Aaron Boone has repented for his bullpen sins.
Maybe not in so many words — the Yankees manager said Thursday that he doesn’t quite know if the criticism he received during last year’s postseason has affected how he manages the bullpen this year. But certainly, his actions in the ALDS sweep of the Twins showed a manager who has learned from his mistakes, one who doesn’t intend to leave his best weapons in their holsters.
The bullpen has tossed nearly half the innings the Yankees have played in this postseason, and the high-octane carousel of Chad Green, Zack Britton, Adam Ottavino, Tommy Kahnle and Aroldis Chapman is primed for action at the earliest sign of distress.
Four days off now means that this same troupe will be more than rested for a best-of-seven series. It also means that Boone will be more prepared to do the thing he seemingly neglected to do last postseason: deviate from the pregame plan and deploy his devastating bullpen as necessary.
“I try to have a blueprint or a plan in place, [but] that obviously is always fluid, and you’ve got to make adjustments on the fly,” Boone said Thursday after the Yankees’ workout at the Stadium. “We’re trying to do whatever will give us the best chance to win. So I don’t know if it’s a response to anything [that happened last year] or trying to be as prepared as I can be to make sound decisions.”
Against the Twins, this translated to a relatively quick hook for all three of his starters and (somewhat curiously) using Ottavino for only one batter, twice. In Game 1, he had Britton come out for the seventh instead of the eighth and turned to J.A. Happ to bridge the gap to Chapman. In all, the relievers have allowed three runs in 13 1⁄3 innings.
Compare that to 2018, when Boone was criticized for leaving starters Luis Severino and CC Sabathia in too long. Both decisions, made in the ALDS against the Red Sox, helped cost the Yankees the series and made the then-rookie manager look outgunned by that other rookie manager, Alex Cora.
Britton said Monday that Boone had told him before the ALDS that he planned to be aggressive with his bullpen usage. He added that the message has reverberated through the rest of the unit.
“I’m sure he’s talked to other people, too, of how he’s going to use [them],” Britton said. “Any time we can get a few days for guys to rest up a little bit and kind of take our mind off the grind that is the postseason, it’s good.”
It helps that the bullpen as a whole has a good deal of playoff experience, Britton said, and understands how to prime itself for a taxing, intense stretch of games. The mood in the bullpen reflects that intensity.
“It’s pretty quiet down there,” he said. “Guys kind of just get locked into where the lineup is. We have a good idea of who we’re going to face at that stage of the game, so it’s actually pretty fun to watch, if you get a chance, guys getting into their own little zone and start mentally preparing to go out there.”
And these days, it’s sooner rather than later.