Yankees release bullpen candidate Niese

March 26th, 2017
Jonathon Niese appeared in six Grapefruit League games for the Yankees. (AP)

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Yankees released on Sunday, ending the left-hander's bid to secure an Opening Day bullpen job.

Niese, 30, signed a Minor League contract with the Yankees on Feb. 20 and would have earned a base salary of $1.25 million if he had made the club. It is possible that he could re-sign with the organization in the coming days. 

Returning from season-ending surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his left knee in late August, the former Mets and Pirates hurler had a 4.50 ERA in six Grapefruit League appearances. Niese permitted three runs and five hits in six innings, walking one and striking out five.

"We just don't think his arm strength is where it's going to be. We think he's behind," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "You look at his velocity last year compared to this spring, and it's just, he's behind from the knee surgery. We think he has a chance to catch up, but he's just not there physically yet. I don't think his knee is where it's going to be and I don't think his arm strength is where it's going to be in a month or so."

Niese's departure whittles down the group of remaining contenders to crack a Yankees bullpen that counts , , and Tommy Layne among its locks.

, , , and have all competed for rotation spots this spring, and some are expected to wind up with bullpen slots if they are not selected as starters.

, J.R. Graham, , and all remain in camp as they aim for bullpen assignments.Girardi said that the Yankees hope to have all 25 roster spots ironed out before they depart for Friday's exhibition game against the Braves at SunTrust Park.

"We would like to do that. You don't want it to linger," Girardi said. "You want guys to know where they're going so they can prepare."