If there was a silver lining for the Yankees in yestterday's 6-2 loss to the Orioles, it had to be the siesta for Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances, two relievers who have been afforded precious little relief during the first month of this season.
Before the game, Joe Girardi insisted that neither pitcher would be used, regardless of the situation. And as luck would have it, the manager never felt pressured to do so, with Chase Whitley teeing up three homers in 5 2/3 innings.
Whitley's unremarkable day was easily shrugged off. He's only a temp, and the Yankees presumably will have Chris Capuano, Ivan Nova and Masahiro Tanaka prepped to go at different points in the not-too-distant future. If that goes according to plan, it would also allow the Yankees to return Adam Warren to the bullpen, where he's going to be needed before too long.
That's because the Yankees' current model of burning relievers is unsustainable over six months. Their bullpen has totaled 95 appearances through 31 games -- only the Rays (97) and Indians (96) have more in the American League -- along with compiling 105 2/3 innings, which was tops in the AL.
The Yankees have been creative in shuttling pitchers between the Bronx and Triple-A Scranton, making transactions almost daily for bullpen help. Saturday, Chris Martin was placed on the 15-day disabled list with elbow tendinitis -- hours after his 15th appearance Friday night -- and replaced with Branden Pinder.
Martin's appearances equaled that of Miller and Justin Wilson, with Betances the bullpen leader at 16. That pace puts them all in the 75-80 range by season's end, with more than 80 innings, which is a serious haul for a relief pitcher.
The reason? The Yankees are tied with the Blue Jays for last in the AL in recording a quality start just 33 percent of the time. The Astros are the best at 60 percent, followed by the Tigers and Angels at 57 percent. The strain of going to the bullpen so early and often multiplies with each passing day, but Girardi believes he is wary of avoiding a meltdown.
"We're 19-12, so it's worked out pretty good so far," Girardi said. "It's just my job to manage that and do the best I can to make sure that I protect our guys."
The Yankees' strategy is hardly a surprise. Brian Cashman built the roster this way in loading up the bullpen with power relievers, knowing full well that his suspect rotation was only capable of doing so much.
Other than Michael Pineda, who is averaging more than six innings, the Yankees don't currently have a stable of reliable starters who can provide much length. They used to lean on Tanaka to give the pen a breather, but he's been nursing a UCL tear since last season and isn't expected back from this DL stint for another three weeks.
Sabathia has stayed healthy enough to make his starts, but with a 5.45 ERA, isn't providing the boatload of quality innings he once did. Warren, as a converted reliever, is getting ripped the second and third time through lineups. He's best in short bursts, which means the Yankees aren't maximizing his value at the moment.
"It's what we've needed him to do for us," Girardi said.
There's no arguing with the results. The Yankees are 16-6 in their last 22 games and have had at least a share of first place since April 23. But this is not about what the Yankees have done to this point. The challenge for Girardi is looking far into the future and making sure there's something left in the tank for September.
That's difficult to do when you're sitting with a two-run lead in the seventh inning in early May. Who knows what Girardi would have done Saturday if the Yankees rallied to create a save situation -- with Miller and Betances on the do-not-call list. Probably play the matchups to close things out.
"I think you have to give them mandatory days off in a sense," Girardi said. "Even when they come to you and say they feel good. It's a long season. It's May 9th and we need them the whole way. I don't need them for just a few more days. I think you have to pick your spots where you just shut them down and the other guys got to get it done."
That wasn't necessary in Saturday's forgettable loss. But afterward, Girardi wasn't complaining all that much.