Good Afternoon
Good Afternoon
SportsColumnistsAnthony Rieber

Injured Andrew Miller puts strain on Yankees' bullpen

New York Yankees relief pitcher Andrew Miller delivers

New York Yankees relief pitcher Andrew Miller delivers against the Kansas City Royals during the ninth inning of a baseball game at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday, May 26, 2015. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Remember that old ditty that includes the lines, "The shin bone's connected to the knee bone, the knee bone's connected to the thigh bone, the thigh bone's connected to the . . . "

Unfortunately for baseball pitchers, the refrain should be, "The forearm's connected to the elbow, the elbow's connected to the office of Dr. James Andrews for Tommy John surgery . . . "

That's why the news that Joe Girardi delivered minutes after the Yankees' 5-4, 11-inning loss to the Nationals Wednesday about Andrew Miller's forearm strain and upcoming trip to the disabled list seemed so chilling.

"Just a little strain," Girardi said.

But his sober demeanor betrayed a concern about more than just the 10 to 14 days in which Miller will not pick up a baseball. Given that the Yankees had just had a seven-game winning streak snapped, it's unlikely that even Girardi would have been so morose after a loss.

At 33-26, the Yankees have 103 games left to prove their surprisingly strong start wasn't built on a house of cards -- namely the shutdown duo of Miller and Dellin Betances and the throwback production from the fragile Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez.

Wednesday's game seemed to carry their signature formula. The Yankees scored four times in the seventh -- with A-Rod getting the go-ahead RBI -- to take a 4-2 lead. The normal protocol would be for Betances and Miller to dominate the last two innings with a busload of strikeouts.

But the bullpen door stayed shut. Starter Nathan Eovaldi remained in the game and allowed a single before rookie Jacob Lindgren was called in. You didn't have to call your friend Claire Voyant to know something was up with Miller and/or Betances.

Lindgren served up a tying homer by Michael Taylor and Chris Capuano allowed the eventual winning run in the 11th. But the drama was less on the field than on what Girardi revealed in the postgame news conference.

A flexor mass muscle strain, he called it.

Trouble, we call it.

Miller last pitched on Tuesday night to get the final out of the Yankees' 6-1 victory over Washington. He threw nine pitches in the non-save situation.You may hear talk Thursday about Girardi overusing Miller, but that's just silly. Plus, Girardi said Miller didn't tell the team about his ailment until after his appearance on Tuesday night.

Girardi is no Joe Torre when it comes to handling his precious bullpen arms. Girardi will sacrifice a game before he'll use a reliever he thinks needs to be rested.

The best example of that is Betances, who could have been called in for a four-out save Wednesday instead of letting Lindgren face Taylor. But Girardi had decreed before the game that Betances was off limits after pitching three of the previous five days, including 14 pitches on Tuesday.

Given that there were no back-to-backs in that stretch, we think it was a bit conservative, actually.

Now Betances becomes the closer for at least three or four weeks, which would be the quickest timetable for Miller's return. There's little doubt that Betances can master the role, but who gets the ball to him is the Yankees' newest issue.

The only real option for the eighth inning is putting Adam Warren back in the bullpen when Ivan Nova is ready to rejoin the rotation as early as next week.

It's not fair to Warren, who has excelled as a starter, but it's what the Yankees probably were going to do eventually anyway to limit Warren's innings.

Nova, by the way, is coming back from Tommy John surgery. His previous injuries included a forearm strain in 2011.

It's all connected, you know. But maybe the Yankees will get lucky and Miller's arm will hold up as long as Nova's did. Their season may depend on it.

New York Sports