BALTIMORE — Michael King’s goal last season was to pitch 100 innings in whatever role the Yankees needed him.
The right-hander ultimately didn’t make it, in part due to a finger injury that cost him two months, but he still proved to be a valuable member of the bullpen.
In the first week of this season, he looked even more like a weapon for manager Aaron Boone.
After making his first two appearances in multi-inning efforts, King was called into the ultimate pressure situation Thursday night to clean up the ninth-inning mess caused by Aroldis Chapman. With the bases loaded and no outs in a game, the Yankees led the Blue Jays, 3-0, King barely broke a sweat and quickly recorded his first career major league save.
“He walks out there with a confidence and a fearlessness that he throws at now,” Boone said Friday before the Yankees opened a series against the Orioles at Camden Yards. “For all the guys it comes down to throwing punches, but when he’s on the attack and throwing punches he’s got plenty of weapons to do what he did. [Thursday] night.”
Coming in relief for Chapman, who ran through the bases loaded throwing just four of his 16 pitches for strikes, King needed just five pitches, all of them strikes, to retire the team. He retired George Springer and brought in Bo Bichette to strike in a late game double play.
It was King’s first save since last September with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre while in rehab. He made another save in his minor league career (in 2016) and also made four while pitching at Boston College — not that he remembered any of them Thursday night, he said. he declares.
“I really didn’t think about it at the time, but after [Anthony] Rizzo gave me the ball, I thought that was pretty cool,” King said. “This one is definitely going to stand out.”
While King won’t necessarily be in for many more save opportunities this season, Thursday’s performance was the latest reminder that he can still play a big role for the Yankees. His multi-run ability is always valuable, but especially so at the start of this season as the rotation continues to increase his workload after shortened spring training.
Boone can also turn to King in high leverage situations, as he did on Thursday night.
“We saw it emerge last year,” Boone said. “He’s always been a confident guy, but I think the progress we’ve seen him make at this level last year and he’s played in a lot of important roles for us, has been huge in his development. He worked hard in the winter to keep doing his job, he is a guy who is interested in all the tools to keep helping him get better and he applies them.
The 26-year-old King posted a 3.55 ERA on 63 ¹/₃ innings last season while striking out 62 and walking 24. He started six games when the Yankees needed to plug a hole in the rotation, but otherwise offered length in the bullpen while becoming one of Boone’s trusted high-leveraged relievers.
This spring, King said preparing for such a versatile role came with a learning curve when he broke into the majors in 2020. But he learned to attack every inning as if it was. was the only inning he would pitch on any given night, taking on more of a bullpen mentality. In 5 ²/₃ innings entering Friday, he had allowed just one earned run on six hits and one walk while striking out seven.
King has also benefited from the emergence of his breaking ball, a slider/curveball hybrid that Corey Kluber played a significant role in developing when the two were teammates last year.
New York Post