BOSTON — For much of the regular season, Stephen Tarpley might have been the last name many Yankees fans and management would have thought about for a spot on the postseason roster. Well, don’t look now, but come Wednesday, the lefthanded reliever just might be that last name.
"It’s been kind of a goal, a dream, and something I worked for to happen, but it’s out of my hands. It’s a decision to be made by somebody else,” Tarpley, 25, said after his ninth consecutive scoreless outing -- and longest at 1 2/3 innings -- in the Yankees' 10-2 loss to the Red Sox in the regular-season finale on Sunday.
That “somebody else,” manager Aaron Boone, would not tip his hand after the game, but he didn’t disguise his feelings about Tarpley, who began the season with Double-A Trenton. “He can pitch. You can tell he creates a bit of a problem for lefties. I don’t think they pick up the ball real well against him,” Boone said. “He’s a guy that, obviously, popped on our radar this summer and we started to take notice within the organization. I’d say he’s in the conversation [for a postseason spot], but we haven’t settled on that. We haven’t made that decision.”
After dominating at Trenton and then Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, he earned a call-up on Sept. 1 and made his debut on Sept. 2 against the Tigers at Yankee Stadium. That wasn't very memorable – one inning, three runs, three hits, two walks – but Tarpley said he benefited nonetheless.
"It was not what I wanted, but there were a lot of good things that I took from it,” he said. “I wasn’t getting completely shelled around the yard. When I did get ahead, I got my strikeout and some weak contact. Moving forward, I’ve just gotten more comfortable out there. I used that as a learning tool.”
He’s been passing tests ever since. On Sunday, he did not allow a hit, walked two and struck out four, including two lefthanded hitters. Tarpley’s proficiency against lefties, utilizing a low -90s fastball with movement and a nasty slider, makes him a logical postseason piece in a deep, talented bullpen that lacks a lefty specialist for mid-game situations.
He has faced 18 lefthanded batters since joining the Yankees and retired 14 of them, including eight strikeouts. Lefties have managed one hit and three walks against him.
Pitching coach Larry Rothschild said of Tarpley, “He’s got four pitches. He’s able to mix them and he’s commanded them pretty well to keep hitters off balance. Coming up after the year he had in the minor leagues [7-2, 1.94 ERA, 71 strikeouts in 69 2/3 innings combined between Trenton and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre,] I don’t know if he’s exceeded expectations, but he’s met them.”
Tarpley said he’s ready to meet the next challenge. “I’ve gotten used to going out there and knowing my role. It was just a matter of getting comfortable doing it,” he said. “I think I did the work they wanted me to do and it’s out of my control. I did my job.”
Will he still have one on Wild-Card Wednesday?