It always felt like a question of when, not if, Greg Weissert would be back in the Bronx.
He was making things look a little too easy as the closer for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, and the fact that he didn’t make the Opening Day roster was a case of the Yankees running out of roster spots more than anything.
But though some key pitching injuries and a strong enough spring training made a call-up seem relatively imminent, he didn’t spend these early April days just biding his time. No, Weissert — who attended Bay Shore High School and Fordham University — was cooking up a way to make his 2023 contributions a little more significant than the 12 big-league games he got into last year.
Enter his cutter.
“I think it has the ability to protect my two pitches, the two-seam and the slider,” said Weissert, who was called up on Friday after the Yankees designated Colten Brewer for assignment. “It’s just something in the middle that kind of holds its line and when it’s almost like — there’s so much separation between the two pitches [the two-seamer and slider] . . . so adding that one in the middle, it kind of allows me to set some other things up and pitch a little bit more backward.”
The cutter isn’t some sort of Mariano Rivera-esque revelation — Weissert called it his fourth-best pitch — but it’s allowed him to play up the two-seamer and a wicked sweeper that had an average of 19.4 inches of horizontal break last year, according to Baseball Savant. Now, with a pitch that can look like a two-seamer coming out of his hand but breaks vaguely like a slider, Weissert is seeing more batters take pitches inside the strike zone.
Granted, it’s a laughably small sample size. He toyed with the pitch a little last year and has been using it more effectively this year for four games or so, but its continued development could bode well for his major-league survival.
In Triple-A, he had a 1.69 ERA in five games, with four saves, seven strikeouts, one walk and a 0.38 WHIP in 5 1⁄3 innings. He said he plans to use the cutter at this level, too, giving him three fastballs, a changeup and that slider.
“He’s got a good two-seam/ slider combo and the cutter can be a pitch that sometimes can be a strike pitch for him,” Aaron Boone said. “But it’s certainly an effective pitch to work against a lefthanded hitter to create a presence on the inside of the plate and set up other things.
“ . . . We plan on him playing a big role for us this year. He got a little numbers-gamed at the end of camp with us claiming some guys, so the logical choice was to go with him . . . We’re excited to have Greg back.”
There’s really no telling how much time Weissert will have up here, but he knows he wants to make an impression. He struggled with his command in the big leagues last year — he had five walks, two hit batsmen and a 5.56 ERA in 11 1⁄3 innings — but his walks per nine innings are down to 1.69 in the minors this year compared to 3.56 last season.
“I think it’s more of a mindset thing: not trying to be too fine and pick at the corners and get ahead and make sure I’m in the zone early,” he said, noting that when he did miss, it usually wasn’t by an extravagant margin. “I’m just attacking the zone. I think I’ve been able [to do it] down there in Triple-A — just attack the zone and take my first- pitch, second-pitch outs if I can get them and go from there.”
He also thinks the major-league experience last year will help him translate that mindset to this level of the game.
“I’m going to be more comfortable, I think, just attacking the zone in general,” he said. “I have confidence in my stuff and I think if I target strikes and make my pitches, I have a good chance to get some outs.”