Michael Tonkin finally gets ‘in a groove’ after whirlwind early season

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Michael Tonkin had pitched, throwing 39 total pitches, in two of the past three games.

But manager Aaron Boone, who was staying away from Clay Holmes and several members of an overworked bullpen, begrudgingly asked the righty for a third game in four days.

Tonkin, of course, accepted. It’s the kind of tap on the shoulder — warm up and enter the game — that he prefers.

He’s gotten too many of the other kind of taps this season.

“It’s good to get in a groove and get comfortable and be in a position,” Tonkin said after his second career save clinched Monday’s 4-2 win over the Royals at Kauffman Stadium, “where I feel like I’m not scared that I’m going to get tapped on the shoulder after every game.”

Yankees relief pitcher Michael Tonkin (50) delivers a pitch against the Kansas City Royals in the ninth inning at Kauffman Stadium. Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

No longer is Tonkin on the verge of being released.

The 34-year-old began the year with the Mets, struggled in three games and was designated for assignment on April 5.

The Twins traded for him, used Tonkin for one game and then DFA’d him, too. The Mets picked him back up and burned him for two more games before yet another DFA.

Finally, the Yankees put in a claim of their own on April 25 and might have found a keeper.

Tonkin lowered his ERA to 0.89 in 20 ¹/₃ innings in pinstripes, excelling in using more sliders and more two-seamers than he had previously.

He has pitched well enough not just to climb his way out of DFA range but has climbed up Boone’s trust tree.

After seven strong innings from Carlos Rodon and a one-run eighth inning from Ian Hamilton, Boone stayed away from Holmes, who had pitched three games in four days, Luke Weaver, who tossed 24 pitches Sunday, and Caleb Fergusion, who had pitched two of three.

And he turned to a pitcher who has “guts,” Boone said. “He’s fearless out there and really, really competitive. He’s fit in well in that room.”

Michael Tonkin #50 of the New York Yankees and Jose Trevino #39 of the New York Yankees celebrate a 4-2 win over the Kansas City Royals. Getty Images

Tonkin issued a one-out walk to bring the tying run to the plate but got Vinnie Pasquantino to fly out and struck out MJ Melendez.

His second save — in his 206th career game — would have been hard to envision a few weeks ago.

“Chaotic, I guess,” Tonkin said in summing up his season thus far. “The first month was less than ideal. To be here now, it’s all worth it.”

Anthony Rizzo, who has been mired in a terrible slump in what has been an overall poor few months of play, sat for a second straight game.

The 34-year-old Rizzo owns just a .623 OPS and is 1-for-29 in June. Asked if the couple days of rest were more about mechanical adjustments or a mental reset, Boone said both.

Oswaldo Cabrera #95 of the New York Yankees and Anthony Rizzo #48 of the New York Yankees in the dugout before the start of the game when the New York Yankees played the Los Angeles Dodgers Sunday. Robert Sabo for NY Post

“Wanted to give him a couple days,” said Boone, who added that Rizzo is OK physically. “He’s working through things, but also a break, too.”

DJ LeMahieu got the start at first base and Oswaldo Cabrera stepped in at third base.

Boone said he and Rizzo would “circle up each night” to discuss his eventual return to the lineup.

After his second rehab start Sunday, Gerrit Cole returned to Yankee Stadium and talked with Boone.

“I think he felt good about it,” Boone said of Cole’s 57-pitch, 4 ²/₃-inning outing with Double-A Somerset. “Another step in the right direction.”

Cole’s next step will be a third rehab start, likely Friday.

Boone tied Billy Martin for the seventh-most managerial wins (556) in Yankees’ history, trailing leader Joe McCarthy’s 1,460 wins from 1931-46.

“Obviously an amazing manager, amazing career, amazing playing career and certainly a storied history with this team,” Boone said of Martin. “A lot of ups and downs, but I think in his time and in his generation [he was] known as one of the great and really smart managers.

“It’s a players game — I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of great players out there.”