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Michael King's 'Special' Stretch Is Glimpse of What's to Come

New York Yankees reliever Michael King has been dominant since returning from the injured list, showing why he belongs on Yankees pitching staff going forward

BOSTON — Michael King might not reach his goal for this season, but the right-hander is poised to have a huge impact as the regular season comes to a close and beyond.

King, 26, missed two months with a freak injury after his finger got jammed between two weights during a lifting session. 

Returning from the 60-day injured list this month, King has been a revelation out of New York's injury-plagued bullpen. After allowing two runs to the Mets over three frames in his first appearance since early July, King has twirled 6.1 hitless and scoreless innings across his last three outings. 

In other words, King has retired 19 of the last 20 batters that he's faced.

"I've been feeling great. Haven't had any reservations with my finger or anything," King told Inside The Pinstripes on Wednesday. "Just going out there and being able to compete. I felt like I was making strides before I got hurt, so I'm happy that I've been able to build off that and continue to take those strides forward."

Dating back to spring training, King has mentioned repeatedly that he was shooting for 100 innings with the big-league club this season. Whether it's as a starter, a reliever or a hybrid between the two, King wanted to make a lasting impression during his first full season with the Bombers. 

Remember, King debuted at the very end of the 2019 season, making nine appearances (four starts) during last year's pandemic-shortened campaign. Last season featured mixed results and a 7.76 ERA in 26.2 innings. 

The focus now has shifted to helping his club make the postseason above anything else. After all, the right-hander can see himself sticking around in pinstripes for the foreseeable future and winning has always been a part of his Empire State of mind.

"Playing in New York is sweet. Adds a little bit more pressure and I feel like I like the pressure of it," King said. "The big-league lifestyle is one that you don't want to ever miss or lose. Now it's really just trying to stay here and establish myself and move forward from there. I love this team and how it's setting up for me. Any part that I can play to be on this team and impact this team would be great."

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One reason why King factors into the equation going forward—on a pitching staff that's loaded when healthy—is his elite stuff. 

In his last three outings this month, King has flashed his dominant sinker with nasty arm-side movement along with his slider that bites sharply in the other direction. 

In fact, the velocity on King's heater has been higher since he returned from the injured list, a footnote to his recent success that raised some eyebrows. 

King explained that he isn't exactly sure where the slight uptick came from. It could be a result of him cleaning up his mechanics while working back from injury or just the adrenaline of contributing during this battle for a postseason spot down the stretch.

Asked what he was working on prior to his injury, King mentioned pitch selection and execution. There's a balance between sticking to his strengths and adjusting sequences to make certain hitters uncomfortable. 

"'Okay this is the sequence that works to this hitter, this is a sequence that I'm very comfortable with and it's working to my strengths,'" King explained. "In the beginning of the year, I still was kind of trying to find that. Last year I definitely had a base to work off of, but there were so many poor outings last year that it was tough to find the great ones and build from there."

It's a small sample size this month, and nine games remain on New York's schedule, but if King can sustain this success, he won't just play a key role in the Yankees' postseason run, he can be an integral component to New York's pitching staff beyond the 2021 season.

Then, pitching 100 innings in a single campaign is much more of an attainable aspiration. 

"I'm excited with what we're seeing," manager Aaron Boone said after King's latest outing. "[He's been] pretty special, what he's had going. But that's what we've seen a lot from him. He's taken to the role, he's coming in and pounding the strike zone with really good stuff. I feel like he's mixing his pitches really well and feel like he's in a really good spot for us and a guy that we're counting on."

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