Bruney 'improving' despite struggles
Reliever's status for playoffs not secure after uneven year
ANAHEIM -- Brian Bruney changed his uniform number from No. 38 to No. 99 this week, and though he could not give a concrete explanation for the switch, there was no dispute that it couldn't hurt to try to change his luck.
At least, that was the hope, as Bruney attempts to rescue a season that has been twice interrupted by trips to the disabled list. Though Bruney served up a long home run to Kendry Morales in the Yankees' 5-2 loss to the Angels on Monday, the right-handed reliever still left Angel Stadium believing better days are ahead.
"I feel good about the way I feel right now," Bruney said. "I'm looking forward to getting back out there. There were bad results, but I feel like I learned a little bit tonight. I feel like I'm improving."
The question is if the Yankees have enough time to allow Bruney to continue ironing out what he said have been season-long mechanical problems -- bad habits on the mound that have plagued him relating to his hip rotation.
New York plans to carry only a 10-man pitching staff for the American League Division Series, and there is a very real possibility that when the final rosters are presented for that round, Bruney could be left off.
Though the sample size is small, in his past three appearances, Bruney has allowed two runs on six hits in two innings -- a 9.00 ERA. The skid is coming at a time when every pitch is scrutinized because they will take on importance in October.
"He did throw strikes last night," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said before Tuesday's game. "His velocity was good. He made a mistake to Kendry Morales and was trying to go away. He's one of those guys that needs to pitch better. We know he's capable of doing it because we've seen him do it."
Injuries have played a role in marring a season that opened with optimism for Bruney in the spring. The right-hander missed 40 team games with a strained right elbow flexor muscle, requiring a second trip to the DL after he had hurried back in May and neglected to report pain during a rehab assignment.
Girardi thought that Bruney might have turned a corner in August, when he was 1-0 with a 0.87 ERA in nine appearances spanning 10 1/3 innings. September opened with promise, as Bruney strung together five consecutive holds, but the sequence has grown rocky since.
"Inconsistent or whatever you want to call it -- I've been bad," Bruney said. "I'm not happy with the way I've thrown the ball this year, and the playoffs are right around the corner."
For Bruney, the idea that he could miss the Yankees' playoff roster again -- he was left off by then-manager Joe Torre in 2007, sent home after the conclusion of the regular season -- should be surprising, especially after he was intended to be one of the Yankees' primary eighth-inning setup men for closer Mariano Rivera.
"I don't make those decisions," Bruney said. "If you put me on the roster, you put me on the roster. If you don't, I can't do anything about it. I'm not the one making the decisions. I feel like I have something to contribute, and I feel like I can help. But it's somebody else's job. All I can do is come prepared every day."
Bruney said he has been working with pitching coach Dave Eiland to correct his flaws. In the case of Morales, who launched a pinch-hit blast off Bruney in the seventh inning to open up a 4-1 lead for the Angels, Bruney chastised himself for not being more aggressive.
"I'm not a starter," Bruney said. "I'm not trying to save myself for four innings. When you try to take a little off to hit a spot, to me, that's probably not a good decision. I'm upset at myself about that a little bit. I would have liked to have put up a zero there."
Still, Bruney said he was happy with the way the rest of the inning went, and he hopes that the home run isn't all the Yankees noticed.
"It's been something I've been working hard at and trying to fix it," Bruney said. "I'm starting to come out of it. I feel like myself out there a lot more than I used to. I'm going to take the positives of it and move on and try to get better next time."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.