Monday, April 20, 2015

Yankees decline to name Miller closer and that’s OK

Despite the fact that all four of the New York Yankees save opportunities this season have gone to Andrew Miller, the club has yet to officially anoint him the closer. And there is nothing wrong with that.

It goes a long way that Miller is completely uncaring about the role being bestowed upon him, plus the fact that he acknowledged that Dellin Betances had the more difficult task Sunday against the Rays in the Yankees' 5-3 victory.

“I’ve got the saves this year, but (Betances) went through the meat of the lineup today,” Miller said via Chad Jennings. “If you look at who had the heavier burden today, it was probably him. He came into a much tougher situation, got more outs and had to face the middle of that lineup.”

With one out in the seventh inning and a runner on second, Betances came into the game needing to get out of the seventh and potentially complete the eighth inning. The Yankees faced the heart of the Rays’ order during Betances’ time on the mound and pitched some of his best baseball so far this season. He recorded five outs on 23 pitches, allowing no hits and a walk while striking out two batters.

Miller came on in the ninth and after surrendering a leadoff double, struck out the side to give the Yankees the three-game sweep. Miller has yet to allow a run in six innings of work this season, and has racked up 12 strikeouts.

Miller has been touting the company line since Spring Training, suggesting he is fine pitching any inning the Yankees ask. As of now, they’ve been able to use him to close out games because the batters due up in the seventh or eighth innings have been right-handed for the most part, which necessitated the use of Betances.

Things could change when the Yankees face a predominantly lefty hitting lineup and those players come to the plate in the eighth inning. Manager Joe Girardi would then summon Miller and use Betances to close out the ninth. That scenario has yet to take shape this season.

“I have (done it that way), the last couple of series,” Girardi said according to Jennings. “We’re seeing a ton of right-handed hitters, and we’re going to see a bunch again (in Detroit). It’s kind of worked out that way. I’ve asked (Betances) to get some multiple innings, some multiple outs for us. Andrew has done a good job in the ninth so I’ve just kind of stuck with it right now. I’m not saying that I’ve named to anyone, but it’s just kind of the way it has worked out with the lineup we have (been facing).”

Regardless of the situation, both Miller and Betances have the ability to get hitters out from each side of the plate, so not naming a set closer also works when one of the pitchers is not in a groove. Early on this season Betances seemed to still be reigning in his mechanics and it simply worked out that Miller was in the better position to get hitters out.

Likewise, if Miller endures a stretch when he is having difficulties, Girardi will not be overly concerned, if at all, to use Betances to shut the door on a ballgame.

Having Betances and Miller buy in to being flexible concerning their roles is important, and thus far it has paid off for the Yankees. Miller has the saves now, but it shouldn’t be surprising if the tallies even out as the season progresses. And if one player does record an abundance of the saves, the other will still likely succeed and be an important piece of the puzzle in the innings prior.

Right now, all that matters to the Yankees is that the final six or more outs are being nailed down by a two-headed monster, of which neither head requires knowing he's the man who will get the save.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer. Besides his work here, Christopher is a correspondent for FantasyPros, where he writes a weekly column covering the closer/bullpen situations around Major League Baseball. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.