Home News Yankees reliever Michael Tonkin thriving after ‘chaotic’ start to season with three...

Yankees reliever Michael Tonkin thriving after ‘chaotic’ start to season with three DFAs, including two by Mets

An elated Michael Tonkin slapped hands and bumped chests with catcher Jose Trevino.

The Yankees reliever had good reason to celebrate.

Tonkin had just finished off Monday’s 4-2 win in Kansas City by nailing down a save, the second of his career and his first with the Yankees.

That Tonkin was even in a save situation spoke volumes.

The 34-year-old right-hander was designated for assignment three times this season — twice by the Mets and once by the Twins — before catching on with the Yankees in late April. He owned a 6.00 ERA when he joined the Yankees but has been nothing short of stellar since.

Monday’s scoreless ninth lowered Tonkin’s ERA to 0.89 over 20.1 innings with the Yankees. That’s the second-lowest mark by an MLB reliever with at least 20.0 innings pitched since Tonkin’s Yankees debut on April 26, trailing only the 0.45 ERA recorded by Arizona’s Justin Martinez.

“The first month was less than ideal, but to be here now, it’s all worth it,” Tonkin said Monday.

Tonkin is now with his fourth team in seven MLB seasons, having debuted with the Twins in 2013 and also pitched in Japan, Mexico and the Independent League in the 11 years since.

Last season with the Braves marked Tonkin’s first in the majors since 2017. He pitched to a 4.28 ERA over 80.0 innings with Atlanta, then joined the Mets in the offseason on a one-year, $1 million deal.

Tonkin struggled early with the Mets, taking losses in two of his first three appearances. Those included surrendering five unearned runs in the 10th inning of a 5-0 loss to the Tigers on April 1, and allowing three runs (two earned) in the 11th inning of a 6-3 loss to Detroit on April 4.

The Mets designated Tonkin for assignment after that second loss and traded him to the Twins. He pitched one game for Minnesota, allowing two runs in two innings, before getting designated for assignment again and being claimed by the Mets.

Tonkin appeared in two more games with the Mets before being designated for assignment once again. The Yankees claimed him off waivers on April 25.

It’s a roller coaster Tonkin described as “chaotic.”

“It’s good to get in a groove and get comfortable, and be in a position where I feel like I’m not scared that I’m gonna get tapped on the shoulder after every game,” Tonkin said. “All of that kind of helps.”

Tonkin blew a save and took a loss in his Yankees debut, allowing two unearned runs over 1.1 innings in extras in Milwaukee. Twelve of his next 13 appearances were scoreless, earning the trust of Yankees manager Aaron Boone.

“He’s got guts,” Boone said Monday. “He’s fearless out there, and really, really competitive. He’s fit in well in that room.”

Boone went to Tonkin on Monday because closer Clay Holmes had pitched in three of the previous four games. Tonkin issued a walk but no hits in Monday’s save, during which he struck out two batters, including the Royals’ M.J. Melendez for the third out.

The save clinched a win for Carlos Rodón, who held the Royals to one run over seven innings to improve to 9-2.

“That was not a normal situation for him, and he comes up with a huge save,” Rodón said of Tonkin. “The biggest thing is the guy fills up the zone and is not scared to pitch, that’s for sure. A lot of confidence out of him.”

Tonkin credits his turnaround with the Yankees to his increased slider usage, as well as becoming more comfortable throwing a two-seam fastball that he added to his pitch mix in spring training.

He’s the latest reliever to find success working with the Yankees pitching coach Matt Blake and his team after pedestrian performances elsewhere, joining the likes of Holmes and Luke Weaver.

“There’s no question those guys do a great job, but you also give [Tonkin] a lot of credit,” Boone said. “It’s not like we’ve overhauled him to any big degree. He’s come in here and just taken advantage of opportunities and pitched really well.

“You couple that with fitting in and now getting with our pitching group, who do a good job of maximizing guys’ arsenals. Hopefully we’ll continue to see impactful performances.”

Monday marked Tonkin’s first career save in a traditional high-leverage situation. His previous save came on June 15, 2023, when he recorded the final 10 outs of an 8-3 win by the Braves.

Tonkin has contributed to a Yankees bullpen that entered Tuesday with a 3.07 ERA, the second-best mark in the American League, despite Jonathan Loáisiga’s season-ending elbow tear; Tommy Kahnle missing nearly two months with shoulder inflammation; and Scott Effross and Lou Trivino having not pitched this year due to injuries.

“It’s great to be here on this team, in this position, and be in a spot where they’ve got faith in me to get the job done,” Tonkin said.


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