Relievers put to the test

Teams like the Giants and Yankees are making their relievers work extra hard thus far this season.

Originally Published: June 7, 2004
By Buster Olney | ESPN The Magazine

Joe Torre is credited for his steady handling of players, his unflappable outward demeanor. But he manages the Yankees with a daily and desperate search for the jugular: if he sees a chance to win a game, he will go for it, without concern for the next day.

This is how you have to manage in New York, where one loss could turn into back-to-back defeats, and three straight losses could turn into a full-blown crisis. And this year, Torre sees the jugular in almost every game. "No matter how far behind, it won't matter," pitcher Mike Mussina said the other day. "We're going to come back and make a game of it."

Felix Rodriguez
Relief pitcher
San Francisco Giants
Profile
2004 SEASON STATISTICS
G IP W-L BB SO ERA
31 27.1 2-3 7 19 2.63

Even when the Yankees are behind, Torre has called on his best relievers, in an effort to hold the opposing team. When the Yankees are ahead -- which is frequently -- Torre will call on those same relievers again, at an extraordinary rate. The primary three members of the bullpen have been worked more than any group from a contender other than San Francisco's trio of Felix Rodriguez, Jim Brower and Matt Herges.

Through Sunday, Yankees closer Mariano Rivera had thrown 32.2 innings over 30 games; he is currently on pace to make 19 more appearances than in any of his nine previous seasons with the Yankees, and throw 14 percent more innings than in any season.

Set-up man Paul Quantrill injured his right knee in the first series of the year in Japan. But despite that problem he has logged 34.1 innings in 29 outings -- meaning that he is on pace to pitch 17 more innings than his career high, at age 35.

Tom Gordon, the other set-up man who has earned the trust of Torre, is working at a rate that would result in 87 appearances and 94 innings -- much more than his career-highs of 73 appearances and 79.1 innings, accomplished before he battled arm problems.

The Yankees are 35-20, and there may be a time when that rate of work will diminish. It would be a concern, general manager Brian Cashman said, "if it stayed that way. But you can count on ebbs and flows. You can't use these guys throughout the year the way they're being used, but typically they'll go through periods where they'll get a lot of rest."

"As the season goes on, you'll find situations where blowouts will alleviate the numbers a little bit, and they'll settle in a little bit more."

There could be help on the way. The Yankees could acquire at least one reliever in the next two months. Steve Karsay, who hasn't pitched since 2002, is rehabilitating in Florida and is also a possibility to log innings in relief.

The Yankees could also get some expensive relief from within their active roster. Jose Contreras is floundering in the rotation, perhaps mounting so much pressure on himself in the days between his starts that he struggles to fight his way through anxiety after taking the mound.

He could soon be moved to the bullpen, where he could go day to day without knowing when he was going to pitch -- Arthur Rhodes became a frontline set-up man for this reason after struggling as a starter years ago -- and where he showed great promise as a reliever last fall.

Other bullpens that are being worked heavily include the Mets, Reds, and Astros. All three American League West contenders -- Oakland, Anaheim and Texas -- rank in the bottom five for their use of their three primary relievers.

Relief Specialists
The bullpen tally, with the current number of appearances and innings and the projected rates for the season; the last number is the career-high major-league innings in seasons when the pitcher worked in relief only.

The teams, none of which are currently more than 4½ games out of first place in their respective divisions, are ranked by total number of current appearances for three primary relievers, through Friday's games:

Giants
Total app., 92
App. Proj. app. IP Proj. IP Career high
F. Rodriguez 31 93 27.1 82 81.2 (2000)
J. Brower 31 93 34.2 104 80.1 (2002)
M. Herges 30 90 27.1 82 99.1 (2001)
Yankees
Total app., 88
App. Proj. app. IP Proj. IP Career high
M. Rivera 30 92 31.2 96.2 107.2 (1996)
T. Gordon 29 89 31.1 96 79.1 (1998)
P. Quantrill 29 89 32.1 99 88 (1997)
Mets
Total app., 84
App. Proj. app. IP Proj. IP Career high
M. Stanton 32 96 30 90 79 (1998)
B. Looper 26 78 30 90 86 (2002)
D. Weathers 26 78 25.1 76 93 (1999)
Reds
Total app., 84
App. Proj. app. IP Proj. IP Career high
D. Graves 32 98 32 97.2 111 (1999)
T. Jones 27 83 30.1 92.2 99.2 (1995)
J. Riedling 25 76 28 85.2 46.2 (2002)
Astros
Total app., 83
App. Proj. app. IP Proj. IP Career high
D. Miceli 29 89 35.2 109 85.2 (1996)
B. Lidge 28 86 31.2 96.2 85 (2002)
O. Dotel 24 73 27 79.1 97.1 (2002)
Cardinals
Total app., 81
App. Proj. app. IP Proj. IP Career high
S. Kline 30 90 18.2 56 82.1 (2000)
J. Tavarez 27 81 23.2 71 88.1 (1997)
J. Isringhausen 24 72 28 84 71.1 (2001)
Cubs
Total app., 78
App. Proj. app. IP Proj. IP Career high
L. Hawkins 29 89 30.2 92.2 87.2 (2000)
T. Farnsworth 27 82 23.2 72.1 82 (2001)
J. Borowski 22 67 21.1 65.1 95.2 (2002)
Twins
Total app., 78
App. Proj. app. IP Proj. IP Career high
J.C. Romero 28 84 28 84 81 (2002)
J. Rincon 27 81 27.1 82 85.2 (2003)
J. Nathan 23 69 24.2 74 93.1 (2000)
Marlins
Total app., 77
App. Proj. app. IP Proj. IP Career high
A. Benitez 28 82 31 91.1 78 (1999)
M. Perisho 27 80 19 56 Starter/reliever in past
N. Bump 22 65 33.1 98.1 36.1 (2003)
Red Sox
Total app., 75
App. Proj. app. IP Proj. IP Career high
A. Embree 27 81 23.1 70 62 (2000)
M. Timlin 24 72 26.2 80 79.1 (1998)
K. Foulke 24 72 28.1 85 105.1 (1999)
Phillies
Total app., 74
App. Proj. app. IP Proj. IP Career high
R. Cormier 27 83 26 79.1 84.2 (2003)
Tim Worrell 25 76 29 88.2 78.1 ('01 and '03)
R. Madson 22 67 33.2 103 Rookie
Dodgers
Total app., 73
App. Proj. app. IP Proj. IP Career high
G. Mota 26 81 33 99.2 105 (2003)
T. Martin 26 81 14.1 44.2 56 (1997)
E. Gagne 21 65 23.1 72.2 82.1 ('02 and '03)
Padres
Total app., 72
App. Proj. app. IP Proj. IP Career high
S. Linebrink 27 81 30.1 91 60.2 (2003)
A. Otsuka 26 78 27 81 Rookie
T. Hoffman 19 57 19 57 90 (1993)
A's
Total app., 69
App. Proj. app. IP Proj. IP Career high
C. Bradford 25 76 24 73.1 77 (2003)
Jim Mecir 23 70 19.2 60 85 (2000)
A. Rhodes 21 64 23.1 68.1 95.1 (1997)
Angels
Total app., 68
App. Proj. app. IP Proj. IP Career high
F. Rodriguez 25 75 30 90 86 (2003)
S. Shields 24 72 38.2 116 First full relief year
T. Percival 19 57 17.2 53 74 (1996)
Rangers
Total app., 67
App. Proj. app. IP Proj. IP Career high
C. Almanzar 23 72 27.2 86.1 69.2 (2000)
J. Powell 23 72 24 74.2 79.2 (1997)
F. Cordero 21 65 21.2 68.2 82.2 (2003)
Braves
Total app., 66
App. Proj. app. IP Proj. IP Career high
A. Alfonseca 24 72 25 75 77.2 (1999)
K. Gryboski 21 63 18.1 55 51.2 (2002)
J. Smoltz 21 63 22.1 67 80.1 (2002)
White Sox
Total app., 62
App. Proj. app. IP Proj. IP Career high
Billy Koch 22 69 21.1 62.2 93.2 (2002)
D. Marte 21 65.1 22 68.2 79.2 (2003)
S. Takatsu 19 59.1 20.1 63.1 Rookie

Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book, "The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty," will be released later this summer, and can be pre-ordered through HarperCollins.com.

Buster Olney | email

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine