Coming out of Spring Training, Michael King was supposed to be just one of the guys in the band — the band in this case being a Yankees bullpen that was expected to be one of the team’s strengths and has turned out to be just that. But King has been more than he was expected to be, at least so far. Pitching like, well, a king when he has gotten his chances.
King came out of Boston College and showed plenty of promise last season as a reliever — eventually making six starts for the Yankees as well — finishing with a 3.55 ERA overall. Now he has been much more than that, the kind of hybrid that Garrett Whitlock has been for the Red Sox.
King had pitched to a 0.69 ERA in 13 innings going into Friday night’s game against the Royals, the most of any Yankees reliever. He has shown he can be dazzling for as long as three frames, the way he was against the Guardians last weekend, giving up only one hit and striking out eight. Most of all, he has already earned the trust of manager Aaron Boone in close games. That matters to him, and to his team.
“I love to be that guy,” King said, “the one who’s out there in close ballgames. I’ve done well enough so far that I’ve pitched myself into high-leverage situations. And I do feel as if I’ve built that trust.”
King was asked if he has been following the work Whitlock (who was drafted and developed by the Yankees) has done — in middle innings, closing games and now starting them.
“Absolutely,” King said. “Even before he was starting, he was as good giving them a three-inning close as he was in the ninth inning when they needed him there.”
King talked about how over the second half of last season he built trust within himself with his slider and how much it has helped him this season “adding that to the arsenal.”
Now he enters Saturday with a 2-0 record and 20 strikeouts in his 13 innings. The Yankees’ big band in the bullpen features the likes of Aroldis Chapman, Clay Holmes, Chad Green, Jonathan Loáisiga, Miguel Castro and Clarke Schmidt. King, so far, has been the best of them all. That comes as no surprise to his coach at Boston College, Mike Gambino.
“I always thought he would be a big league starter,” Gambino said, “and pitch in the big leagues for a long time. But nothing phases him. Ever. People used to mistake his smile and baby face and how nice he is for not being tough and competitive. But on the mound, he’s a killer. No one prepares like he does, and he loves pressure. So what he’s doing so far doesn’t surprise me at all.”
King thinks that just being among all the big arms in the Yankees’ bullpen has made him and his ‘pen mates better as well.
“There are a lot of studs out there, and they’ve been in a groove pretty much since I’ve gotten here,” King said. “And that has to rub off on all of us. If you’re the next person in the line, you don’t want to let the rest of them down.”
King pitched his high school ball in Rhode Island, went to B.C. from there, was selected by the Marlins in the 2016 Draft, then was traded to the Yankees along with international signing pool money for Caleb Smith and Garrett Cooper. He was a non-roster invitee to Spring Training in 2019. Then he slowly began pitching himself toward Yankee Stadium. He came back from a middle finger contusion last season, was mentored on the slider by former teammate Corey Kluber and walked away from that 2021 campaign averaging a strikeout per inning. Now here he is.
“I’ve been a starter my whole life,” King said, “and I think that has helped me, because everybody here knows I can throw multiple innings. I think there’s a part of me still hanging onto the hope of being a starter, but not right now, not with our starters being dominant as they’ve mostly been.”
King is still just 26 years old, still just six years removed from pitching for Gambino at B.C. Now he is a Yankee, hearing what Yankee Stadium sounds like when a game is on the line, hearing it loud and clear because now he gets to pitch with games on the line.
“The sound of that place is nuts, in the best possible way,” King said. “I’m using PitchCom, and sometimes when the fans are going nuts and I’m out there with the pressure on, I can’t hear the sign.”
It is some band out there in that Yankees bullpen. Sometimes the kid from B.C. gets to be out front.