In last night’s game Kevin Whelan made his MLB debut. Things didn’t exactly go according to plan. He walked 4 batters, gave up a run and threw just 8 of his 26 pitches for strikes. Whelan has always had dynamite stuff, and has always missed loads of bats. The question with him has always been whether or not he can throw enough strikes to get advanced hitters out, and last night couldn’t have gone any worse. We can chalk it up to opening night jitters, but there will always be those who will think it’s evidence of a lack of “guts” or character on his part. Whelan’s debut was reminiscent of another Yankee reliever who had a rough first outing and is now coming of age for the Florida Marlins. A lefty, no less. Mark Melancon also had a rough first season in pinstripes, uncharacteristically hitting batters constantly and was shipped off to Houston for Fat Elvis, who contributed little to the Yankee pennant drive in 2010. Melancon is currently the primary setup man for the Astros, sporting a 1.74 ERA with a 3-1 SO/BB rate. Once upon a time, the Yanks sent a young reliever named Damaso Marte to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Enrique Wilson, based largely on the rationale that Wilson ‘owned’ Pedro Martinez in a small sample of ABs. Marte went on to become one of the best Lefty relievers in the game and the Yanks spent most of the 2000′s looking for a lefthander in their bullpen. By the time the Yanks reacquired Marte in 2008, his arm was shot and he spent most of his time as a Yankee on the DL.
As the Yankee bullpen gets increasingly depleted this season, you cant help but be reminded of the old saw that sometimes the best trades are the ones you never make. Would Dunn or Melancon have had the same success in pinstripes? Its hard to say. Sometimes it’s the change of scenery that does the trick, or a new coach that connects with the player who gets him to make that final adjustment that becomes the difference between success and mediocrity at the MLB level. With Mo, Soriano, Joba and D-Rob ahead of him on the depth chart, Melancon wouldn’t have got the chance to pitch regularly in New York until now. Very often relievers are ineffective from a simple lack of regular work, and the only way to give a young reliever steady work is to ship him to AAA, where he’s facing lesser competition. So its a bit of a catch-22 for young players that don’t perform immediately in pinstripes. On a team that tries to compete annually like the Yankees where every game matters, it’s very tough to develop young pitching, either as starters or relievers.
The Yankee manager told Kevin as he took him out of last night’s game that he understood his situation, not to get down on himself. He said “we’ve all been through that first moment, and there’s a lot of nerves there” and told the young righty “I won’t judge you too quickly” based on that first appearance. I can only hope my fellow fans and certain Yankee execs will keep the same sense of perspective as the Yankee manager.
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