 innings, has pitched himself out of the competition.
The Final Spot
This is a battle between an impressive group of young relievers. Leading contenders appear to be Russ Ohlendorf, Jonathan Albaladejo, Scott Patterson and Chris Britton. Jose Veras (9.00 ERA so far) might still have a shot. My guess is that Edwar Ramirez (11.57 ERA) and Brian Bruney (13.50 ERA) have already pitched themselves out of contention.
If I had to guess I’d say this slot probably comes down to Ohlendorf, who made the playoff roster last year, or Albaladejo, who was acquired from the Nationals for Tyler Clippard.
I would say Ohlendorf is probably the favorite right now.
No matter who makes the squad initially, though, you’ll likely see most — if not all — these guys in the Bronx at one point or another throughout the season.
It’s comforting to know there will be depth and big-league experience at AAA if and when it is needed.