Top relievers’ contrasting styles could become big Yankees asset

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TAMPA — The order and innings were off Friday night, due to the nature of spring training, but the Yankees rolled out their high-leverage relievers against the Phillies and offered a glimpse of their disparate looks.

In the fourth inning, it was flame-throwing left-hander Aroldis Chapman. In the fifth, it was soft-throwing, sidearm right-hander Darren O’Day. In the sixth and seventh, it was lefty Justin Wilson and right Chad Green, both hard throwers, just from different sides.

“I think everyone’s a little different,” Green said Saturday before the Yankees played the Orioles in Sarasota, Fla. “You got a hard-throwing lefty, sidearm righty, then me and Wilson are kind of the same where we’re more fastball-heavy guys. But that has been proven to work in the past. The more diverse you can be as a bullpen, the better. Once hitters feel uncomfortable, it can only help us and be to our advantage.”

The exact order to get to Chapman in the ninth inning may differ game-to-game, depending on different matchups and who’s available on a given day, but the depth and diversity of arms should give manager Aaron Boone plenty of options to work with this season. And that’s even before adding Zack Britton back into the mix. Whenever he returns from surgery to remove a bone chip in his elbow, the lefty sinker-baller will add another dimension to the bullpen.

“That’ll be something interesting as the year unfolds, to see how they kind of balance each other out,” Boone said. “They are a little unique to one another and that should allow us to hopefully put them in some really good situations depending on who’s coming up for the opposing team and based on the other guys protecting them. We may have a better matchup moving forward. Obviously once we get Britt back in the mix, that only adds to that strength.

“The bullpen has certainly been one of the strengths of this team, certainly since I’ve been here. I certainly have a lot of optimism for the group this year.”

The result on Friday against the Phillies from Chapman, O’Day, Wilson and Green was four hitless innings, with four strikeouts and just one walk. It was the third time this spring they all pitched in the same game, as Boone has been deliberate about building them up while monitoring their game workload with an eye toward the regular season.

Though Chapman, Green and Britton were the Yankees’ most dependable late-inning relievers last year, the addition of O’Day changes the look the most this season. Aside from throwing out of a unique arm slot, the 38-year-old’s average fastball velocity is about 12 mph slower than Chapman’s, which could help keep batters off-balance from one inning to the next.

“You can’t really quantify deception, but it’s a valuable tool to have to have different looks,” O’Day said recently. “You look at the difference in that velocity, 100-85, 15 mph. To put that in perspective, 15 mph off my velocity, 70 mph, wouldn’t even get you looked at. … It’s harder for a hitter to make that timing. That swing speed is usually right in the upper-80s, low-90s. Chappy’s pitching above it, I’m pitching below it.”

Beyond the four high-leverage arms, the Yankees are optimisitc about other relievers that have opened eyes so far in camp, including Jonathan Loaisiga and Nick Nelson. Green compared Nelson’s changeup to that of a former Yankee.

“His changeup reminds me of Tommy Kahnle’s changeup, which is a huge compliment because the pitch is almost unhittable at times when you’re throwing 98 [mph] with a 92 mph changeup,” Green said. “It seems unfair at times. He throws four pitches for strikes, so he’s able to flip a lineup over maybe one time if he’s on that day. It’s fun watching those guys pitch because they are so electric.”

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