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Yankees send reliever with 1.42 ERA to Triple-A, leaving room for injured arm to return

NEW YORK – Just when Ron Marinnacio was hitting his stride in the Yankees bullpen, allowing one earned run in his last eight outings, the Yankees reliever is back at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Marinaccio was optioned after pitching a scoreless ninth inning in Thursday night’s loss to the Astros. This is the decision corresponding to the return of reliever Nick Burdi, who will be activated from the injured list Friday.

The Yankees could have designated right-hander Michael Tonkin for assignment and kept Marinaccio nearby. Tonkin appeared to be the team’s most expendable arm, a piece the Yankees plucked off waivers a few weeks ago and a pitcher they used in a mop-up role at the very end of their bullpen.

Clearly, the priority was to utilize roster flexibility, ensuring Tonkin stuck around and wasn’t picked up by another team. At least not yet.

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Do not in any way take this decision as an attack on Marinaccio. He simply drew the short straw, still attached to the Scranton shuttle. This speaks to the performance of those around him in the bullpen, a unit that has the lowest ERA in all of baseball (2.25).

The unfortunate thing for Marinaccio was that he was finally gaining some momentum. He worked around the issues in the ninth inning on Thursday, lowering his ERA for the season to 1.42. That’s progress after the right-hander ran out of steam at the end of last season, finishing his second year in pinstripes with a 3.99 ERA.

Looking at the Yankees bullpen as a whole, the chances of Marinaccio and Tonkin sticking around once Burdi and Tommy Kahnle returned from the IL were slim. Even if those two right-handers were looking good — and they are — no one else is a candidate to pick or drop to make room.

Technically, Tonkin didn’t allow an earned run, especially since he couldn’t stop automatic runners from scoring in his team debut against the Brewers last weekend. He allowed two more runs Wednesday, but they were unearned due to a Jon Berti error on the left side of the infield.

Starting Friday in Tampa, Burdi will be available to make his first appearance in the Yankees bullpen since April 16. This was just before he landed on the injured list with hip inflammation. He was pitching well to start the year in pinstripes, maintaining a 0.00 ERA in 6 1/3 innings. Six of the eight runners Burdi inherited scored, but he also struck out eight batters, posting a career-best WHIP of 1.105.

Kahnle is a few weeks behind Burdi. The veteran embarked on a rehab mission this week, pitching a scoreless inning with Class A Tampa on Wednesday, the first of at least five outings with the Yankees’ affiliates.

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Max Goodman can be contacted at [email protected].