David Huff happy to be back in Yankees' versatile bullpen
"When a team lets you go and you go pitch somewhere else, for that first team to come back and get you again, it shows you they have a lot of confidence in your abilities," he said of his mentality. "To have that happen to me is a good feeling. I know a lot of guys here, so there wasn't a big introduction period to new teammates - it was more like a welcome back. It was an amazing thing, and now that I'm here, I'm going to enjoy it and keep it going."
It's not often that an early-season trade sees a key cog on a first-place team get shipped out to a "lesser" one, but that's exactly what happened when the Giants - who sit comfortably atop the NL West despite a recent skid - sent Huff back east last week.
That may be an anomaly, for but for Huff, the first 10 weeks of the season were a great lesson.
"We were in first place there, and to have that feeling and know what it takes, it helps a lot," he said. "I was probably the worst of that bunch, and outside of a couple bad outings at the end, I was throwing pretty well. To come here and see so many similarities in this bullpen now, I know it's a matter of just putting it together and getting after it."
In 11 appearances with the Yankees last season, Huff served as sort of a swingman; six of those outings came in long relief, but he also got a pair of spot starts in September and played a mop-up role in the other three. He's ostensibly the main long man once again, but like last year, whatever Joe Girardi calls on him to do, Huff will be more than happy to oblige.
"At this point in my career, it's whatever they want me to do," he said. "Need a spot start? Great. Want me to be the long reliever? Great. Lefty specialist? Great. I'll do whatever they want me to do, and I'll take any opportunity they give me."
One thing that could make Huff's job a mixed bag is the increased versatility of the current bullpen; Adam Warren, Dellin Betances, and Jose Ramirez are all former starters and can all give length if needed, but the former two at least have shown they can be dominant as straight set-up men, too - and that flexibility spurs Huff on to keep the chain going whenever he's called on.
"What's great about the coaching staff is that they've managed the bullpen well, and we have that versatility," he said. "Betances threw a couple innings (Tuesday), Warren did it (Wednesday), and they were efficient and dominant. They're getting after it and being aggressive, and the more they pitch and put up zeroes, the more confidence they get and the longer leash they have."
And if being here isn't enough, upon his return, Huff also dispelled the notion that the Yankees' bullpen has "changed" completely since even last September. On the surface, only Shawn Kelley is in the same true role (late-inning set-up man) he was in at the end of 2013, but that's all semantics according to Huff, who said the seeds for what the bullpen is now were really sown down the stretch last year.
"David Robertson was definitely being groomed to be the closer last year, and you could see it; he was always around Mo, picking his brain and learning the little things," he said. "Shawn is doing the same job he's been doing of helping put zeroes up, and Betances, he was a guy who you knew had amazing stuff; he just couldn't put it together, but now, he's lights out, attacking guys with his pitches and dealing."
Huff even believes that's true for Adam Warren, who has morphed from last year's long man into perhaps the most versatile weapon of the bunch - and in the process become perhaps the key to the bullpen's flexibility.
"I think the only real adjustment has been Adam's role, as he's now a sixth, seventh, or eighth inning guy instead of a true long guy - but he can still do some long relief if he needs to," Huff said. "If I throw a few innings one day, and then maybe Ramirez throws a few innings the next night, he can be that guy on the third day. He's got that stamina, but he's also got that mentality to come in and shut the door, so he's a big weapon."
No matter what role he or anyone else fills, though, the biggest thing Huff says he's picked up thus far is that the Yankees bullpen believes, both individually and as a unit, that they're a group whose proverbially whole far exceeds the sum of their parts.
"We trust that anyone can work in any situation, and get out of any situation and put up a zero…you couldn't ask for a better group."