On the night Mariano Rivera crashed to the warning track, there was a real attempt to put such an injury into perspective. Could there be a more devastating injury than a Hall of Fame closer, lost for the year, when he’s already near retirement age, and his team is desperately trying to get on some sort of roll to live up to World Series expectations?
“Today, it seems like no,” Alex Rodriguez said. “Mo is Mo.”
The impact of Rivera’s injury goes well beyond the here and now, but the truth is, there are few teams in baseball better equipped to handle such an injury. The Yankees have a former league-leading closer in Rafael Soriano and arguably the game’s best setup man in Dave Robertson. If they choose to make the move, they could slide Phil Hughes out of the rotation and into a bullpen role in which he’s had success.
“You get the jitters either way coming into a game,” Robertson said. “It’s just a matter of making your pitches and doing it quickly, getting the guys out. You can’t let runners get on base. It’s a lot different now. We don’t have Mo behind us anymore, so I’ll have to tighten up when I get into a game.”
Girardi has said both Robertson and Soriano will get some save opportunities, though it seems that he might lean more toward Robertson for the time being. How many teams would have those two as their second and third string options in the ninth inning?
“I talked to the pitching coach and I said, ‘You can use me any time you want,’” Soriano said. “I’ll be ready for you guys.’”
Girardi said that, for now, there has been no discussion about putting Hughes into a setup role. Hughes has been shaky out of the rotation, but back in 2009 he was dominant in the eighth inning, and putting Hughes into the bullpen mix could again give the Yankees three proven, go-to relievers in the late innings. Girardi didn’t dismiss the idea, but he said he wouldn’t cross that bridge until he had to. There will be no discussion of who comes out of the rotation until Andy Pettitte is ready to join the rotation.
For now, the bridge to cross is an unexpected one. Barring a stunning recovery, the Yankees are facing a season without the greatest closer of all-time. It’s a stunning development for so many reasons, but the Yankees just might be physically prepared to handle it. Robertson certainly looked up to the task last night.
“I’ll be around,” Rivera said. “You guys don’t get rid of me so easily. I’ll be around, and we will talk. Definitely all my advice and all my heart and all my knowledge will be there.”
Associated Press photos