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Yankees’ late meltdown vs. Red Sox another reminder that bullpen needs strikeout stuff

After a few blunders in the field and on the bases, the Yankees didn’t deserve to win on Friday night. And yet, they took a 3-1 lead into the ninth inning and found themselves one strike away from a victory over the Red Sox.

Then Masataka Yoshida drilled a 3-2 sinker from Clay Holmes deep to right field. The two-run homer tied the game before Ceddanne Rafaela smoked his own two-run shot off of Tommy Kahnle in the 10th inning. The blasts gave the Red Sox a 5-3 win.

The Yankees, meanwhile, got another painful reminder that their bullpen lacks strikeout stuff.

“It hurt us tonight,” Aaron Boone acknowledged after the game.

A groundball specialist, Holmes allowed a bouncing single to Dominic Smith before throwing six straight sinkers to Yoshida. Not once did the closer throw his slider or sweeper, pitches that have whiff rates over 40% and put away percentages over 20%.

Holmes’ sinker, while one of the best in baseball, has a whiff rate of 18.8% and a put away percentage of 12.9%. Even though Yoshida had already seen a bunch of them, Holmes opted to throw another instead of going for a strikeout.

“Typically, probably the sinker is gonna be the lower slug there,” said Holmes, who blew his fifth save of the season while his ERA climbed to 3.00. “So it’s tough to really second guess that.”

That’s somewhat fair, as trying to induce contact is Holmes’ game. Sometimes that burns him, but the Yankees have shown that they’re willing to live with that vulnerability considering Holmes has mostly been dependable throughout his tenure as the team’s closer.

The problem is that the rest of the bullpen is far too similar in the sense that it is full of groundball guys and short on power arms. As of Saturday morning, Yankees relievers had a 22.2 K%, which ranked 19th in the majors.

“Overall, we’ve done a decent job at managing some contact quality,” Holmes said. “Obviously, sure, the more strikeouts, the better. But I think if we can manage contact quality and don’t give free passes, then we’ll set ourselves up to be pretty good.

“Obviously, there’s a time and place for that and you need some swing and miss. But we know that our personnel is not totally gonna rely on that all the time. That being said, I do think we have other strengths that are good, and it’s just a matter of managing those and knowing what they are.”

The reality is that the Yankees’ bullpen, which has a 4.92 ERA since June began, has not been good. The absence of strikeout stuff is a big reason why — and something the team must address before the trade deadline.


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