While the day certainly came sooner than expected, life after Mariano Rivera has been a pretty seamless transition so far for the Yankees. The entire bullpen has been outstanding all season, but it has been Rafael Soriano’s ability to step into the closer role and not miss a beat that has been the biggest key.
“I think Sori doesn’t get rattled, No. 1,” Joe Girardi said before Sunday’s series finale with the Los Angeles Angels. “He’s pretty calm out there, and he’s able to move on from day-to-day. He’s durable. He’s a guy that I think you can throw three days in a row, more than our other guys. He seems to really like that moment.”
Girardi talked about being comfortable with Soriano’s workload — something that he traditionally monitors very closely. So far, Soriano has handled it very well, picking up the save in 22 of 23 chances while pitching to a 1.51 ERA and striking out more than a batter per inning. He’s only allowed one hit in his last seven appearances.
“You kind of watch, if you do it once, how they respond,” Girardi said of using a guy three days in a row. “Then maybe how they respond a day or two later, physically. Sori seems to do a pretty good job with that.”
There was some talk last season that Soriano seemed uninterested at times due to the fact that he wasn’t pitching in the ninth inning. Whether or not that was actually the case, the right-handed fireballer certainly seems to be locked in right now. His demeanor on the mound is deliberate and lethargic, as he slows down the game and seems lure hitters to sleep. Even the way that he walks around the mound in between each pitch resembles a hunter stalking its prey.
Soriano’s quirkiness is well-documented (he’s received quite a bit of attention for his jersey un-tucking ritual at the end of each game), but Girardi was asked about another one of his odd mannerisms. Soriano often peers into his hat and appears to be reading something, but both Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild have no idea what it could be.
“No, I don’t think so,” Girardi said with a laugh when asked if anyone knows what it is. “Maybe some of his bullpen mates do. I’ve always contended that it’s the scouting report in there, and I’m sticking to it.”
• The Yankees should be adding another key piece to the bullpen in the coming weeks, as Joba Chamberlain’s rehab continues to progress. In his second outing in the Gulf Coast League yesterday, the right-handed reliever struck out two and didn’t allow a hit in two scoreless innings. He threw 19 of 28 pitches for strikes, and his fastball reached 97 MPH. He’ll get a few days off now, but should be in line to move up to a higher level soon. “He threw well,” Girardi said. “He went the two innings, his stuff was good. I think he went 3-0 on the first hitter, and then really locked in after that and threw strikes. He’ll have two days off, at least.”
• Girardi was asked about Joba’s potential role when he is added to the big league club. His presence will certainly lengthen the bullpen, giving Girardi plenty of options for late in the game. “No, not really,” Girardi said when asked if he’s thought about it. “I know what he did for us before – he pitched in the later innings. If he’s throwing the ball well, you can have somewhat of that expectation… I wouldn’t be afraid to use him at any point.”
• I don’t know if you any of you have heard, but this guy Robinson Cano is pretty good. He has a 17-game hitting streak, and will tie the longest streak of his career with a hit today. “I think it’s been a big part of our run, what he’s done offensively for us and how productive he’s been,” Girardi said. “He had the three RBI yesterday and it’s been nice, because we’ve been getting contributions all throughout our lineup.”
• Curtis Granderson also hit a big homer yesterday, extending his team-leading total to 24 on the season. Granderson’s power production has been huge for the Yankees in the last year and a half, but he’s also striking out at an alarmingly rate (just about once every three at-bats), and only has 13 non-homer extra-base hits. His on-base percentage is over 100 points higher than his batting average, so he’s still getting on, but Girardi was asked if he’s concerned about Grandy’s pull-happy, all-or-nothing approach. “It’s pretty hard to change your swing,” Girardi said. “I think a lot of guys tailor their swings around their home ballparks, because that’s where they are the most. Some ballparks it’s going to work in, some it may not work as well.”
• While Alex Rodriguez’s production has been relatively sub-par so far this season, he has had tremendous success in his limited time as a DH. A-Rod went 2 for 4 with a double and a run scored yesterday, upping his season average to .353 with a .946 OPS when serving as the designated hitter. He’s DHed in 22 games (96 plate appearances), which is enough of a sample size to start paying attention to. Girardi admitted that it has caught his eye, and it sounds like he may look to DH A-Rod more often. He said he has not discussed it with A-Rod yet. “It could be a weird coincidence, or there could be something to it – I’m not sure yet,” Girardi said. “It is a small sample size, but I’m well aware of it… I’m not to that point yet, but there’s a chance he DHs again on this homestand. If and when we do get Gardy back, that could change things around here.”
• Speaking of Brett Gardner, he’s scheduled to play in a three-inning simulated game today. We should know how it went after the game.
• Andy Pettitte was also hanging around the clubhouse this morning, and he didn’t show any signs of being injured. There was no cast or bandage on his injured leg, and he is scheduled for an X-ray at some point today. To be clear, though, he is still a long way from thinking about a return.
• Here is the Angels’ lineup: 1. Trout (LF); 2. Aybar (SS); 3. Pujols (1B); 4. Morales (DH); 5. Trumbo (RF); 6. Callaspo (3B); 7. Izturis (2B); 8. Bourjos (CF); 9. Wilson (C); RHP Weaver.
Associated Press photos