By Ernie Palladino
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You can count on one hand the number of managers who could watch their closer take a liner off his paw and not break out in hives.
That’s how loaded Joe Girardi’s bullpen is.
Even as Aroldis Chapman sits suspended for domestic abuse until May 9 and Andrew Miller’s early-season status turned uncertain when a line drive bounced off his non-throwing wrist Wednesday, even a worst-case scenario for Miller would not throw the Yankees’ bullpen into disarray.
Losing Miller for a while would simply turn the Yanks’ bullpen from scary good to above average. Dellin Betances is still there, ready and able to assume ninth-inning duties. And, believe it, plenty of teams would love to have him.
Of course, things will look a whole lot better if Miller makes good on Thursday morning’s promise to pitch Opening Day.
“I don’t know why I’d miss time for an injury to my right hand,“ Miller said. “It’s my right hand. I really don’t need it.”
Well, not exactly. There is a little matter of fielding. And Miller stated his position before a hand specialist took a look at it.
But even if Miller can’t go, Girardi can still go into Monday afternoon’s opener against the Astros confident that if given a late lead, Betances can close it out.
It’s what comes before Betances that comes into question now. And yet, the situation is no more serious than most of baseball’s 29 other managers face.
In other words, the Yanks may have to start the season with a just-above-average bullpen, and that’s not horrible.
There’s no doubt that any Yankees fan wishes Miller’s problem could be fixed as quickly as Matt Harvey’s. That took one anxiety-filled day, and it was over. A little IV drip, a scope to check if everything else was in order and — voila — pipe unclogged. Outside of wildly projecting the Dark Knight’s lousy three-run outing against the Nationals on Wednesday into a bleak regular season, Harvey will open things up Sunday night in Kansas City with high expectations intact.
Line drives to the wrist aren’t quite so easily overcome. But the fact that Betances’ role would merely narrow from triple-option with Chapman and Miller to closer for a short time proves just how deep the end of that bullpen is.
What other team can lose the hardest thrower in baseball to a month’s suspension and then, just as things are about to turn real, face the possibility of losing their wild-card season’s saves leader to a freakish injury and still have a live-armed fallback with a closer’s attitude? Remember, Betances still accumulated nine saves last year while serving primarily as Miller’s setup man. And in the early season, it was open to debate whether Miller should take sole possession of the closer role at all.
A lot of teams would like to have someone like Betances closing games.
What happens before Betances becomes the overriding question now. Chasen Shreve’s stock has certainly risen since a rocky end to last year, where his ERA exploded to 3.09 from 1.86 over the final month. He has retired 27 of 28 over nine innings this spring. He’s positioned for a key role, which could mean the Opening Day setup spot.
After Shreve, it’s pot luck. Nothing really to get excited about.
Just like most teams.
The ideal situation would be for Miller to pitch through the injury. He’s defiant enough. He basically said he’s pitching Monday, regardless of what the specialist says. That would return the bullpen to potential, full-fledged dominance, even as they await Chapman’s return.
But even if Miller has to miss a game or two or more, Betances alone puts the Yanks in a good situation. And let’s face it, how many teams can even contemplate surviving the loss of one top reliever, let alone two, to start a season?
The Yanks started with three, and could drop to one.
That’s pretty heavy subtraction. But a lot of teams out there barely have the one arm. No matter how Miller’s situation goes over the next few days, even a worst-case scenario won’t devastate this bullpen long-term.
“All things considered, it couldn’t be in a better spot,” Miller said of his injury.
The Yanks could say the same of the overall situation.
Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino