Shawn Kelley has a strikeout rate of 14.67 per nine innings after totaling 25 in his first 15 1/3 innings in the Yankee bullpen.
Last year for the Mariners, he struck out 44 in 45 1/3 innings and in four seasons for Seattle, Kelley fanned 122 in 128 innings spanning 120 relief appearances.
So even though his strikeouts currently lead Yankee relievers, Kelley would be shocked if it continues. As he joked, if it did it would simply mean coming up with ways to explain to the media what he’s doing differently.
“I guess you guys can ask me a bunch of stuff about what I did differently and I don’t have any answers for you,” Kelley said with a chuckle.
The bulk of Kelley’s strikeouts have come recently. He has struck out seven of the last nine hitters he faced and 10 in his last five appearances after fanning 15 over his first eight appearances.
“I really don’t know,” he said. “I’m a fastball, slider guy. I try to attack and get ahead and stay on the aggressive. That’s what I’ve done my whole career. It’s a small sample size. It’s only a month and a half into the season. So I think as it balances out, I’m probably not going to be striking as many guys as I am. I don’t mind getting the first or second pitch groundout or pop out. I’m getting some punch outs right now but I’m just going to keep doing what I’ve always done the last three years.”
Kelley’s most significant performances have occurred in the last week. On Friday, in Kansas City, he relieved Phil Hughes with two outs in the sixth and used his slider and four-seam fastball evenly to get six strikeouts, becoming the first Yankee to fan at least six without allowing a runner since Ron Davis (eight strikeouts, three innings) on May 4, 1981 in Anaheim.
In Tuesday’s 4-3 win, Kelley entered with runners at first and third with one out in the seventh in relief of CC Sabathia. The Yankees trailed 3-1 at the time. Kelley retired Kelly Shoppach and Raul Ibanez and they scored three runs immediately after.
Kelley’s last appearances have been among the highlights for a unit that has allowed one run in the last nine games, spanning 23 2/3 innings. That marks the best stretch since Yankee relievers posted a 37.1 scoreless inning streak from July 20-Aug. 9, 1998.
“My mentality is to come in and do everything I can to leave those runners right there, just go for a strikeout or get a double play,” Kelley said. “Whatever it is, I’m trying with everything I have and with the situation in the game to keep us only down two and to give us a chance, especially with the meat of our order coming around the next inning. It’s just with a bullpen like ours you can take a little pressure off yourselves and go out there and execute your job and get the outs that they ask you to get and not have to worry about much past that.”
Adams joins team, starts at third
In the last three years, David Adams has had a bumpy path to the major leagues. He was nearly traded to the Mariners as the Yankees pursued Cliff Lee, saw his father suffer a heart attack this spring and dealt with a back injury. When the Yankees acquired Vernon Wells to fill the hole in left field they released Adams in the final week spring training.
“I think he really came on the radar for a lot of people around the Cliff Lee time,” manager Joe Girardi said. “That was probably when he appeared on the radar closest to our screen.
“There’s still people who come up to me and question me about it,” Adams said. “I’ve never thought anything of it. Trades fall through all the time. Who knows what was going on behind the scenes? That’s the way I look at it. I’m here today, and that’s all I worry about.”
Three days after being released, Adams rejoined the Yankees and in 27 games with Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre, he batted .316 (31-for-98). It earned him a promotion to the majors and Wednesday night he became the fourth different player to start at third base.
“They told me that when they released me, that we really like you but it’s a business and I understand it,” Adams said. “I was very excited when I found out [I was coming up] and even more excited, knowing how much I love the game.”
Like many other players on their first promotion to the Yankees, Adams was awestruck with the immenseness of the Yankee clubhouse.
“I’m lost,” he said. “This is a maze. Honestly I walked in and you got this and that and it’ll take me a couple of days to get accustomed to it if I’m fortunate enough to get this opportunity.”
In terms of his ability, the Yankees said he began impressing them for the first time this past spring training before suffering a back injury.
“He’s a young man that we’ve had high hopes for a long time,” Girardi said. “The injuries that he’s had have really set him back and kept him from being here earlier.”
To make room for Adams on the roster, Chris Nelson was designated for assignment. The Yankees acquired him two weeks ago after he was designated for assignment by the Rockies, who drafted him in the first round in 2004.
Wedge praises Montero
Former Yankee prospect Jesus Montero’s second full season as a major leaguer has seen him struggle as pitchers adjust to him.
Last year, Montero played 135 games after the Mariners acquired him from the Yankees for right-handed pitcher Michael Pineda. While Pineda has yet to pitch for the Yankees, Montero’s first 159 games with Seattle have been a mixed bag.
He hit .278 in the final month last season to finish with a .260 average. Montero also hit 15 home runs and drove in 62 runs.
Montero did not start Tuesday against Sabathia but was Seattle’s starting catcher Monday night and batted eighth. He came into the game hitting .200 with three home runs and nine RBIs to go along with a .250 on-base percentage.
Despite the low production so far, Seattle manager Eric Wedge praised the 23-year-old, especially with his game-calling ability in 21 starts as a catcher.
“The kid’s working hard,” Wedge said. “He really is and everything that he’s going through right now, developing as a young major-league player is going to be part of his DNA and just understanding how hard he has to work to catch and how hard it is to hit up here and having a greater respect for that. He really does. He’s got a great attitude. He comes to the ballpark ready to play every day, so he’s progressing.
“He still needs to continue to improve; we all know that. But he’s 23 and we saw a lot out of him in a short period of time. I just like the way he’s going about his business, calling a game and handling a pitching staff and working better fundamentally so it’s been evident.”
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.