Yankees' latest bullpen steal might not be a laughing matter after all

New York Yankees v Kansas City Royals
New York Yankees v Kansas City Royals / Ed Zurga/GettyImages

The Minnesota Twins might have some spiffy new Prince hats, but it turns out it was actually the Yankees who had to purify themselves in the waters of Lake Michael Tonkin.

Just over a month ago, the concept of Tonkin, a waiver-wire flyer, being called on to close out an extra-innings affair in Milwaukee was viewed as laughable. And those who viewed it that way ... were correct. Tonkin had just arrived in his New York road grays. He probably hadn't said more than a word to Matt Blake. Aaron Boone probably clapped him on the back and said, "We like your peripherals, buddy. Go get the first place team in the NL Central." He bombed. The Yankees lost. The expletives flew.

But when Boone and Co., nursing a tired bullpen, went to Tonkin in a save situation again on Monday night in Kansas City, the decision seemed several degrees less questionable. Fans perked their eyebrows up at the curiosity, but optimism definitely abounded, given the impressive resumé Tonkin had piled up in the intervening weeks.

And, much like everything else the Yankees tried Monday night, it worked. Tonkin had secured the most unexpected save in a Yankee uniform since Ryan Weber toed the rubber in Cincinnati last summer.

Though, after 20+ innings of evidence that Tonkin's been unlocked, should we really be surprised anymore? Forget DFA territory; Tonkin's now moved up the trust tree.

Yankees might trust Michael Tonkin more than we ever expected

Tonkin got away with some hard contact against Vinnie Pasquantino in the ninth (Eds. Note: Phew), but ultimately navigated around a single baserunner and closed out an improbable two-run win. The outing ran his season line in New York to 20.1 innings, 12 hits, two earned runs, seven walks, and 19 Ks, good for an 0.89 ERA/2.31 FIP.

Oh, sorry, that's his line with the Yankees, not in New York. He posted a 5.14 ERA with the Mets before he changed stripes. How silly of us to forget. Sorry!

That line is both exceptional enough and comes in a large enough sample size that it's now time for the Yankees to press the issue, ratcheting up the leverage on Tonkin's appearances. Clay Holmes has been special and Luke Weaver has been a multi-inning revelation, but beyond those two, plenty of bullpen roles remain up for grabs -- and the more swing-and-miss, the better. Tommy Kahnle will get dibs, and Ian Hamilton will continue to receive looks despite a feast-or-famine campaign, but Tonkin has now firmly entrenched himself in the mix, something we would've confidently guffawed at a month ago.

The change in Tonkin's profile has been plain; as Ryan Garcia noted this week, he's all but ditched his sinker in favor of an increase in appearances of his big-breaking gyro slider. Whether that means Tonkin has become a reliable long-term fit or merely an extremely bright flash in a spotlit pan is anyone's guess, but the Yankees have already gotten far more out of the funky righty than they bargained for (and than anyone would've expected in late April in Milwaukee).