TAMPA, Fla. — It has been largely forgotten, but Chasen Shreve spent the better part of the first five months of last season as one of the best relievers in baseball.
Arguably as valuable as bullpen mates Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller, Shreve went 15 straight appearances without allowing a run — from May 24 to July 1 — and had a 1.86 ERA as late as Sept. 5.
It was at that point, as the 25-year-old lefthander put it Sunday, that “the wheels came off.” He allowed nine earned runs in his last nine appearances, posting a 16.20 ERA, and finished with a 3.09 ERA in 59 outings.
Worse, Shreve went from one of Joe Girardi’s most trusted arms — he played a significant role in the Yankees’ 66-3 record when leading after six innings — to being left off the 25-man roster for the AL wild-card game against the Astros. Rookie lefthander James Pazos got the nod.
“If you would have told me at the beginning of the year I’d be in the big leagues all year with a ‘3’ ERA, I’d be like, ‘Oh, that’s a good season,’ ” said Shreve, who came to the Yankees last offseason in the Manny Banuelos deal. “And it was a good season. But it just fell apart at the end and it’s frustrating. When you work all that time in the offseason and have those first five months during the season and then throw away a great year in the last three weeks, it is frustrating.”
The good news?
The Shreve of five-sixths of last season seems to be back.
Shreve spoke late Sunday afternoon after yet another dominant outing, this one against the Phillies. He pitched a scoreless eighth, giving him a 0.00 ERA in four outings. He has not allowed a hit and has struck out five in 4 1⁄3 innings.
“More than enough fastball and love the changeup,” one opposing team talent evaluator said of Shreve. “Looks like the same guy [from April to August 2015].”
Shreve didn’t say he needed this kind of start to make the team, but he didn’t discount the possibility, either. The only pitchers who entered camp with guaranteed spots in the bullpen were Betances, Miller and new closer Aroldis Chapman, but Shreve’s quick rebound performance has all but earned him a spot.
“It’s refreshing, for sure, to wait all this time and to come back and to do well, it’s nice,” he said. “I think it’s making everything easier and helping me relax for sure.”
As for what went wrong the final part of last season, Shreve has been diagnosing it for months. Girardi has speculated that the reliever, pitching in his first full big-league season, simply got tired. Shreve said he felt about the same physically but was perhaps guilty of overthinking, especially about mechanics.
“I’m sure I was tired, yeah, but when something goes bad . . . you start changing things you don’t need to change,” he said. “Not even big things, just my mental way of looking at how I pitch. Just looking at the glove, focusing on the glove, not worrying about anything else except the glove and the ball and throwing it to the glove. Once you start thinking about other things, the wheels can fall off because I’m going away from what has made me successful. I honestly feel like that was a big factor in it.”
Shreve, who has been working with Miller in an attempt to refine what some scouts already consider a plus slider, said it is a matter of clearing his mind.
“Right now, I don’t care who’s up, I don’t care what the situation is,” Shreve said. “I don’t care if it’s the second inning, the eighth inning, all I’m caring about is that pitch and focusing on that glove to make that pitch. I think that’s a big thing for me.”