King's secret to relief success? Anger

July 7th, 2021

When took the Yankee Stadium mound in the sixth inning of Saturday’s 8-3 loss to the Mets, there were runners on second and third and no outs. As the right-hander recounted Tuesday, the situation “got me a little fired up.”

Expected to start Game 2 of Sunday’s doubleheader, King was instead called into duty amid an eventual five-run frame to relieve Justin Wilson, who had been unable to record an out after entering the game at the top of the inning. King had no such issue, striking out Pete Alonso and James McCann swinging. Though he also allowed a two-run single to Kevin Pillar -- both of which were charged to Wilson -- King recovered quickly, coaxing a first-pitch lineout from Jeff McNeil.

That began a scoreless four-inning and career-high nine-strikeout performance from the 26-year-old King, who has bounced back and forth between roles in the rotation and bullpen for the Yankees since Corey Kluber went on the injured list with a right shoulder strain in late May.

“I felt like I’m at my best when I’m super aggressive and almost angry,” King said ahead of the Yanks’ series opener against the Mariners. “So coming into [that] situation … got me a little fired up, or at least got my adrenaline going. And then, also, I preferred being a starter, so when I do get sent back to the ‘pen, it kind of lit a little fire under me. I felt like I had a little more motivation to go out there and prove myself.”

In six starts this year, King has gone 0-3 with a 5.47 ERA and 20 strikeouts against 12 walks in 24 2/3 innings. In eight relief appearances, however, he has compiled a 1.90 ERA with 27 strikeouts against nine walks in 23 2/3 innings. He also became just the fourth Yankees reliever since 1955 to record nine punchouts in a game on Saturday.

In the days since that outing, King said he has spoken often with Yanks bullpen coach Mike Harkey. He intends to speak with pitching coach Matt Blake as well. King is clear on what the difference is between his disparate results, admitting that he needs to learn how to apply that aggressive mentality no matter what the game situation is.

And given how the Yankees’ rotation and bullpen have had more than their fair share of struggles in recent weeks, King plays a useful role as a stopgap in both. Manager Aaron Boone knows it.

“I still think it’s fluid and flexible with him moving forward depending on matchups and things like that, what our needs are during the week as far as from a bullpen standpoint,” Boone said of King’s role. “So it could still be starting at times. It could be coming in for length at times. It could even be an important inning that pops up that we need him. So I do feel like he’s capable of filing a lot of different roles for us.”

Down on the farm
• RHP Luis Medina, the club’s No. 7 prospect per MLB Pipeline, threw five shutout innings with eight strikeouts on Sunday to earn his first win for Double-A Somerset at Harrisburg. He will represent the Yankees at the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game on Sunday at Coors Field, alongside top prospect Jasson Dominguez.

• RHP Glenn Otto, the club’s No. 28 prospect per MLB Pipeline, was named the Double-A Northeast Pitcher of the Week after allowing only one hit and striking out 12 over seven scoreless innings on Saturday for Somerset at Harrisburg.

• LHP Josh Maciejewski was named the High-A East Pitcher of the Week after allowing just two hits and one unearned run while striking out nine last Wednesday for High-A Hudson Valley at Jersey Shore.

This date in Yankees history
July 6, 1933: In the very first MLB All-Star Game, Babe Ruth hit the first home run -- a two-run shot off the Cardinals’ Bill Hallahan -- leading the American League to a 4-2 victory at Comiskey Park. Lefty Gomez started for the AL, tossing three scoreless innings to earn the win.