Andy Martino, SNY.tv | Twitter |
After Game 1 of last year's division series loss to Boston, Aaron Boone had some cleaning up to do with his starting pitcher.
J.A. Happ, who had been removed with no outs in the third inning, was in Boone's office, and he was angry. He felt he should have had the chance to turn his performance around and save the bullpen.
But as Happ sat in a chair in the tiny room at Fenway, Boone and pitching coach Larry Rothschild calmly explained their rationale: They had a strong relief corps, were unwilling to let the game get away from them, and preferred other matchups in that inning. Happ left the office satisfied, and appreciative of the open exchange.
This wasn't the only tense clubhouse moment related to last October's widespread creativity in pitching deployment. In Oakland, according to sources, several players disapproved of manager Bob Melvin's decision to use Liam Hendricks as an opener in the Wild Card game in New York, an experiment that ultimately fared poorly.
"A lot of guys thought that was a step too far," a source said. "It didn't go over real well."
The above examples speak to the challenge facing Boone next month, as he prepares for the possibility of a nearly revolutionary use of playoff pitching. A gifted communicator, he'll need to be at his best in selling new ideas to players, who are constitutionally resistant to changes that affect their routines.
It won't just be openers this time, but pitchers used in all types of situations. We could see short outings to begin games, starters pitching in relief, relievers starting -- any way that the Yanks feel they can best get outs. The idea would be to mostly forget about traditional roles, open everyone's minds, and look for the best matchups throughout the games.
And therein lies the interpersonal challenge.
After Game 3 of last year's ALDS, when Boone called for Lance Lynn to relieve Luis Severino with the bases loaded in the top of the fourth, I mentioned to another player that Boone had liked how Lynn's stuff might play against that part of the lineup.
The player shot back that Lynn was not accustomed to starting an inning with runners on base, and was put into a new situation at the worst possible time.
That reaction should motivate the way Boone manages games for the rest of the month. He has already been using Chad Green as a regular opener, a role that team brass has long considered viable for the playoffs.
Now, by piggybacking CC Sabathia and Domingo German in Game 2 of Thursday's doubleheader, he is taking it a step further. Luis Severino is set to return as a starter next week; the Yanks would be wise to try him out of the pen his next time out, to condition him for that possibility in October.
Happ, who is unlikely to be used as a traditional starter if he makes the playoff roster -- even with his recent improvements in fastball command and results, he's probably best deployed only a few innings at a time against a powerhouse offense like Houston's -- might benefit from a mid-game appearance, assuming he comes through his tests for bicep tendinitis OK. Same goes for Sabathia.
In addition to these adjustments, Boone must use the political capital he's earned in the clubhouse to convince his players of the value of this plan -- he'll need to make his entire staff feel as respected as Happ did in that cramped office at Fenway last October.