TAMPA, Fla. — One of the best relievers in the American League in 2017 spent the first month-plus of the season in the minors.
So Chad Green, who didn’t pitch in the majors until May 9, knows better than anyone not to get too caught up in spring training — and especially what happens before spring training even starts.
“If you would have told me that last February,” Green said of ending the season as one of the American League’s most lethal relief arms, “I would have probably said, ‘Nah, you’re crazy.’ I’m not sure what’s going to happen.”
After posting a 1.83 ERA and striking out 103 batters in 69 innings last season, Green was told to prepare as a starter for spring training. After all, that’s what the 26-year-old had been before 2017.
When spring training shakes out, the righthander is likely to be back in the same spot he was a season ago — a key late-inning reliever — but one never knows. Rookie lefthander Jordan Montgomery, after all, started spring training last year as an afterthought but made a furious charge to capture the fifth starter spot and remained in that role for most of the season. He’s the favorite to win the job but could be pushed by Green, Luis Cessa and top pitching prospects Chance Adams and Justus Sheffield.
If one of the members of the presumed starting five — Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, Sonny Gray, CC Sabathia and Montgomery — suffers an injury, the equation will change quickly.
“I’ve started my whole life, so that’s not anything new to me,” Green said. “It’s not up to me. I think the situation will play itself out. I’m prepared for whatever role they have me in.”
After being promoted to the majors in May, Green almost immediately became an indispensable member of the bullpen. His ability to throw multiple innings gave then-manager Joe Girardi plenty of flexibility, whether it be in the middle innings if a starter struggled or later in the game. Green was good all season but was most devastating in the last two months, when he struck out 41 batters in 24 2⁄3 innings.
“I felt comfortable in the bullpen once I got used to it,” he said.
He had a rough start to the postseason — Green allowed a run to the Twins in the wild-card game, then gave up a grand slam to the Indians’ Francisco Lindor in Game 2 of the ALDS, which was preceded by the controversial hit-by-pitch sequence with Lonnie Chisenhall — but then settled down. Green appeared in Games 1, 4 and 6 of the ALCS against the Astros, did not allow an earned run and struck out seven in 8 2⁄3 innings.
“I’ll just take what I learned from last year, even in the postseason, and try and carry it over into spring training,” he said.
Green, like just about every other returning Yankee, still feels the sting of the ALCS Game 7 loss in Houston.
“When you realize you’re one game away from going to the World Series, it doesn’t sit well with a lot of people, even though it was nice to get to that point,” Green said. “But when you’re one game away, it makes you a little bit more hungry for what’s to come.”