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Why the Yankees Optioned Clarke Schmidt Down to Triple-A

Schmidt was optioned to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Thursday despite a strong start to the 2022 season in New York's bullpen.
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NEW YORK — Clarke Schmidt has been a valuable piece of the Yankees' pitching staff this season, making appearances out of the bullpen in a variety of roles.

On Wednesday in Tampa Bay, the right-hander earned his fourth win of the season, lowering his ERA to 3.00 across 14 outings (24 innings pitched).

So if Schmidt has been pitching well and contributing, then why did the Yankees demote him to Triple-A on Thursday? 

Schmidt was sent down to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to make room on the active roster for right-hander Albert Abreu, who made his return after he was traded away earlier this spring.

Yankees manager Aaron Boone explained that sending Schmidt to Scranton had nothing to do with his performance at this level in 2022. Thursday's option was a move to stretch him out in Triple-A, getting him ready for a possible opportunity to start some games in pinstripes this summer.

"Maybe he can go down for three or four weeks, start to build up and get a handful of starts and make that an option while also long term, building him some volume moving forward if he's going to be a starter for us at some point this year, next year, down the road, whatever it may be," Boone explained before New York's dramatic win over the Astros on Thursday.

Schmidt profiles as a starter. He'll be the first to tell you he wants to be a starting pitcher at the big-league level and it's something he's been envisioning since long before his MLB debut.

But that doesn't mean Schmidt hasn't been a key cog in New York's bullpen this season, helping to fill in while high-leverage arms like Aroldis Chapman, Jonathan Loáisiga and Zack Britton work back from the injured list.

Schmidt recently spoke about how he's found ways to develop this season, even if he's been coming in out of the bullpen. Last time Schmidt was sent down, he said he was "shocked." Surely the 26-year-old had a similar reaction this time around as well.

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Still, Boone seemed confident that this demotion will be beneficial in the long run for both Schmidt and the big-league staff. 

"The one thing about his career so far is he doesn't have a ton of experience because he's had some injury history," Boone said. "I think this has a chance to be valuable for him and for us getting built up and getting some starts under his belt."

Schmidt pitched only twice in the big leagues last season, throwing 38 innings in 2021 across four levels in the Minors, missing a chunk of time after an elbow injury last spring. He underwent Tommy John surgery shortly before he was picked in the first round by the Yankees in 2017. Since New York's rotation has been so good (and healthy) to this point, Triple-A is the only place where Schmidt can start every five days.

That said, adversity could hit New York's starting staff at any moment. Plus, Nestor Cortes will blow past his career high in innings pitched in a single season before the All-Star Game and Luis Severino is acclimating himself to a starter's workload after his recent run of injuries. Schmidt could be the Yankees' sixth starter over the next few months, an option to fill in when needed and ease the workload of the other five arms in the starting staff.

Boone made it clear that he trusts Schmidt to get the job done, using him as a spot starter when Severino briefly landed on the COVID-19 injured list last week. That in mind, don't be surprised if Schmidt finds himself back in the Bronx soon.

"He's shown that he belongs on this roster and deserves to be here," Boone said. "I think he's made huge strides from where he was this time last year, even in spring training. I feel like he is a way better pitcher."

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