You couldn’t quite fault Aaron Boone for hoping that some of that bullpen magic would translate into another format.
After all, going into Friday’s game, his relievers were pitching to a 2.04 ERA, while the Yankees starters — average at best, aside from Gerrit Cole — had a 4.58 ERA, 19th in baseball.
So when he had the opportunity to give his starters a break and maybe give the Rays a different sort of look, Boone took a chance on 25-year-old righthander Nick Nelson as an opener.
But this particular opening gambit didn’t work out the way Boone intended.
Nelson was particularly hittable Friday and didn’t quite serve as the ideal bridge to Michael King, who was slated to be the day’s "bulk man."
Nelson struggled with both his fastball and breaking balls, walking leadoff batter Austin Meadows and allowing a double to Randy Arozarena, a ball that shot by Gio Urshela and went down the leftfield line. He got ahead of Brandon Lowe 0-and-2, but Lowe jumped on a 96-mph fastball down the middle for a two-run double to right-center that was just shy of being a three-run homer.
Nelson retired the next two Rays before walking Manuel Margot, but he struck out Mike Brosseau on a 3-and-2 pitch to escape without further damage. He has a 10.80 ERA in five innings this season.
All of which might make the Yankees continue to consider other possibilities. After sending Domingo German to the alternate site after two rough starts, they officially carry four starters: Cole, Jordan Montgomery, Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon. But they also have other options.
King, who entered the game in the second inning Friday, has expressed his desire to start in the past and has shown signs of being able to do it. Deivi Garcia is another possibility, but he made a start at the alternate site on Wednesday and wasn’t available for Friday’s game.
King shut out the Rays in his first three innings, allowing two hits and three walks with four strikeouts. He pitched out of a first-and-third, none-out jam in the third and allowed three straight two-out walks in the fourth before inducing an inning-ending forceout.
You can see King’s potential in "a number of different roles," Boone said before the game. "I think Michael has been one of those guys that, going back to last spring training, summer camp, and even during the season last year [compared] to where he is now, I think he’s continued to make huge strides as a pitcher. He’s developed some other pitches that I think are going to help him potentially be that starting pitcher [and] that can help him get through a lineup a couple times."
King impressed in his last relief appearance on April 4, though he was optioned to the alternate site soon after. In that game, he threw six innings of shutout ball against the Blue Jays, allowing a hit and a walk with three strikeouts.
"Whether it’s as a starter, whether it’s coming out of the pen in shorter roles, whether it’s giving us length out of the pen as he did in the opening series where he pitched so well for six innings and really picked us up big time, I think Michael King has a very bright future in the game," Boone said. "I like where he’s at, I like the way he’s thrown the ball and have loved his continued progress."