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Adam Warren thriving early in new role

Starter turned reliever has become Joe Girardi's top set-up option
04/14/2014 11:45 AM ET
By Lou DiPietro

Adam Warren is tied for the Yankees' team lead with four holds.(AP)
Adam Warren made his major-league debut on June 29, 2012, and it didn't quite go as he dreamed. That day, Warren lasted just 2 1/3 innings and allowed six runs in a spot start against the White Sox and was shipped back to Triple-A shortly after, not to return until a September call-up where he watched the Yankees' run to the playoffs from a bullpen seat he never got off of.

Flash forward 18 months, and Warren hasn't gone back to the minor leagues since that September 2012 recall - in fact, since then, the 26-year-old righty has ridden an adaptation of roles, a few departures and/or injuries around him, and some good old effectiveness all the way to becoming, or so it seems for the time being, Joe Girardi's top set-up option for interim closer Shawn Kelley.

That wasn't quite go as planned either, but what a difference a major-league year makes.

"I've enjoyed pitching in (a short relief) role, because it's a little different for me," Warren said. "It's still new, coming in for one inning and not having to set guys up for a second or third time through the lineup, but I've tried to pick the brains of some of the veteran guys - I tried to do that with Mo (Rivera) last year too - and that's helped me with the transition a little bit."

Warren made the team out of camp last year as the long relief man and pretty much stayed in the bullpen all season, making just two spot starts - one of which came in the penultimate game of the season when the Yankees were already eliminated - and pitching 77 innings over 34 appearances.

But something happened on the way to that place: Warren got a handful of shorter, higher-leverage opportunities late in the season, and he impressed, finishing the year by posting a 1.93 ERA in September.

And now, after not winning the competition for the fifth rotation spot this spring, here Warren stands on the Yankees' first off day as, at least across the board numerically, the best pitcher in the bullpen.

He hasn't changed his preparation routines at all, but you can credit the early-season spike to Warren knowing that the only adjustment he really had to make to become a short reliever was throwing everything he knew out the window.

"As far as mindset goes, I think you just have to go out there and give hitters your best stuff right away, so the only thing I would say I adjusted was that I wanted to be more aggressive out of the bullpen," he said. "As a starter, I might try to hold a pitch back for the second or third time around, and even being a long guy you can kind of do that in a sense, but in a one-inning role, I can throw my best pitches at a guy; I don't have to hold back, I can just let it rip and try to attack."

And attack he has. Warren has made six appearances through the team's first 13 games, five of which have come with the Yankees leading or tied, and he's yet to be scored upon in six total innings of work. Warren has allowed just two hits and two walks (for a relief corps-leading 0.667 WHIP) and struck out seven in that span, and he enters the Yankees' first off day of 2014 with four holds, a total that ties him with nominal lefty specialist Matt Thornton for the team lead.

"I've just tried to stay confident and make pitches; at the end of the day it's about just making pitches, so really, I try to come in firing strikes," he said. "Like I said, once you realize that you don't have to set guys up in the same way you would if you're facing them multiple times, you just want to go right at them and try to get them out."

That may seem like an easy correlation to make, but given that Warren made multiple spring starts and was theoretically a candidate for the final spot in the Yankees' rotation until the final week of the spring, it could have been a hard one.

Luckily for Warren, he was already sort of clued in to what his eventual fate would be.

"It was funny, because the first couple starts I had in Spring Training, I was a little confused; I wasn't used to being a starter after last year, so I had to get back into starter mode," he laughed, "but once I knew I was back in the bullpen, I had to get back into relief mode, and that just meant being more aggressive."

And, of course, having both David Phelps and Vidal Nuno in the bullpen as starters-turned-relievers helps too, because the triad can go into everyday knowing that they need each other as much as the rest of the staff needs them.

"We bounce ideas off each other about how we get ready and things like that, and just try to pick each others' brains on what works and what doesn't," Warren said of his comrades. "This is new to us, so we're all in it together and just trying to figure out the best way to do things."

Whether or not Warren can sustain his early success for the next 150 games, and whether or not Warren eventually goes back to being a long reliever or even a starter, it matters not - for now, he's just relishing the chance to make a name for himself.

"I've enjoyed the experience so far...it's been fun."

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