TAMPA — The Yankees continue to stretch out Chad Green as a starter here in spring training, and surely it has to be tempting to find out if his eye-popping strikeout dominance as a reliever last season could translate over six or seven innings.
But Aaron Boone freely admits Green was so valuable as a multi-inning reliever that it makes the most sense to leave him in the bullpen, and that’s the smart play here.
No sense turning this into a Joba Chamberlain situation, bouncing him back and forth and perhaps risking injury by doing so, especially after Green found his niche in a role where he doesn’t have to worry so much about developing a changeup to go with his power stuff. If anything, it makes more sense to groom Green to be a late-inning reliever, perhaps even the closer in the not-too-distant future.
Yes, Aroldis Chapman is signed for four more seasons, but he just turned 30 last week, and after the Cuban Missile looked less than superhuman in 2017, it’s fair to wonder if years of throwing 104 mph will take a significant toll anytime soon.
Meanwhile, who knows about Dellin Betances, coming off his late-season control issues that made him a non-factor in the playoffs. He can be a free agent after the 2019 season.
Ideally for the Yankees, Chapman and Betances will both be in form in 2018, along with David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle, so Green could do exactly what he did last season, blow hitters away for two innings or so as a bridge to those late-inning guys. In that case, Green is a weapon that gives the Yankees the deepest and most dominant bullpen in baseball, in a role that has become more important as analytics dictate shorter and shorter outings for most starters.
For the Yankees, in particular, CC Sabathia and Jordan Montgomery don’t figure to go deep into games very often, and Sonny Gray often tends to be a six-inning pitcher, which makes Green all the more valuable as the bridge guy.
For now, anyway.
And Green seems fine with it, which is important and smart as well. After all, as a starter he’d never experienced the type of success he had when the Yankees moved him to the pen, where he averaged a whopping 13.4 strikeouts per nine innings last season.
Basically, the move freed up Green to dominate primarily with a 96-97 mph fastball that plays even faster to hitters, judging by their many swings-and-misses, without facing a lineup multiple times and needing more of a complete repertoire.
So while he still thinks of himself as a starter, Green acknowledges that right now he’s more equipped to succeed in short stints.
“It’s two completely different mentalities,” he said Sunday. “As a starter I would need to develop a changeup a lot more, and be comfortable with it. In the bullpen it’s nice to have it, but it’s not as important.
“It would be nice to incorporate it throughout the year so hitters are aware that I have it, but I think it’s two different repertoires for me.”
On Sunday Green made his second Grapefruit League start, and showed what Boone called “a better slider,” but mostly it was his crackling fastball that overmatched Rays hitters, as he racked up four strikeouts in his two innings.
The second inning was especially impressive. After a single and a fly-ball double that Giancarlo Stanton, playing left field for the first time, lost in the sun, Green ho-hummed his way out of trouble by overmatching the next three hitters, getting two strikeouts and then a jam-job pop-up.
Afterward, I asked him if he consciously turned up his game a notch to escape the jam, and Green, in his unassuming manner, shrugged and indicated it was quite the opposite. “If you think, oh man, I need to strike the next two or three guys out,” he said, “you end up leaving one over the plate, and next thing you know two runs score.
“I was just trying to slow the game down right there, and not try and do too much. But I was able to make some pitches and get out of it.”
That might be why the bridge role is perfect for Green, at least for now. He couldn’t quite get over the hump as a starting-pitcher prospect — he turns 27 in May — and he doesn’t seem to have an ego that makes him desperate to be a star.
So perhaps that too is why Boone isn’t being coy about the Yankees’ intentions with Green.
“You certainly feel like he has that capability (to start) just because of the talent that he has,” Boone said. “But I would expect us pretty soon to move him back to that role that he was so very good in last year.”
And from there? Green acknowledged he might be in the bullpen to stay, and seems to be warming to the idea of eventually moving toward more high-leverage situations in the late innings.
“I started out in a mop-up role,” he said with a smile. “But in the bullpen you like throwing in those 3-2 games, those 4-3 games. Those are satisfying when you do your job.”
Spoken like a future closer.
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