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Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Michael King and Clay Holmes have dominated, but their heavy workload is worrying.

ST. SAINT PETERSBURG. In the bottom of the eighth inning on Tuesday night, Michael King jumped onto the bullpen mound. The reliable Yankee right-hander was noticeably absent from the game last night. Manager Aaron Boone explained that they handle King’s workload carefully. Just as Giancarlo Stanton started a double play, robbing the Yankees of a chance to tie, King sat down again.

It’s a difficult situation that Boone and the Yankees are in right now with their bullpen. King and Clay Holmes were amazing, reliable and dominant. The bullpen also suffered from injuries. Thus, King and Holmes are among the 12 most stressed pitchers in baseball this season.

To this point, King has made 22 appearances. Last year, he played 22 games in the big leagues and three in the minors. The 27-year-old played 37.1 innings, including two against the Blue Jays on Saturday, which stalled Boone’s use on Monday night. 37.1 innings is the second highest pitcher in a major. He trails only Baltimore’s Keegan Akin in the number of innings thrown out of the bullpen this year. Holmes threw 32 innings, 12th among majors as of Wednesday morning.

No other division-leading team has ever had a top 12 reliever.

Clearly, both King and Holmes have been hurt by the Yankees’ bullpen this season. They lost Chad Green the year he got Tommy John surgery. Green would take over some of those innings that King broke. Jonathan Loaisiga (shoulder inflammation) and Aroldis Chapman (Achilles) have been out of action since the end of May. Loaisiga could offer some of those high leverage pitches that Holmes worked on, and with Chapman gone, Holmes closed.

The good news is that the Yankees are expecting help in the bullpen soon. Chapman is expected to show up in rehab while Loiciga is dropping out. Domingo German, who is scheduled to make his first appearance in rehab on Wednesday night with the Low-A Tampa Tarpons, is on the clock and back. He was a starter but also worked very effectively out of the bullpen. He could have taken some of those heavy leveraged serves off the shoulders of King and Holmes.

King and Holmes both say they feel good, and it’s easy to see why the Yankees lean on them so heavily. King has a 35.7% strikeout rate and is one of the top two players in major tournaments. He is second in the Majors among pitchers with 51 strikeouts, trailing only the Mets closer Edwin Diaz.

Holmes had just broken the franchise record of 29 consecutive no-point games set by Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera. He was dominant with his heavy sinking fastball. He has only passed four of the 122 batters he has faced this season. That 3.3% walking percentage is the best of his career. His 27% strikeout percentage is among the top 80 percentiles in the league, but his ground ball rate of 87.2% stands out. He has only 4.9% ball speed and less than 10% line speed. The opposing attackers can hardly cope with the blows of the bat on their fields and come into close contact only 2.9% of the time.

Both King and Holmes started their careers as a starter, so they had a lot of innings, but that was a long time ago. King had 69 innings last season, three of which were in minor league rehab. It was 2018 in junior high when he last threw more than that. Holmes had 70 innings in 60 games last season. Like King, it was 2018 in junior high when he last threw more than that. 69 innings.

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