In 2022, Yankees relief ace Michael King was famed for cleaning up messes, either inherited or self-created. With the ability to run his fastball either in or out on a batter, changing his tone from pitch-to-pitch, while also possessing one of the snappiest sliders in the game, there was no jam he couldn't disintegrate.
Unfortunately, we've yet to see that particular set of skills in 2023.
After loading the bases, then being dinked and doinked to death against the Giants, King inherited a two-out jam on Tuesday against the Phillies, twice reaching two strikes on Trea Turner and Kyle Schwarber before both batters found a way to get bat on ball and evade the defense, scoring two more of Domingo Germán's inherited runs.
It's not that King is getting rocketed across the diamond so far in 2023; it's that his trademark running fastballs are coming in at a slightly more palatable velocity, while his sliders are hanging in the air a tantalizing second too long. Where there was once no contact at all, there's now enough contact to create a whole lot of spoiling.
What's the issue? Early-season rust after a lost second half last season? Hopefully not a dreaded recurrence of pain from the elbow fracture that ended King's 2022 season (and, let's face it, the Yankees' 2022 season) in midsummer, but didn't result in Tommy John surgery?
According to King, his elbow feels just fine. Unfortunately, that exhalation doesn't make the solution any simpler.
Yankees reliever Michael King's stuff is the number one worry of April
The most frustrating part, for King, has to be the fact that he opened spring training crisper, but has seen his velocity "slowly go down" from that early-March peak.
"“I feel like trying to generate power early in my mechanics instead of having late hand speed,” King said. “I feel like that affects the late movement on it.” Both King and Boone said that the elbow was not an issue. “Luckily, my elbow has been feeling great, so it doesn’t have anything to do with that,” King said. “My velo was there in my first couple games in spring training, and it has slowly gone down from that. I don’t know if it’s a dead arm or just me trying to muscle up to get the velo, because I’m noticing that. So I think it’s just more a quick mechanical change that I’ve got to get comfortable with.”"- Andy Martino, SNY
It's a tale as old as time. A long layoff leads to bad habits in an attempt to recapture former glory. As long as that's all we're dealing with, King will doubtlessly be fine, and these early-season hiccups likely won't be remembered for very long.
Unfortunately, in a Tuesday night game that was very much embodied by a shrug otherwise, King's inability to click was unsettling, and will probably be the lingering memory of the contest until he rights the ship.