Yanks eager for 1st look at 'pen as camp opens

Elite relief corps in Florida as pitchers and catchers report

February 12th, 2019

TAMPA, Fla. -- As the greatest closer the sport has known prepares for his summer induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Mariano Rivera's successors boast the potential to make some history of their own.

As Yankees pitchers and catchers reported to George M. Steinbrenner Field on Wednesday, the group that could comprise the game's most dominant bullpen assembled for the first time. will again claim the ninth-inning honors, but there appears to be no shortage of lethal arms capable of silencing bats.

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"It looks really good on paper," Zack Britton said. "The track records are good. You've got to go out there and do it, but I think the best thing about the bullpen is you have a lot of weapons. If a guy is in a little rut, you know you have four, five, six other guys down there that can pick him up."

The bullpen was one of the Yankees' most prominent advantages in 2018, generating a 3.38 ERA that ranked fourth among big league relief crews while recording 11.40 strikeouts per nine innings, surpassing the Major League record of 10.92 that was set by the '17 club.

They believe that they added to that strength by re-signing the left-handed Britton and inking right-handed New York City native , whose video-game slider and two-seamer produced 112 strikeouts in 77 1/3 innings out of the Rockies' bullpen last season.

"Being able to be around Britton for a couple of months, I think I learned a lot from him," said right-hander . "I'm pretty excited to learn from Ottavino. Those guys have been doing it at a high level for a while.

"Watching Ottavino pitch in the playoffs last year for the first time, it's impressive. I think he's big into pitch analytics, tunneling pitches and stuff like that. Especially for me, just being able to take something from him would be huge."

Behind Britton and Ottavino, ranked third among relievers with 115 strikeouts, Green tied for 11th with 94 and Chapman tied for 14th with 93. , who enjoyed a 23-appearance streak without permitting an earned run last year, adds to the depth.

"You've got to like them going in, but the biggest thing is staying healthy," pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. "Keep them healthy all spring and get them ready to start the season. Get them ready for different roles, different situations, but I think most of them are used to that.

"They have the potential to be really, really good, and that's a nice position to be in going into the season."

There are numerous combinations that could lead to Chapman for the ninth inning, and Rothschild said that the club has not yet plotted exactly who will pitch where.

"I don't think we're at that point right now," Rothschild said. "I think as we go, we'll see where guys are in their health, but I think there's some interchangeable parts there."

As the value of high-leverage utilization becomes more apparent, both Britton and Ottavino have voiced their willingness to be deployed whenever it makes sense.

"When I came back, I told [general manager Brian] Cashman it's not a conversation we really need to have," Britton said. "If he needs me to close games, I'll close games. If he wants me to throw the seventh, I'll throw the seventh. This is what I signed up for."

"I think the plan is for them to put us all in our best possible position to get outs," Ottavino said. "We have some guys who have a little more strength versus left-handed hitters, even though they're righty pitchers, like Chad Green and Dellin Betances. I've been pretty tough on righties in my career, so I'm expecting to get a lot of righty-righty matchups."

That flexibility suggests confidence that this crew can get the job done night after night -- and if they pitch to expectations, they could be remembered as one of the finest bullpens ever seen.

"It's going to be awesome," said starting pitcher . "Those guys are so talented out there. We've got so many guys that have closer stuff. It's going to feel real good handing the ball off to those guys when I'm out of the game."