TAMPA, Fla. — They are both giants, built more like pass-rushing defensive ends than traditional baseball players. They are also the most dominant players on the rebuilding New York Yankees roster. So why not utilize Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances to the fullest?
With designs on winning this season, why can’t the Yankees leverage Chapman and Betances throughout the regular season, using them multiple innings and at any point during games, the way Indians manager Terry Francona deployed Andrew Miller to bring Cleveland to the cusp of a championship?
“You can’t do that all year,” Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild said.
The fragility of the reliever position, the Bombers believe, doesn’t allow managers to strategically call on their best relievers during different innings, even if those relievers are 6-foot-8, 265 pounds, like Betances, or 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, like Chapman.
From Rothschild to Yankees manager Joe Girardi to the team’s relievers themselves — and to seemingly everyone else around the Yankees complex — the thinking is that such a plan would result in injury. Using your best relievers one day for two innings in the fifth and sixth and then the ninth the next day, or some similar irregular sequence over a season that lasts six months, won’t work, they say.
“I don’t think so,” Chapman said through an interpreter. “The baseball season is really long. That kind of formula — when you are used that much — it is going to bring fatigue and possibly an injury.”
The issue has been further clouded in the case of Betances as a result of his verbal feud with team president Randy Levine. Even if the Yankees had planned on trying to instill “Miller Time” during the regular season, the aftermath of Betances’ arbitration case may have squashed it. Even before Betances’ usage became such an issue, the Yankees were thinking long-term.
Rothschild might know best, because he was really the mastermind who designed Chapman’s and Miller’s runs through the playoffs. The Yankees began last season with a three-headed monster — Chapman, Miller and Betances — that was designed to sneak into October with a chance at a championship.
“Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman, we watched, so if you get to that point, you can push the gas pedal a little more,” Rothschild said.
The Yankees were not good enough to take advantage of their three-headed monster; instead, they wisely chose to trade Chapman and Miller to fight another day. Now Chapman is back, but the plan remains the same — Chapman will pitch the ninth and Betances will work the eighth, Girardi confirmed.
The biggest issue over 162 games is that after pitchers have been relievers for a long time, most find throwing an inning, sitting down, and then throwing another inning fatiguing.
“It is just like lifting weights. If you throw a ball a certain amount of times, you are going to be sore,” Yankees reliever Adam Warren said. “Baseball people understand, but throwing a baseball is an unnatural motion. You can be sore from doing it.
“Non-baseball people don’t realize you can’t do that throughout the year. You can’t have a guy throw two innings, go out the next night, throw two innings, then a day off, [then] throw two innings. As a reliever, you can’t bounce back that way.”
Warren watched how Francona used Miller and really enjoyed what he saw. The idea of allowing a reliever to dominate no matter the inning made a big impression on him, but it didn’t change his mind about the regular season.
“It was kind of neat for me to see the game change a little bit during the playoffs,” Warren said. “You have sixth-, seventh-, eighth-, ninth-inning guys, basically two relievers. It changed the game a little bit. I don’t think you could do that every regular-season game, either.”
The depth of bullpens is also an issue. The Yankees could conceivably have three or four very strong relievers in Chapman, Betances, Tyler Clippard and Warren, but still, they will not all be consistently in sync, like the Indians’ bullpen was in October. Even if there is a temptation to use Betances or Chapman in the sixth or seventh against the heart of an order, there are too many innings to account for afterward. Plus, in the playoffs, you have two games, then a day off before another two games. There are built-in days off for relievers. The regular season brings one day off a week.
“The regular season is different because you don’t have all the days off,” Girardi said. “That’s the bottom line.”
Miller gave the Indians a special run, which was Rothschild’s original design for the Yankees. If the gas were pressed that hard for 162 games, he thinks the bullpen would be exposed.
“Theoretically, that is great, but where do you go when the lineup turns over in the eighth inning?” Rothschild said. “Who do you go to? There are a lot of things that come into that equation. They had other guys who pitched well for them besides Miller. It gave them a little more leeway.”